If you haven’t got a clue what a psoas is, don’t feel bad, most people don’t. This article is intended to help shed light on it and how it helps you, so let’s start with something more familiar.
“I hold all my tension in my stomach”
I’ve heard many women share that they store stress in their stomach, even though they may not necessarily understand how or why.
Much of the tension we experience in our body — typically the neck, shoulders and back — is easily addressed by a massage to help release the aches and knots. However, it is not the same with tension in the stomach. In fact, it’s the one part of the body that most massage therapists stay away from, or work very delicately with if they do work in this area.
So it’s not surprising that this part of the body has been so mysterious and inaccessible for most of us up until recently.
How back pain can be related to tension in your stomach region
It was by exploring for solutions to my lower back pain that I discovered what was really going on. I experienced 20 years of back pain and sciatica that no amount of visits to the GP, physiotherapy, acupuncture, osteopathy, sports massages, pilates or yoga could help in any significant way.
I was probably having at least one series of physiotherapy sessions about once a year whenever my back pain flared up. Each time I was given a series of exercises to do to help with core strength and the therapist would try to manipulate the lower back itself. It makes sense as that’s where I felt the pain and where my back would spasm.
Yet what everyone overlooked was that I was not only experiencing intense pain and spasms in my lower back, I was also feeling very tight inside my pelvis area.
I once asked the physio what could be done about it, and it was largely brushed aside. The focus seemed very much on core strength and I was encouraged to learn pilates. But they did mention that some people try rolling on a tennis ball to help massage some of the tightness in the front of the pelvis. I tried it, it still didn’t get to where I was feeling the tension and pain because it was deep inside me.
You can understand, that not only are our sensitive digestive organs there, but also our sexual organs. So therapists typically try to avoid this area.
My GPs had no clue what to do with my back, they obviously didn’t understand the significance of stress and the psoas, in fact they had suggested either getting used to the pain or considering back surgery.
I decided to look at the anatomy and try to figure it out. I was convinced there was a solution that everyone was overlooking.
When I first saw an image of the psoas muscles, I immediately knew this was the answer to my problems.
You can see that it connects at various points, from the lower spine, to the pelvis and to the upper leg region.
It was clear to me from seeing this diagram, that my lower back pain, even my sciatica, was a result of the psoas muscles becoming so tight that the were squeezing my vertebrae together and my nerves were getting squashed somewhere amongst it all.
This is when my search for ways to relax it effectively began.
Why do the psoas muscles get so tense?
Our bodies automatically contract the psoas muscles when faced with stress, trauma and danger.
All humans have a natural and protective instinct to curl up into ball — or a foetal position — when faced with danger. This is a primitive and innate response that is designed to protect us, particularly our vulnerable vital organs, should we face an attack or other danger.
For people living in conflict zones, this is something that may be experienced first-hand when a bomb strikes.
For those of us living in relative safety, we may not face immediate danger, but our response to every day stress still works through the same mechanism.
Notice your posture as you sit at your desk working on your computer. You may already be a little bit slumped and curled forward. If you experience stress, this is likely to pull you even further into contraction and bad posture, but not completely.
What effect does tension in the psoas have on our wellbeing?
Not everyone has back pain like I did and yet tension in the psoas affects us all.
As most of us do not know how to release tension from these muscles, it can build up to become chronic tension that may be responsible for lower back pain, sciatica, digestive issues such as IBS, constipation, inability to orgasm etc.
Many people also attribute auto immune diseases, burnout and trauma to it.
It can affect mental health quite significantly because most familiar mental health issues such as anxiety or depression are an indicator of a burdened nervous system which is related to stress and tension in the body, including the psoas, of course.
It is possible it could contribute to sporting injuries because it may also create an imbalance or tightness that affects movement.
What is the best way to relax the psoas muscles?
As mentioned, physiotherapists may suggest exercises such as rolling your body over a tennis ball. This is a kind of manipulation technique.
Yoga is very popular way to relax these muscles. Typically it involves a series of stretches and asanas to help open the hip area.
For some women, sex and experiencing orgasm can help relax this area of the body.
However the effectiveness of these methods is still somewhat limited.
Therapeutic tremors as learnt in TRE® are the only way to release tension and create deep relaxation in the psoas muscle without needing to stretch or use physical manipulation, because it happens from the inside out.
Having tried almost everything under the sun, TRE® was one of the last things I tried and it not only healed the back pain completely, I also started to experience healing on all levels.
I had read somewhere that the psoas is like the muscle of the soul, and I understood the meaning of this phrase after having my own experiences.
It seemed too good to be true, but the tremoring I learnt to do with TRE® transformed my life on so many levels.
Why do they call the psoas the muscle of the soul?
Very generally speaking, this is because many people who are able to relax these muscles feel a lot of physical and emotional relief that can feel very liberating, more so than relaxing other muscles of the body.
This often has the effect of feeling like old hurts and trauma have also been healed.
Many people say it is more effective than talk therapy in helping them feel their true soul essence underneath it all.
How does TRE® work to relax the psoas muscles?
The first thing to mention is that TRE is simply a method of helping us re-engage a natural ability we are born with. The real relaxation occurs through tremoring and shaking — an ability as natural and akin to yawning, crying or sneezing, which we are all born to do. It’s not the kind of shaking that you do consciously like when dancing.
When your body is extremely cold, it shivers. When your body is very excited or activated (think fight/flight), it tremors. Both are equally natural, healthy and helpful. But the tremoring is something we’ve often suppressed for fear of appearing weak.
This kind of neurogenic tremoring is a process that happens through the autonomic nervous system and not with conscious effort, which is what differentiates this from yoga, physiotherapy or other practices.
Allowing your body to tremor after an exciting, arousing or overwhelming event — such as after giving birth or any hospital operations, accidents and shock trauma — helps the body release adrenaline, cortisol and tension in the body to help it relax. It calms the nervous system.
When we stop ourselves from shaking it’s like blocking the valve on your pressure cooker, blocking your exhaust pipe or drains. Or driving with the handbrake on. It puts a strain on the nervous system and builds up as chronic tension, possibly leading to trauma and overwhelm.
But we can also learn to harness our tremors for therapeutic effect in our everyday lives.
What does TRE® feel like?
It varies from individual to individual and even from session to session. Many people first experience shaking and tremoring in the legs or hips. Sometimes there is yawning, intuitive stretching, a feeling of heat or energy moving through the body. Some people have an emotional release that might include a few tears.
But it’s important to mention that because this all happens below the level of conscious thought, there is no re-living of the past. A person may experience tears and emotional relief without any story, like when you cry while chopping onions.
It’s hard to imagine until you’ve experienced it.
At the end of a session most people feel so relaxed, grounded and are able to sleep deeply.
In my personal case, it took a few sessions before I was able to tremor properly and when I did, I experienced such a deep relaxation in my psoas muscles that I felt like someone had lifted a bowling ball out of my belly. I felt like I suddenly had so much inner space, I felt free and so light. Best of all — all my back pain and sciatica disappeared — for good.
How can I learn TRE®?
Find a certified TRE® provider who can coach you through the process. It was so life changing for me that I decided to train to teach others myself.
It works in a similar way to working with a driving instructor, although each provider may have different offerings – from private or group sessions, to a package of sessions or “intro” courses.
You can learn online or in person.
All TRE® providers undergo approximately one year or more of training to learn how to teach individuals and groups safely.
While there are also free resources on the internet available (not all official or qualified) that might be ok for some, it may not be ideal for all.
Just like you can’t learn to drive a car simply by reading a book or watching a video, it’s most effective and safe when learnt with a trained provider.
The TRE® learning process with a trained TRE® provider involves not only activating the tremors, but also learning to understand your own body’s signs of stress and grounding. This means learning to understand when you’ve had enough, when to stop and how to stop.
You will also be coached in how to incorporate this regularly into your life, where you might find it complements your other favourite activities such as yoga or meditation.
To learn more about what TRE® is and how it works, please visit this page for further details.