Jonathan FitzGordon, creator of the CoreWalking Method, talks about the uniqueness of the psoas muscle, how its connected to trauma and uprightness, and how and why to release it. He also gets into gait patterns, what the most common dysfunctional gait pattern is these days, and how changing your walk can actually resolve your pain and discomfort issues, as well as unlocking emotional patterns. Last but not least we also get into one of my favorite topics- why we all need to stick our butts out more and what that means.
CoreWalking is teaching people how to walk, or re-teaching them. Jonathan has been teaching yoga for 15 years and when he had his own studio he had an interest in helping people to take yoga off the mat. He used to think people came to yoga to change their bodies or their posture, and I realized that people really came to yoga to reinforce their movement patterns.
[the rest in Jonathan’s voice except where noted]
Walking is a fundamental thing that we all do, but we don’t really think about it. No one is taught how to walk, you usually imitate your parents and grandparents, and their patterns might not be great.
As I created this program right away it started helping people with back pain, which was a nice reaction that I wasn’t looking for, but I began to pay attention to it.
If you know how your body works, it’s going to work much better for you. I teach anatomy in a basic way, but if you understand how your foot is supposed to fall in every step you take, you’re more likely to do it.
The root of the CoreWalking Program is that if you change physical patterns you can unlock emotional patterns or blocks that you have carried around without realizing it. I see that when people change their physical patterns emotional patterns change too.
In New York (where Jonathan works) there are bodyworkers everywhere, so I wanted to create an online program where people who live in places where there aren’t a ton of practitioners can get help. They can send me a video and I mark it up and we talk about what’s going on.
I am shocked by how effective it can be at changing patterns. I’m not doing anything. I believe in bodywork, but it’s not what I happen to do, and I’m amazed at watching these people do all the work themselves.
It’s as simple as moving differently. I have to emphasize that I’m not hung up in being “correct” or getting it “right” so much as moving differently.
I [Brooke] mention the Amy Cuddy TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (in resources).
I spend way too much time watching people move in the parks, and you can watch someone and you can really read what they are going through by the way they carry themselves.
How can working on your gait pattern help your pain issues?
The body is a self-healing machine, but only if it is working somewhat well. We don’t think much about how we walk, we don’t align our bones well. If our bones are misaligned our muscles are going to have to work to hold us upright. Overworked muscles don’t allow us to move well, and if we aren’t moving well the nerves don’t flow as well. If we can bring these things together the healing takes place naturally.
Everyone listening can just go outside today and start watching people walk.
Most people when they stand they lean slightly backwards, and when they walk the legs lead, the pelvis is pulled forward and the upper body is pulled backwards. When we do that, we lose the most important part of the gait pattern which is a spinal twist with every step.
So many muscles are involved in a body that walks better from head to toe, so when the spinal twist gets involved that’s when we get the core involved. Every step twists and turns and massages your organ body, it affects the lungs, your urogential function… the idea of the body as a self-healing mechanism is the essence of what I’m working with.
You have injuries and you walk and sometimes compensate for them. The way we walk most of the time exacerbates the injury pattern. The way you compensate is fine, but you didn’t come back to the way you walked, so you get problems somewhere else.
It’s all about movement. The more we move the better. When we do that there is going to be so much less pain.
The Psoas Release Party is an ongoing workshop and a book that Jonathan has written (both in resources). Why all the attention for the psoas? What makes it unique?
The psoas is an important muscle for three reasons: 1) It’s the muscle that brought us up to stand 2) It is the muscle that walks us through life and 3) It is the muscle of trauma, or the muscle that warehouses the unprocessed energy.
One of the things that makes us distinctly human is that we have a lumbar curve, that’s what allows us to stand upright, it’s what transfers weight through the spine, it’s what allows us to walk bipedally, and the psoas created the lumbar curve.
When we came up to stand the gluteus maximus is formed- it pulls down on the pelvis to pull it upright. As it does that, the psoas major crosses the pelvis and tension is created and its engagement creates the lumbar curve.
Once the spine is upright, there are only a few muscles- the psoas major, the piriformis, the gluteus maximus are working front to back to stabilize the pelvis.
I love the concept of walking as falling. What prevents us from falling completely is the psoas. When we lead with the legs instead of the core the psoas isn’t aligned correctly at the back half of the inner thigh. When this doesn’t happen the back half of the body doesn’t activate.
When the psoas is engaged with every step the entire back body lengthens. There are certain muscles that support the extension of the spine. If the psoas is not engaging to walk us through life the whole posterior chain is going to collapse.
The trauma piece is incredible to me. Psoas is the main hip flexor in the body and what I mean by that is that the psoas is involved in every response of fear. We’re all stuck in our fear response. Every time we’re afraid we flex; Fear is flexion. Your psoas is involved every time.
We have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system which work together to create homeostasis of the body. Sympathetic is in sympathy with our fear, parasympathetic is what brings us back to relaxation.
People who cannot relax as quickly as someone else, that gets into PTSD. I’m not trying to minimize PTSD, but I think we are all traumatized to one degree or another. We’re here to be traumatized and to work hard to develop a support system to integrate that trauma.
When the psoas cannot release out of the fear response, we get stuck in the sympathetic nervous system.
I don’t know why I’m interested in this stuff, I have the longest psoas in the world. I think the fact that I’m fairly chill helps me to work with people in trauma.
What are some ways to release the psoas?
You can stretch your psoas but you only feel it when it’s unhappy. I don’t think psoas is a muscle we need to strengthen. I am interested in strengthening the muscles that support the psoas.
When you look at psoas and piriformis, a lot of muscles in the body don’t work all the time, like the biceps. The psoas and piriformis are working a lot.
What happens when you do give these muscles a break? I think it’s a lot about the level of trauma in the body. How do you let that go?
One thing I’m doing is constructive rest position (in resources). It is popular across many different techniques like Alexander Technique. It was invented by a woman called Lulu Sweigard who wrote a book called Human Movement Potential [resource]. It allows gravity to relax and release the psoas. I also do one with a foot on the block and one leg hangs off. I want to put the psoas into a place where it can relax.
What’s fascinating is what happens when you do that. Every Psoas Release Party starts with 15 or 20 minutes of constructive rest. Some people have nothing happen. Some people will have their legs flop over to one side, and over and over again it happens. I have seen bodies convulse completely, I have seen feet stamp hard on the floor.
I love that the body takes care of itself when it is ready. It has to feel ok.
I think people are very messed up in their quads particularly the rectus femoris, and I feel like people sometimes can’t get to the psoas until the quads get better. I do a pose block lunges for that (in resources).
There are all different ways around it, but the idea of release is to put the muscle into a non-working state to get it to let go.
David Berceli does TRE, Trauma Release Exercises (in resources), and is really interesting to me. His work is about inducing tremors in the body in release positions.
Stick your butt out- why might that be worth harping on?
When I set out to teach people to walk I love that walking is a basic, big concept. I like using big images rather than the subtle. I love the subtle, and I love these really smart people who write about or teach really complex stuff. But I want it to be simple. It doesn’t get more simple than “stick your butt out”.
I don’t feel like you need to be able to do subtle work to change your body.
The main thing is using that cue to get your legs under your pelvis. Everyone leans forward in their thighs and back in their trunk. It doesn’t always pull the pelvis into a tuck, but often it does. So when I’m saying stick your butt out, I want their legs under their hip sockets.
“Relax your butt” is another one I use a lot. If gluteus maximus needs to be turned on, it’s only a little bit. When you’re just standing, relax your butt.
“Give your butt a room of its own.” It’s not meant to sit on your hamstrings, it’s meant to have it’s own space. We all need bigger butts.
It’s all simple imagery. I get into more subtle things with kegels, mula bandha, and uddiyhana bandha.
You’re not saying, “arch your low back more.”
We need to have a curve in our lower back, but you want the smallest possible curve. It is essential, but it does not need to be large. If the curve is too big or does not exist, the spine is not going to work well.
The keep on truckin’ cartoon is a good exaggeration of the walking pattern Jonathan is describing. His whole upper body is way behind him with the leg out in front.
In his own practice Jonathan is playing with how to spread the fingers in down dog. When he had been doing it, he was spreading them as much as he could. So the pinky was wider than the edge of the palm. I read a blog and the woman who wrote it said to move the pinky in line with the outer edge of the palm. It resonates all the way up into the arm, head, neck, and shoulder. (video in resources)
Where is your leg in your gait pattern? We have an image of our friend, the keep on truckin’ guy here, it’s clearly a gross exaggeration, but how much are you walking like him? Is your leg way out in front of you? Does your trunk trail behind? Does your leg ever get behind your midline into extension in your walk? How much does it move behind you? Can you use your toe hinge/toe off- that moment when your heel is up and your toes are on the ground? Or do you pick up your whole foot like it’s a block? See what you notice!
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