I built strength and increased flexibility with years of yoga practice, yet I still had a hard time doing backbends and inversions. While taking a core class one day, I had an “aha” moment that I should address my psoas. After an hour of consciously releasing them, I popped up into a wheel pose easier than ever before. This awakening inspired me to incorporate alignment and sequencing that supported the health of my psoas into my practice. I stopped perpetuating imbalances that I incurred due to my lack of awareness. Connected deeply to my core, I now practice backbends struggle-free, and inversions with a new sense of stability. Undoubtedly, addressing the health of this core muscle helps me feel more relaxed and grounded deeply in my own Self.
Because the psoas is seated deeply in the body, it can be challenging to find it and feel how it affects the body and mind. Sitting for long periods, bicycling, and activities such as sit-ups and some weight-training exercises put the psoas in a shortened state, and emotional stress literally contracts this powerful hip flexor when the flight-or-fight stress response kicks in.
To help unravel the mysteries of this important muscle, I’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions for you here.
What is a psoas? The only muscle that connects the torso to lower extremities, the psoas originates from the lowest thoracic vertebra, attaches to each lumbar vertebra, extends down through the pelvis and attaches to the inner upper thigh bone. A long muscle as wide as a wrist located in the back of the abdomen, it pulls the thigh toward the torso, and rotates the lower extremities inward or outward. We use the psoas to stand, walk and run.
What can tight and/or weak psoas do to your body? If the upper part is tight, it can collapse the chest and constrict breathing. The room in the abdomen can be reduced, which can compromise the optimal functioning of organs. A tight psoas contributes to the hyperextension of the lumbar spine and misalignment of the pelvis, which can cause lower back, pelvic and knee pain. A weak psoas can make the lumbar spine more flat and prone to injuries. If one side of the psoas is tighter, it forces the pelvis to tilt to one side. Compensating for the discrepancy, the spine misaligns as it tries to keep the head level.
How does it feel to have a healthy psoas? Optimally, the weight of the torso is carried through the bones, which gives us a sense of grounding. Unrestricted by the psoas, the hips are free to move and the lower back keeps its natural curvature. We feel more at ease. Walking is initiated at the solar plexus, and we literally move from a place of power. The psoas is engaged yet relaxed, reflecting “sthira-sukha” – one of the core principles of yoga
To undo chronic tension and establish a deep sense of harmony in the body and mind, sign up for Silvie’s workshop on May 22nd at YogaWorks San Francisco. Through systematic relaxation you will gently release the grip in the muscle. Prepared for deeper work, you will then alternate between stretching and strengthening. To incorporate psoas awareness into your daily practice, you will learn psoas-friendly pelvic alignment for selected poses. Register here.
Silvie Hibdon brings almost a decade of teaching into her classes that are well-sequenced, challenging, and anatomically focused. She puts great emphasis on inward focus that leads students deeper into their practice. Besides her public classes, she creates yoga sequences for a top health & fitness mobile app Workout Trainer. Silvie is also one of the most viewed writers on yoga on Quora and serves as an ambassador for InYo Yogawear.