a. Feeling and Using the Psoas Muscles
Once you feel comfortable with the details of Door Hanging, consciously relax the abdominal wall while you practice. As you soften the abdominal muscles, relax and straighten the spine against the door edge. You will be able to feel a sensation of 'pulling in and up' deep inside behind the front lower ribs. This is the left and right psoas muscles working. (Fig. 4.9)
Feel this same sensation of pulling in and up deep inside behind the front lower ribs when you walk and sit. This will keep your lower spine lengthened and comfortable without needing to "suck in your gut". Pulling in the abdomen to flatten the belly or straighten the lower spine will hamper your energy flow and organ function. However, working the psoas properly will not only align the lower spine, but will also flatten the belly without tightening it.
Fig. 4.9 Psoas Muscles
Fig. 4.9 Psoas Muscles
When you carry the head as if gently pushed back from the upper lip and suspended from its crown, the tendency is to let the lower ribs push forward. To prevent this, feel that you are keeping the lower ribs tucked back slightly. Remember to keep the lower ribs tucked back from inside, not from tightening the abdomen. This will put you in touch with the psoas alignment. You are not actually sinking the lower ribs back, for this would cause you to slouch. You are instead keeping them in a straight line with the abdomen below and the chest above. Feeling the tucking sensation will stabilize the mid-torso, and allow the whole spine to lengthen equally. The feeling, once it is developed, is that there is a subtle pulling back and up deep inside at the lower rib area. Experience this first in Door Hanging, then apply it at all times. Like all structural improvement, intention is required initially. Gradually it will become automatic.
Door Hanging is the key to developing this psoas feeling. If the spine remains on the door and the abdomen is soft, then you need only relax and gradually sense what is already happening inside. It also helps to have a good mental picture of the anatomy involved. Once you have developed this psoas feeling, you will find how important it is in all of the Universal Tao practices. During your practice of Iron Shirt, when you are using reverse breathing to pack the abdomen, slightly increase the psoas work of pulling in and up behind the front lower ribs. This will allow you to pack even more fully, but without tightening the abdominal wall to do it. Gradually, you will be able to pack very powerfully with very little abdominal tension at all. When you thrust back at T-11 to pack the lower back, apply the psoas work very strongly and you will be able to focus your force to the T-11 area much more directly.
b. Psoas Muscles and the Six Healing Sounds
The relationship between the psoas alignment and the lower area can be felt very well when practicing the Six Healing Sounds. (For detailed information on the Six Healing Sounds, see the book, Taoist Ways to Transform Stress into Vitality.) Remember to keep the lower rib area back using the psoas muscles, not by tightening the abdomen. For the Lung, Liver and Heart Sounds, be sure to keep the lower ribs held in. Then, while exhaling and making the unvoiced sound, you can put pressure within each organ more effectively. While exhaling continuously increase the pressure to the particular organ area. At this point you will feel that you are "wringing out" the stale energy from each organ with this pressure.
Using the correct psoas alignment as you inhale will allow you to direct the fresh energy from your breath directly into the organ are more easily. When doing the Liver Sound, tilt to the right and slightly forward. Do this tilting from the lower rib area. This will increase the pressure you can apply to the liver. For the Heart Sound, tilt to the left and slightly forward, and stretch the heart meridian by stretching the little finger. For the Lung Sound, stretch the lung meridian by stretching the thumb.
For the Kidney and Spleen Sounds, the lower ribs should sink back so that you can apply pressure in each organ. When the lower ribs sink back, you are really accentuating the psoas stretch. Using the psoas muscles corectly will improve your practice of the Six Healing Sounds. By simply practicing the Six Healing Sounds you will become aware of the psoas alignment, particularly when the arms are overhead.
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