Since my earlier post on growing a strong backbone, and standing up for ourselves I have realized that it is not enough to mentally think tough. I had made some progress but was unable. to fully embody it within my body. There was a feeling of disconnect As though the body had a mind of its own. I wasn’t able to connect my mind with my body. For too long my body had armored itself from feeling my true authentic self.
Layers and layers of trauma had created a schism between who I had become to who I truly was inside. Scoliosis had become too long part of my core identity.
How could I change the trauma-induced core beliefs? The word ‘core’ stuck in my head. It was an ”aha moment when I realized I had to transform my physical core.
The Core of Your Being
Our core is the center of our body. Scoliosis bends our spine and weakens our core. Metaphysically speaking the core of our being twists to accommodate a threatening or unsupportive environment. Physiologically our core is what keeps our spine aligned and determines to a large part a person’s posture. Having a strong core protects our back from injury and determines how we really stand up to the world.
So, how does one remodel our core, particularly if you have scoliosis?
Your Core Is More Than Your Abdominals
Core muscles move, support and stabilize the spine. The core is our center of gravity and the place where all physical activity originates. It is critical in every movement of the human body. These muscles are responsible for giving us strength, stability, and flexibility helping us move with ease and confidence.
It is a mistaken belief that your core is your abdominals or stomach area. And most people confuse a strong core with a six-pack. Furthermore, having taut abdominals doesn’t guarantee a strong core. A hardened core often reflects a body out of balance.
The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly, the mid and lower back, hips, buttocks, thighs, and most importantly your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is an intrinsic part of your core. All these muscles form a muscular “corset around our spine’.
Psoas Muscle and Stress Response
One little known but powerful muscle of the core is the psoas. muscle. It connects the spine to our legs. More importantly, it is intricately linked to our diaphragm. As the primal messenger of the central nervous system, it is directly connected to our ‘reptilian brain’ – that which is responsible for survival response – fight-flight-freeze-fawn. The psoas responds to our emotional state of stress by tightening.
Remember how when you were afraid and felt like peeing, your reflex action would be tightening your pelvic area which is really the psoas muscle. What happens if the stress is unrelenting, as in childhood trauma. Your psoas muscles remain permanently tightened.
Furthermore, the psoas bridges our central, and autonomic nervous systems. with our enteric nervous system or gut-brain. A tightened psoas affects our stomach and could be the cause of numerous digestive issues.
Body on Alert
Over time the contracted psoas loses its elasticity. We remain stuck in a state of tension. Our body has armored itself against any violation.
Trauma or chronic stress encodes your nervous system to stay on alert, bracing itself against any attack. Your muscles remain locked in the flight-fight-freeze-fawn response. Moreover, unless one releases the stress held in this critical muscle all the back stretching, massage, chiropractic manipulations, physiotherapy, or bracing will not really improve your scoliosis.
Changing this constricted core self involves working on our mind as well as the body. The neural connection between our brain and body is a two-way street. This is via the vagus nerve. When the psoas muscle contracts the vagus nerve sends this feedback to the amygdala. As long as the vagus nerve senses any tension in the psoas, it continues to signal to the amygdala to stay alert.
By working on releasing the tension in our body we can relax our mind. An effective bottom-up approach to healing trauma. is by relaxing and stretching our body muscles. However, indulging high tension workouts may only aggravate the already taut psoas muscle.
What one needs is deep, isometric stretching of our core muscles. I recently discovered the horse stance and found it to be effective in reconnecting my body to my mind.
The Horse Stance
The horse stance is an important posture in Asian martial arts and takes its name from the position assumed when riding a horse. It not only works on your physical body it also has a profound effect on your mental state – developing internal energy and stabilizing the mind.
Being in the horse stance pose works the diaphragm and psoas muscles. Those are the primary muscles connected to unresolved trauma.
The qigong horse stance realigns the spine and removes pressure from painful trigger points. Doing it you gain not just strength but also flexibility. Moreover, trying to stay in this position forces you to focus on your breathing. As the pain of staying the stance increases, you become aware of the internal sensations of your body, totally blanking out intrusive thoughts.
According to experts in martial arts by focussing our breath on our lower dantian (energy center) which is a little below our navel, we increase our chi or vital energy. I do feel more energetic since doing the horse stance – I can sit longer without pain.
The video below explains how to correctly do the horse stance
Getting Into A Horse Stance
Go Easy, Don’t Overdo
The horse stance may seem easy at first but once you get into the position you will realize how difficult it is to maintain it. Remaining correctly at the horse-stance for two minutes is quite an achievement. Most people cannot remain for half a minute. However, try to increase the time of holding this stance every day, even if is just 1 more second. Most importantly focus your mind on your abdomen / lower dan tian (energy field) and count your breaths.
Initially, you can also do this stance by standing against the wall and bending your knees. Go easy, slow and steady, don’t overdo.
Gradually, over time you will find yourself feeling stronger, straighter and rooted. I feel a huge difference in my mental make-up since I have begun doing it. It has made me feel centered. Now when in a stressful situation, my focus automatically shifts to my lower abdomen, having the energy to stand my ground.
Horse Stance – Perfect Mind-Body Exercise
This is one of the reasons why teachers of martial arts stress on stance training – a solid stance subconsciously translates into being able to stand up to any challenge. The body influences the mind and the mind changes our perceptions and our reality.
Try the horse stance even if you have no back problems, it will definitely make you feel stronger. Besides, it takes so little time and can be done anywhere.
A strong and stable core translates into a tough and steady mind. I feel much more confident to stand up for myself and I can see the changes reflected in my spine. Truly, the horse stance is a complete mind-body exercise.
Disclaimer: I am not a trained medical practitioner all advice and suggestions are purely my own experience in healing scoliosis. Please consult a physician before engaging in any of the physical exercises.
Image Source: WikiHow
A Masters Guide to The Way of the Warrior – Stefan Verstappen
The Psoas Book – Liz Koch
The Vital Psoas Muscle: Connecting Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being – Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones