Gratitude and the Lumbar Plexus

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SOMA – Transformational Body Work

Gratitude and the Lumbar Plexus
A Personal Case Study
by Shelly Donovan

: All one can do is sit and stare blankly into space when not required to engage in life’s activities.

At Rest: One may choose to sit and stare into space when not required to engage in life’s activities.

I have been receiving bodywork for twenty years and practicing it for thirteen. How my body responds to life’s journey has been an internal inquiry for a very long time with many revelations to be had. This latest chapter is directly applicable to those receiving the Tummy Temple Times.

Last year, over Thanksgiving weekend, I had the proverbial rug pulled out from under me. I was denied entry to a country where I had lived for over two years. I could not return to my boyfriend (now my husband), my cat, my clients and all of my things. I could not return to the life I had been building. I navigated my way through this stressful situation with a lot of help and, very long story short, landed back in Seattle which had been my home before leaving the country, since 1992. In the span of a year I moved countries, got married and navigated the process of a “green card” with my husband in addition to day to day life challenges. Any one of these events is a stressor; all at once and under pressure it was quite the ride!

My body held up beautifully while all of these events transpired. Then, early summer, the dust settled and fatigue set in like a thick fog. In my body I noticed that I felt all the usual effects of fatigue: overwhelm, anxiety, overwhelm, fear, overwhelm…you get the picture. And I felt tired. Oh so tired. I was acutely aware that I felt chronic inflammation especially in my lower abdominals. This combination of exhaustion and inflammation had the effect of making me feel both bloated and emaciated at the same time. I was so tired that my digestive system could not work properly to process food so I wasn’t feeling nourished. Yet this constant irritation of my bowel tissue was causing a sensation of heaviness and puffiness. Fatigue…sigh. I had exhausted my reserves.

Being in the industry for these many years, I knew how to get help and I did. I received belly massage and bodywork. I saw our acupuncturist and Registerd Dietitian. I took supplements, altered my diet and rested as much as I possibly could; All the right things to do. Month after month went by and there was improvement but still I felt that my body was struggling.

I stayed the course and one day she made a shift. The shift was not a sudden surge of energy. It was more subtle than that. The shift was most palpably felt in the lower abdomen. The inflammation began to subside and when it did I could once again feel the support of my pelvis, access to my breath and the sensation of levity and ease in my movement. I began to feel more energy available to me and less anxiety over everyday occurrences. It occurred to me that I was experiencing the function/dysfunction of the lumbar plexus as I understand it.

Do you know where and what your lumbar plexus is? Read on.

Lumbar Plexus

The lumbar plexus is a bundle of nerves found in the lumbar region of the body (click on the link below for a visual). If you were to look at the area of your body between your navel and your pubic bone and look all the way to the back of the inside of the cavity, there would sit the lumbar plexus of nerves. It partially imbeds itself in the psoas which is a long muscle that attaches to each one of the lumbar vertebrae. The psoas is crucial in the health of the spine. Walking, bending and standing upright without undue effort depend upon it. It’s function/dysfunction also profoundly effects this plexus of nerves. If the psoas is tight and contracted, it can impinge upon the nerves. This can be problematic as the lumbar plexus is responsible for much including innervation of the lower body and the ability of the body to feel at rest, to digest and for the overall feeling of well being. “All is well” is the message of a healthy lumbar plexus.

“All is well” can translate to:

More functional digestion and elimination
Clear signals from the body about hunger and satiation
The ability to handle day to day stress without extreme anxiety
A mind that can be at rest, wander and be creative
The ability to sleep well and feel rested when waking
Ease of movement and relative flexibility
Ability to access the breath
Ability to feel good in the body and be less prone to injury

Nervous System

The lumbar plexus is an important part of the “seat” of the parasympathetic nervous system. You may have heard of sympathetic/parasympathetic. Merck Manual gives this simple definition:

Sympathetic division: Its main function is to prepare the body for stressful or emergency situations—for fight or flight.
Parasympathetic division: Its main function is to prepare the body for ordinary situations.

These divisions work together, usually with one activating and the other inhibiting the actions of internal organs. For example, the sympathetic division increases pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rates, and the parasympathetic system decreases each of them.”

We at the Tummy Temple see clients day in and day out who experience the result of lack of access to the parasympathetic response. Symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, improper digestion, poor bowel habits, muscular discomfort etc. The dysfunction of the lower abdominal/pelvic region is an enormous contributor to these conditions. This region of the lumbar plexus, the pelvis, the digestive and reproductive organs are among our specialties at the Tummy Temple. Through colonics, abdominal massage, structural bodywork and Registerd Dietitian Consultations we can and do affect this region and help move our clients toward that beautiful notion of “All is well.” I have experienced the expertise first hand and there is nothing as powerful as holding a truth informed by personal experience in one’s own body. It took time, patience and commitment. I had the resolve to do it knowing that without my health my entire experience of life is diminished.

It also deserves mention that despite the challenges of my personal situation, all is resolving beautifully. I am married to the man that I love, back in a city that I love with my darling cat and my belongings rebuilding my practice with my dear friends and colleagues at the Tummy Temple and nourishing my lumbar plexus.

Thanks to the team at the Tummy Temple I am a walking testimonial.

“Lumbar Plexus Love” Exercise

Lumbar Plexus Love Exercise

Lie down on your back with something propped under your knees and a pillow under your head if you like. Make sure you are warm and comfortable. Place your hands between the navel and the pubis. Gently begin to direct your breath to this region. Use your hands for feedback that the breath is moving there. Once you are feeling the breath, cease to direct it and just notice it. Let the breath lead you and notice how your hands and your lower abdomen interact. Just rest. You can do this for 30 seconds or 30 minutes or longer and as often as you like. Repeat to yourself “All is well;” (even if you don’t believe it). Another mantra that has worked for me is simply, “Thank you.”


Shelly Donovan is a LMP, Certified Soma Practitioner and Reiki Master. She has completed two continuing education courses in abdominal massage. She is available for one and two hour treatment sessions or for the 11 session Soma Series.

Click here to view lumbar plexus images.