Arch and Flatten
Feb 15, 2022
One of my very favourite exercises to start my yoga practice is with a pose called the “arch and flatten.” It is the famous “cat and dog pose” that we traditionally do on our knees, except the arch and flatten is done on our backs. Our knees are bent and our feet are on our mat. It is a simple exercise but it is so good as a warm up for the entire spine and it is a great warm up for the iliopsoas muscle. When I teach I get a lot of questions and concerns about the “psoas” muscle which is a deep core muscle. It attaches the lumbar spine, to the lesser trochanter near the head of the femur bone. It is grouped with the iliacus muscle and together they are called the iliopsoas muscle. I often visualize the psoas muscles as a beautiful sparkling river that is strong, healthy and flowing and connects the upper body to the lower body. It passes through the pelvic bowl which is considered to be the centre of the universe in the human body. The psoas muscle has 5 main functions. It is a hip flexor (draws the knee towards the stomach). It is a hip rotator (move the hip outward like a ballet dancer with their feet turned out). It brings the hips together (adduction) like when riding a horse. It lift one hip at at time (shortening the side waist) which laterally tilts the pelvis. And finally it laterally bends the spine which means you can move side to side (making the C shape with your spine). When the psoas muscle gets tight or chronically contracted it can cause lots of issues for the the body. Specifically the lower back can be in pain or have spasms or tension. A tight psoas can contribute to problems with the disks in between the lumbar. Sciatica may be associated with it. Pain in the buttocks, hips pelvis and groin can also occur. And there are more issues that can be added to this list. The psoas muscle can get tight from overuse (doing a sport for a long time), from limited movement (sitting all day) and body workers also believe that stress, trauma and overwhelm can cause this muscle to be affected. And so I always begin my personal practice with a little love for my psoas muscle. The arch and flatten is very simple. It starts with a gentle rocking of the pelvis - pressing the tailbone into the floor and rolling onto the tailbone and then pressing the lower back and the tail lifts. My pelvis and head rock together eventually start to rock together. It is a great way to unwind the whole system. I move with my breath. Eventually I start to add different variations in with my arms as well. It is a very simple rocking movement that is expanding and contracting my front body, and back body. It is rocking my spine from my tailbone to my tongue. And it is warming up my psoas muscle which I can will go on to do some specific exercises to engage and relax it. I love the arch and flatten because everyone can do it and it makes such a different to the whole body! And we want to keep our whole body healthy and happy!