It’s not uncommon to have an emotional release during or after an ‪‎abdominal massage‬. Our structural alignment is affected by our emotional state and vice versa. So, when we start working on our physical alignment we may experience changes on an emotional level as well. Our psoai (or psoas if you prefer) can hold the fear response. These deep muscles aid us in escaping danger or curl us into a ball to protect our internal organs. That’s why bullying the psoai into lengthening through intense stretching or with deep “search and destroy” type massage can be emotionally and physically upsetting.

My psoai story When I was seven years old my older brother and I shared a bunk bed. I was supposed to sleep on the bottom bunk and Jimmy shared the top bunk with his skateboard. One night we switched beds and I slept on the top bunk, rolled off and crashed to the floor in the middle of the night. I was in excruciating pain and couldn’t stand up. I managed to wake Jimmy with my screaming. Knowing we would get in trouble for switching beds, he climbed over me and up to his bunk and pretended like nothing happened and I managed to crawl into the lower bed. As I lay there in pain waiting for the impending dawn, I made up a story of why I suddenly lost my ability to walk. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll say I tripped on Jimmy’s BB gun (the one he so carelessly left on the floor) and now it’s his fault I’m paralyzed (I wasn’t paralyzed, just dramatic).”  I thought about how Jimmy would get into trouble and I would get a bunch of sympathy and attention. I dreamt of sitting propped up by fluffy pillows, eating ice cream and receiving visitors who would ask how I was doing with soft drawn out voices, pained expressions and tears welling up in their eyes. My fantasy of being showered with loving attention came to a crashing halt in the morning when my mom accused me of faking and told me to “get my ass out of bed” and stop crying or she would “give me something to cry about” (her favorite phrase). I finally fessed up and told her the truth. I know she felt bad for not believing I couldn’t walk and I also knew I could use this to my advantage. I could get mileage out of this one for sure! “…remember the time I almost died and you yelled at me?”

At the hospital, my parents left me alone with the X-ray technician. I’ll call him Jerk. Jerk said that I couldn’t wear my underpants during the X-rays and “no, my mom can’t be in the room with me.”  He firmly positioned my legs on the cold metal table in preparation for the X-rays. I felt exposed and vulnerable. My body reacted by closing my legs together and rotating my leg internally, to hide my “private parts”. I don’t think it was a conscious movement and I’m sure it was part of a whole body nervous system reaction, not just my internal rotators. That movement was just the beginning of a larger protective movement halted in mid-motion. It wasn’t safe to flee, or curl up in the fetal position. I wasn’t able to act on my bodies urge to flee, so I (my tissues) absorbed that moment. I remember telling Jerk (and firmly believing myself) that I wasn’t moving!  Jerk, however, thought otherwise and was growing increasingly frustrated with me, he repeatedly picked up my leg and aggressively rotated it out and down again and again….and again.  My pelvis was fractured by the way so every movement was extremely painful. I just wanted it to be over. Boy, was I pissed! I didn’t act out or verbally express my anger, how could I? I was seven and Jerk was probably four times my age and size. I was angry at Jerk and angry at my mother for not protecting me. I know now that it wasn’t her fault, she would have been in the room if Jerk allowed her to be. I was a cauldron of repressed anger, fear and shame. My body still remembers that incident, the fall, the x-rays, fear, vulnerability and being alone. My right leg still turns in at times, but every time I make progress in my alignment I become a little freer from those old emotions. It’s a process, not to be rushed.

I always look at my clients leg position at the beginning and end of sessions. Often times they start out with internally rotated femurs or crossed ankles. This may be a sign that their holding pattern is emotionally charged.

Years ago an overzealous  massage therapist put her elbow in my belly trying to force my psoa to release. In response, my muscles tried to push her out. She laughed lightly as if I were being silly and told me to breath through it. I spoke up for myself and said, “no, that’s not okay and by the way, get your frickin’ elbow off my ovary!” (The ovaries lie directly over the psoai.) My psoai have taught me how to respect my boundaries with my voice so that my body doesn’t have to recoil in fear. When I approach my psoai with TLC,  the TLC I needed when I was seven years old, my psoai (I) can let go. I am my psoai, my psoai am I.

Test your psoai length: Lie flat on the floor.

Do you have to arch the back to get your hamstrings down? If so, your psoai are shortened.


When your ribs are down on the floor do your hamstrings come up? If so, your psoas or illiacus are shortened.


To release the psoas (see image below): Place a Yoga Bolster under your shoulder blades (no lower than the shoulder blades). If your hamstrings still don’t touch the floor, stack wool blankets on top of the bolster until your upper body is elevated enough for your hamstrings to rest flat on the floor. Prop your head up with a towel so your neck isn’t in extension. Then do nothing. This is a release, not a stretch. Rest until you feel your ribs relax toward the floor. It may take 5-20 minutes or more. You should do this in a calming environment, so Do NOT watch Bruce Willis movies during the psoas release. Do NOT do the psoas release with toddlers, puppies or baby goats in the room. Do not drink coffee before attempting to release your psoas. Once you have released your psoas rest flat on the floor for a few minutes. Notice the difference? Are your ribs and hamstrings down?

Psoas Release. Dr. Spock haircut not required.

Psoas Release. Use something to prop your head up to avoid neck extension.

Sitting for long periods of time, rib thrusting, a posterior tilted pelvis, positive heeled shoes, and caffeine all negatively affect the psoai, so be kind to yourself and make changes where needed. Do your Restorative Exercise™ or other alignment work with compassion for yourself. Receive Chi Nei Tsang and do your Radical Acceptance practice, explore, express and heal.

Click on the banner below and take Katy Bowman’s Alignment Snack on the psoas. It’s called Frankie Says: Relax the Psoas.


Disclosure: I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and an Alignment Snack affiliate. When you shop through the links or banner ads on this blog I make a small commission and you help support my blogging efforts. Thank you!

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