一般人對腰大肌的概念是: "腰大肌是髖屈肌群,常常過度使用,是問題製造者." 但是我們真的了解它嗎?這篇訪談中闡述腰大肌做為核心肌肉之一,對我們的重要性超乎想像.
verything from the head to the tailbone is generated out from the core, so like an octopus; movement emerges from and reverberates back to the midline. Nothing is anchored in the core. - Liz Koch
The psoas muscle lies deep in the core of the body. For those of us in Pilates and other exercise sciences, where attention to the core is paramount, the psoas is an important, yet enigmatic muscle. Our understanding of what the psoas is and its role in the body is still changing. One of the reasons for that is the work of expert Liz Koch, who has been investigating, teaching, and writing about the psoas for over thirty years.
In this interview with Liz Koch we explore the unique nature of the psoas, and how to work with the psoas through movement and release. Since this is a Pilates website, I've asked Liz some very Pilates- specific questions as well. Before proceeding, you may want to familiarize yourself with the psoas muscle by reading Introducing: The Psoas Muscle which covers the placement of the psoas in the body, and the basics of how it moves and moves us.
M.O.: It seems that in general we are overworking the psoas, creating conditions whereby it becomes chronically tight. How do we know if our psoas is tight or weak?
L.K.: The psoas is not only a core muscle, a Pilates powerhouse muscle, which is important to recognize, but it is also a primitive messenger of the central nervous system. The psoas reflects incoherency in the core - some disruption in the way we're responding to gravity. It could be as simple as the shoes you're wearing or as complex as multiple layers of injury and trauma.
The most obvious symptom of a tight psoas is restriction in the hip socket. The psoas literally moves over the ball of the femur head so when it is tight, it constrains rotation in the socket. Also, discomfort, pain, and aches in the front of the hip socket are symptoms of the lower psoas.
In the upper psoas, the symptom that is most prevalent is the sense of holding or tension in the solar plexus. This tension can push the diaphragm forward so that you’ll see limitation in the breath, a pulling up, compression, and a restricted belly. Low back pain is associated with tension in the psoas, but actually it is the other way around: the tight psoas is messaging an imbalance along the spine.
What you see in a constricted psoas is a psoas that is compensating for lack of integrity or moving towards safety. It looks as if the person wants to just roll up in a ball. This is not quite the same thing as collapse, but it's close. In both you’re seeing in part what the psoas messages – a lack of safety. As part of the fear response the falling reflex protects us when we are vulnerable.
Now why is the psoas tight? It’s tight because it is compensating for some disruption along the midline - usually over stretched or torn ligaments. In the Pilates world I'd say the first thing to look at is sacral iliac dysfunction. When it compensates it begins to dry and eventually shrink. The psoas is very juicy; it is the filet mignon. But when it has to behave in some other way, like a ligament, it loses its suppleness and begins to dry. For example, when you are in a car seat, you are in a static fall. The psoas is counteracting the fall. So over time, if we engage the psoas in a static holding pattern begins to lose its supple dynamic behavior; it drys, shrinks, and creates tension.
Your question was also about weakness, but I don't think the psoas is weak. The psoas is exhausted. That's the difference in our thinking process. If we think something is weak, we need to make it strong. If we think something is exhausted, we look for ways to let it heal and not be misused. It's a huge difference in strategy.
So, a Pilates class, is that inherently overworking the psoas?
L.K.: Years ago when Pilates people first entered my workshops, at first I didn't know what I was seeing. Then I found out they were doing Pilates. Later, people came in and I'd say: "Oh you do Pilates". And they would say: "Yes, how do you know?" So what was I seeing? I was seeing a held upper psoas.
I don't think that's so true anymore because Pilates has evolved and become more somatic in its orientation. One of the reasons I enjoy working with Pilates instructors is that you are focused on attention to detail – how you initiate a movement, and where to initiate that movement. In Europe there is a lot of somatic awareness but not very much in the U.S., so I think Pilates entering the fitness world with this enhanced sense of awareness is a gift Pilates is bringing to fitness.
It's not a big a deal to simply go one layer deeper than the abdominals and let go of your psoas. That's all you have to do. It's not that you don't have abdominal tone, but the abdominals are like an accordion - when they are alive and vital they simply close and open. There is no force when sensing the psoas, it's simply a process of allowing a balance between the front and back of the body, and the top and bottom. Behind the toning up is also a letting go that allows the toning up to happen in a more uniform way, with less rigidity and more vigor. It's less exhausting.
I work with a lot of Pilates instructors and I think Pilates is a living system. It's evolving and changing, which I believe all systems have to do. I believe if Joseph Pilates were alive today, he'd be evolving his work. He called it contrology. You might call my work, awareology. I'm more interested in awareness than control because I think ultimately that's where control comes from.
You express concern that people are over-training the psoas muscle. How are you seeing that happen? Are there specific exercises that are the worst or is it just how you go about it?
L.K.: It's not what you do it's how you do it. So it's more about the impulse before the movement. If you are thinking the impulse behind the movement is to keep the psoas supple, you are going to move from a very different place than if you think the impulse is to activate it or anchor it in some way, which creates rigidity.
You can do the exact same movement and be thinking completely differently. I had the opportunity at a Pilates studio to watch two people on the Cadillac next to each other do the same routine. I watched one person do it from a muscular orientation and one do it from a more skeletal/proprioceptive orientation. If you didn't have a trained eye, it would appear that the person doing it muscularly had better range of motion, but in fact, the person centered in her core, moving from her bones so to speak, letting the impulse go from the core out to the extremities actually had more range.
Later, I talked to the studio owner and she said the person who worked in a more muscular way has a lot of aches, pains, and injuries. She overextends and has to exercise just to feel normal (you can get to a place where you have to keep working out or there is more pain and more irritation). And the other person had a sense of ease. Every increment she got in terms of her range came purely from her own core. So it's not what we do, it's how we do it.
Exactly. But do we, particularly need to balance the pelvis?
L.K.: Absolutely. In the biomechanical description of the psoas, the psoas is a flexor because it comes from the front of the body moving forward. But I don't think the psoas is a hip flexor. The psoas is neutral, it literally grows out of the spine - nobody attached your psoas. So think of it more like a messenger of the midline.
So what is the psoas messaging? If someone is saying "I have this deep level of pain or tension in my system and I don't know what it is", the majority of the time in the Pilates world, what the psoas is messaging is a sacroiliac joint / pelvic imbalance. One thing you can look at is if someone's pelvis moves with their leg, or one ileum moves without the other, you are going to have psoas problems. This is because the pelvis needs to be part of the core, not move with the leg.
Any movement where you are letting the leg go is an opportunity to release tension within the psoas as long as you don't think of the psoas as a hip flexor. Look at where the pelvis is in space/time. Is it balanced? Is it facing true forward? Are you articulating each hip socket? If you are working in a skeletal way, you’re always looking for what's letting go to free up the movement. If you are working muscularly, you are always looking at what's contracting. To work with your psoas, first start with neutrality and then explore suppleness.
When we talk about pelvic stability and a neutral pelvis in Pilates, is that the same way you see a balanced pelvis? ?I don't think we have an issue of neutrality. The psoas ends up shortening or becoming weaker when the sacroiliac joints (SI) are over stretched or the ligaments are torn. You can overstretch them by sitting in a chair because people sit on the back of the sacrum. When you sit on the back of the sacrum you literally disrupt the central nervous system. The sacrum is a floating bone that shouldn't bear weight so we need to sit in front and on top of our sit bones (tuberosites). But when the pelvis is pulled down or tucked, it creates tension along the spinal midline.
Many times, people will injure their SI doing some other activity and then end up in Pilates to heal them. You can get some of that balance back by working on the abdominals and the muscles around the pelvis, but ultimately one has to heal the sacroiliac joints. Otherwise, the moment the person lets down the tone of their musculature, the skeletal disruption shows up again. It's like wearing a girdle. The moment you take it off, you see what's really there. So it's not a good idea to use muscles to try to maintain skeletal balance. Muscles express movement and support skeletal balance.
Is there a special tip or two you have for Pilates instructors in terms of working with clients in a way that is psoas friendly?
I use an embryonic model. If you use a biomechanical model, you are still in that paradigm where the spine is static and the legs are moving the body. In the embryonic model, every movement comes from the core and the psoas literally grows out of that core and is deeply rooted in the midline. Everything from the head to the tailbone is generated out from the core, so like an octopus; movement emerges from and reverberates back to the midline. Nothing is anchored in the core. This is a big issue we're working with: How do we get this soft release and movement if we're not anchoring somewhere?
First of all you let go of the idea that you have to anchor and then recognize that all movement is spine based, and it starts with a supple psoas. It's just a little shift to go from the idea that you are moving from a stable core, to moving out from a supple core. Our organism doesn't really need to be trained how to move, rather we need to un-encumber what's disrupting its ability to organize itself in time and space. So how do we develop those levels of awareness?
I think for Pilates instructors, it's so important to think of layers. When we think of layers, movement senses differently on each layer. So the psoas, which is smart tissue and very juicy, transfers weight down into the earth, while the toned abdominals express up. The fluidity within our system, I think, needs to be incorporated more in Pilates.
Some Pilates instructors are definitely right there with the concept that ground-force reaction happens through all of the diaphragms and that there’s buoyancy that supports rather than controlling movement by locking down tissue. If I don’t resist gravity, but sense its flow, I feel a natural rebound that comes up and supports these movements of lift. It's not done through anchoring and lifting like a mechanical model, but rather achieved through buoyancy.
You can see the psoas very complexly as part of the sympathetic nervous system, the fight, flight, or freeze response, and trauma, but that's not really appropriate for the Pilates instructor. It's not your professional world to go into. But you can rethink the way you work with a person. You can do subtle things that help a person be present right now. For example, if someone comes in and they have a tight psoas, give them a few minutes in a neutral position - I use constructive rest – or roll them in a spinal curl. Then work with grounding through the feet. Do things that ground before you do anything else. By creating neutrality in the core first you’ll see less fear and agitation in their system, less reaction.
I think well-trained Pilates teachers are going more toward what is going on in the midline - not as something that needs anchoring, but as something that is recapitulating, reorganizing constantly. The work I do is an adjunct for Pilates training. Those who are a little more well-trained or advanced, can take this work and put it directly into their training. Whereas if you are doing a cookie cutter Pilates and you meet me, you'll walk out thinking we're talking about two different ideas.
Would you share some (or one) simple ways to invite the psoas to release?
L.K.: The best release for most people, especially when they are beginning, is constructive rest. It's a being (not doing) position. Before you exercise or at the end of the day, constructive rest changes the whole expression of the central nervous system, of which the psoas is expressive. It is a messenger of the central nervous system - a bridge between upper and lower body, between the enteric brain and the gut brain, and expresses the messaging between sympathetic and parasympathetic. There's a lot going on in constructive rest, but you're not doing it. You just allow it to happen.
Thank you so much, Liz!
Liz Koch is the author of The Psoas Book and Core Awareness: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise and Dance as well as many articles on the psoas. 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of The Psoas Book. She teaches workshops throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe and tele-classes are regularly available to everyone. More information and a complete list of class schedules are available online at coreawareness.com.