A Five Minute Warm Up For Riders
By: Jennifer Malott Kotylo
The psoas (pronounced: soh-uh s) is a quirky muscle. It’s the only muscle in the body that connects the top half of your body to the lower half. It starts up near your diaphragm, attaches to various places around your lumbar spine, runs THROUGH your pelvis, over your hip joints and attaches to the upper, inside part of your thigh. It lies so deeply in your body that it is almost impossible to massage or stretch, yet oftentimes gets tight because it has been stepping up to the plate and helping other muscles do their jobs.
Once it gets tight, you may feel like you have a tight, over arched lower back or a tight groin. You may feel like you can’t take very long walking steps. If one psoas is tighter than the other you will be crooked. Obviously, a tight psoas is going to affect your riding. Your pelvis may be pulled in a direction that makes sitting difficult or painful. Your pelvis may torque, causing crookedness that cascades through your whole body. You may not be able to get your legs to hang directly underneath you, causing balance issues.
Your back may take a beating. Your hips will not swing as easily as they should. The following techniques of releasing your psoas are taken from the work of Liz Koch, one the foremost experts on the psoas muscle working today. They seem extremely passive and subtle, and they are, but they have a profound effect on the health of this oh so important muscle.
Technique 1 – Constructive Rest Position:
Lie flat on your back on a firm, but comfortable surface (carpeted floor) with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure your hip joints, knees and ankles are in alignment. Let your hands rest on your pelvis/lower belly. Simply observe how your body contacts the floor from your skull to your feet. Also notice any tight spots, sore spots etc. No need to do anything else. Rest in this position for 10-20 minutes.
Technique 2 – Lie on your side (either one):
Curl into a slight fetal position. While in this position massage your psoas by wiggling your spine in various ways – rotation (rocking) – undulation and primordial fish (see definitions below). Wiggle in each position for a minute or two, changing movement type whenever it suits you (there really isn’t a right or wrong). Total wiggle time is 5 to 10 minutes. While you are doing this you will create a “haaaa” sound as you exhale. This exhale should be complete, it should feel like you are trying to get every last bit of breath from your lungs. You do not have to make this sound with every exhale, but fairly often. After you are done with your wiggling/exhaling continue to lie on your side and just see how your body reacts. If it wants to move, shudder, roll – whatever – let it. Lie quietly for 3-5 minutes. Any extemporaneous movement is just your nervous system recalibrating itself. Don’t be freaked out! It can be a bit of a weird sensation at first. Also don’t be concerned if your body doesn’t do anything. It’s all good. Over time you will begin to experience these odd self adjustments.
Technique 3 – Lie in constructive rest position:
Place a very squishy, small ball under your spine about where the bottom of your breast bone would be if it were on your back side instead your front side. Your hands should be on your pelvis. Your eyes should gaze slightly above your head, so that your throat is open. From this position, you will do your wiggling routine – rotation (rocking), undulation, and primordial fish again for about 5 to 10 minutes, just breathing regularly (no haaa breathing). When you are done with your wiggling, you are going to put your arms in a goal post position. Your throat should remain open. In this position, first inhale, then as you exhale you will make a “ssss” sound (like the hissing of a snake). Exhale as much of your breath out of your body as possible. Do this 2 more times (a total of 3). Remove the ball from under your body and continue to lie on your back and just see how your body reacts. If it wants to move, shudder, roll or whatever – let it. Lie quietly for 3-5 minutes. Allow your body to recalibrate itself by moving any way it wants as in technique 2. Do this series of techniques as often you would like, 3 or 4 times a week would be great, but not necessary. Over time, notice how your body is reacting. Most people will begin to realize that their backs are more even on the floor and have more contact with it. This is because your psoas is softening and lengthening. As your psoas lengthens and relaxes, your pelvis will begin to move in the way it was designed to move – in 3D, which will allow you to move more as one with your horse.
Movement Definitions – all of these movements refer to the movement of the spine, which as it moves “massages” and “vibrates” the psoas muscles that lay on either side of it. Each movement is explained as if you were lying on your back, but can be performed in any plane – on your back, on your side or on your tummy. As you perform all of these wiggles, change up the tempo, sometimes working very slowly and sometimes a bit more quickly. Do not over work. Feel the movement in your body, be part of the movement.
Rotation (rocking) – Just rock from side to side, as a baby does. Try to feel movement from your middle, more than your legs. The idea is to get your spine to softly and gently rotate from side to side.
Undulation – This is a wave motion that starts in your pelvis and works through your torso. Your pubic bone will lift a bit and then press down a bit which will flatten your lower back and then slightly arch it. The movement will cascade through your whole body, moving your neck and head. You may also scoot a bit along the floor, kind of like an inch worm. This is normal.
Primordial Fish – This is a lateral movement where you bring your left hip and lower rib cage together and then your right. The movement is that of a fish swimming.
I want to hear from you! Your health and fitness is just as important as the health and fitness of your horse so e-mail me with any questions or challenges you are facing!
Jennifer developed a passion for body awareness and biomechanics while pursuing her lifelong quest of international level dressage riding. She is a certified Core Dynamics Pilates Instructor, certified Equilates teacher and certified Balimo practitioner. Jennifer is also the creator of the DVD program “Improve Your Riding Through Movement.” No matter what style of riding you are into – no matter what your experience level is and no matter what your age may be, these DVDs will help you create a body that is more flexible, safer in the saddle and one that can enjoy riding for years and years to come. Jennifer is also a national speaker on both health and wellness topics. To contact Jennifer, visit her website at: http://jenniferkotylo.com.