I work in a yoga studio, so I see a lot of patients who practice yoga or want to practice yoga. Yoga has so many wonderful benefits when practiced in conjunction with receiving acupuncture. A regular yoga practice can increase your flexibility and range of motion, restore healthy movement, improve posture, correct musculoskeletal dysfunction, relieve pain, reduce stress…. the list goes on and on!
The benefits work in reverse, too, though! Acupuncture can relieve pain, prevent injury, release restricted movement, and calm the mind. All are essential for a great yoga practice. There are a few common challenges yoga students experience in their practice.
- A tight or weak psoas and hip flexor muscles
- Shoulder and chest restriction (think the forward shoulder computer posture)
- Low back pain.
In this three part series, we’ll explore how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can address these challenges. Let’s start with the mighty psoas!
The Mighty Psoas
The psoas is one of the most amazing muscles in your body! It’s often know as the “iliopsoas” because its fibers and iliacus cross each other at the inguinal ligament. The psoas is the sole muscle that connects your torso to your lower body. This powerful muscle allows you to stand upright, walk, run, bend over, and practice yoga. Without the psoas, asana practice would be very different!
The iliopsoas’ main job is to flex the hip. It may also play a part in medial and lateral rotation of the hip. When you run, climb stairs, or bring your knee to your chest, you are activating the iliopsoas muscle. Most problems with the psoas come from hypertonicity of the muscle due to prolonged sitting in chairs, cars, etc., or from overexercising (e.g. tons of sit-ups or running can cause chronic tension in the psoas).
What Happens When Your Psoas Gets Cranky?
A tight psoas can cause low back and even knee pain by pulling the lower spine forward, putting pressure on discs, and interfering with normal rotation of the thigh bone at the hip. A forward leaning posture due to a tight psoas can cause problems all the way up the spine to the neck. And a tight psoas will keep you from being able to ease comfortably into yoga postures that require hip flexion and flexibility. Think downward dog, extended side-angle pose, and even tree pose.
But a tight psoas is not the only problem yogis face. Often a weak or overstretched psoas muscle can cause problems, too. The same types of prolonged sitting postures combined with exercises that focuses on the glutes and abdominals can lead to a weak and chronically overstretched psoas. As the glute muscles become too tight, they can pull the pelvis into a posterior tilt, straining the psoas and making it feel tight, too. So you stretch it, when what you really need is to strengthen it! It’s entirely possible to have a tight AND overstretched psoas.
Acupuncture for Your Psoas
So how can acupuncture help? Trigger point acupuncture can release chronically tight muscles, including the psoas. Acupuncture also helps to reestablish the proper circulation of Qi and Blood through the sytem, opening meridians and removing blockages where pain and dysfunction have accumulated. Acupuncture also helps to release mental tension, stored emotions and trauma, all of which can create chronic tension in the psoas through its connection to the diaphragm.
So if a tight, weak or overstretched psoas is affecting your yoga practice, consider scheduling a session with your local, NCCAOM board-certified and licensed acupuncturist! We’d love to see you here at Dragonfly Healing Arts!