Breath & Movement: Psoas and Diaphragm Independence

I have traditionally suggested to students that they think of psoas and diaphragm as a single functional unit, that psoas and diaphragm are continuations of each other. This was based on practical experience as well as theoretical physiology. My practical experience was that in basically every client there was tightness and often sensitivity/pain in both psoas and diaphragm, and that it usually included iliacus. The theoretical physiology was based on the idea that threat has become pervasive in our culture and society to the extent that it is the norm, the constant rather than the isolated and occasional experience it was in our evolution before the comparative safety of society. Threat, and its modern components worry and anxiety, has for most of us become mainly an emotional response to perceived threat rather than its original function, which was to facilitate a response to a palpable threat.

In this emotional context, the perception of threat carries the idea that I am being held back in some way, and that I must be on guard. The deepest hip flexor, psoas, and the primary breath muscle, diaphragm, will become hypertonic, ready for a fight or flight response that rarely happens. The result is chronic hypertonicity as fight or flight morphs into protection. Remember, because of the way we are neurally wired, perception becomes structure, meaning perception becomes fascial (connective tissue) organization.

Which brings me to sports and exercise (don’t bother looking for continuity of thought here, I’m old so I can wander around).

While riding my bicycle, I began analyzing my posture on the bike and speculating how it might be optimized. I applied the same principles I use for my body mechanics when I’m working: raise the sternum so the lungs are hanging in the rib cage and relax the shoulders. I experimented with balancing myself on the handle bars and blending that with accelerating until I had my rib cage supported in a way that left my lungs free – neither crunched forward nor pinched backward by my rib cage. This would allow my lungs to process oxygen more optimally, and of course do the same for carbon dioxide exhaust.

I shifted my focus to psoas with the idea of flexing my hip efficiently. I had a startling observation: I could not separate the actions of psoas and diaphragm. I focused on their actions and could not separate them. Their actions had become apparently all but inseparable in my movement patterns. I think you will agree: this could not be good, this is functionally problematic.

I began focusing on separating their actions while riding, and it was three or four rides before I could discern any semblance of independent action between the two. I have since been doing the same in everyday life, and while I have made inroads and can get some physiological separation, I have by no means changed the habit; it appears that is going to take a good deal more practice and awareness.

This must be a learned response: the kinesiology of diaphragm is breathing, and that of psoas is hip flexion with SI joint stabilization. Ideally, they would not get involved, and thus interfere, with each other’s actions.

If you’ve taken some LMD classes and read some blogs, you know that a core LMD theory is: the cultural norms of lying and resultant self-sabotage have made chronic hypertonicity the number one and underlying problem in most, if not all, health issues. Now, an evolution of that theory is that the blending of the actions of psoas and diaphragm, of breathing and moving forward, into a shared and common movement is the foremost problematic effect on the physical action in the body of a culture and society that is not based in truth.

Check out the above video for technique suggestions for psoas and diaphragm independence. (The cameos by the ape and the bird on TV were not planned but they’re great, aren’t they? Pure kismet) As always, expand on these techniques, experiment and create more. The main idea is to influence a fascial plane in the connective tissue between psoas and diaphragm. In my body, I’ve experienced that there is not much of a functional fascial plane between the two, and I think my experience and my pattern is largely the norm in our culture and society.

A perception aspect of this idea in sports may be described in the difference between competition and expression in athletic performances.

Competition has winning and losing built into it. It is arguably impossible to avoid the sympathetic, fight or flight response while engaged in the perception of competition. Remember, the sympathetic response is almost always a matter of perception for most of us and rarely a reality  (unless the guy with the starting pistol loads it and tries to shoot you. Now that’s a palpable threat).

A most notable difference between athletics and everyday life is that the primary aspects of the sympathetic response are largely expressed in athletics – hypertonicity is expressed through the physical action of the sport, the raised blood pressure and impeded venous and lymphatic flow are minimized because of intense physical effort, and inhibiting the immune system can cease when the event is over (except to the degree that the athlete feels threatened by the outcome).

The theory here is that the degree to which the sympathetic response is engaged will correspond to a blending of the functions between psoas and diaphragm

The only way to avoid this would be to have no fear of losing; to have no connection between winning/losing and self-worth. The motivation for engaging in any athletic endeavor would be primarily the feeling of physical expression taken to very high levels. The results of a competition may or may not be used for comparison or some other function, but not as a measure of self-worth. Sports and athletics are simply something one is doing because one is choosing to: effort for its own sake.

Thanks for reading and watching the video; as always your thoughts and comments are more than appreciated: they are requested. Peace, love, music, fast cars, and terrific holidays.




11 comments on “Breath & Movement: Psoas and Diaphragm Independence

  1. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to psoas lately. Thanks for the input. Always great to see you in action!

  2. This article was so juicy and insightful. Recently I’ve been having the same sensation of feeling a little bit frozen in my diaphragm and tight in my hip flexors. The thing you said about sports competition is something I’ve been thinking too, that when people stop putting their worth on the line for winning and losing, competition can be about technical excellence and aliveness. It would become so much more fun for people. Thanks!

    • There certainly is, in fact I always address psoas/diaphragm with low back pain. A terrific article is Thomas Myers’ “Poise: Psoas-Piriformis Balance” in Massage Magazine , March/April 1998 issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *