Yesterday in my tango class, my maestra Paola Tacchetti took one hand to her chest and the other to her pelvis and stated that the old milongueros would find heaven in their hearts and hell down below. She stated that the more we can proudly separate these two worlds, the closer we are to discovering our tango. As a philosophy for life or poetic verse, the metaphor of heaven and hell resonates with tangueros. Women often describe the embrace as heavenly and the gravity of movement around the floor as velvet iron. One milonguero explained to me that men spend the first half of their tango lives grounding their feet and legs, so that they can dance their emotions for that final half. Poets, tango teachers, and dancers can best describe the sensation and experience of a beautiful dance, and medical science best explains that connection between heaven and hell, the psoas muscle.
The psoas muscle, which consists of the psoas major and minor, starts from the lumbar spine; a strip of muscle wide as your wrist runs down both sides of the spine toward the outer edge of each pubis, and then back again toward the upper femur bone (thigh bone). The iliacus originates in the pelvic bowl and attaches to the psoas near the upper femur. This muscle group is often called the iliopsoas, which is our body’s stabilizer, allowing us to bend our hips and legs toward our chest, rotate our hips, walk, run, as well as support our internal organs. Attached to the psoas is the diaphragm, an essential muscle that regulates our breathing. When our breathing becomes shallow in moments of flight, fight, or panic, the psoas muscles contract. From an evolutionary perspective, a contracted psoas muscle allowed early humans to run from savage animals or defend themselves from warring tribes; however, in modern times, most often, our psoas muscle contracts due to feelings of stress or anxiety, sitting for long periods of time, sleeping in the fetal position, walking or running excessively, or performing too many sit-ups. If we repeatedly contract our psoas muscles, we cannot release our abdomen muscles, which means we cannot release our pelvic muscles, which means we cannot release the tension in our lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and feet, which means we experience injuries and unresolved emotional pain, which means we suffer in purgatory.
In the last month, I have been asking myself why my psoas muscle clinches without apology, no matter how much yoga I do or shots of fernet I drop. What am I holding onto? Ever since I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 13, I have experienced bodily pain nearly every day of my life. At times, that means a rib that has popped out of alignment, severe shoulder and neck pain that induces nausea, carpel tunnel syndrome, sciatica nerve pain, knee pain, calf strain, achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, Iliotibial band syndrome, and hip flexor tendonitis. I recall one summer day in college when I realized that I had not felt physical pain for a few days, the following day it returned. I figured that I must have jinxed myself because I never got back those pain-free days. I learned to live with it, for the most part, but I have spent many years going to physical therapy and chiropractor appointments. Only in the last year, I discovered that both yoga, tango, and meditation have been the most effective therapies. As I have searched for ways to separate my heaven from hell–learning to let go childhood traumas and the trauma of a narcissistic abusive relationship, learning to breathe and release the tension at the center of my body, and learning to accept my imperfections–I found my tango.