The psoas muscle often assumes almost mythical properties within the yoga and bodywork communities. The psoas is often referenced as a muscle vital not just for our structural well-being and for back pain prevention, but for our psychological and emotional well-being as well.
So, what’s the real story? Are these claims exaggerated, or, is the psoas muscle really one of the most important muscles in the body, which plays a key regulating function in the body? And if so, how and why?
Claims of the many roles of the psoas are indeed based in actual facts about the functions of the two psoas muscles, notes yoga therapist, physical therapist, and assistant professor at Maryland University of Integrative Health Marlysa Sullivan, P.T. in this free download.
The psoas muscles are the main hip flexors that connect the torso and the legs, and as such, they are involved in pretty much any movement involving the legs and/or low back, explains Marlysa.
Much more than that, however, the psoas muscles play a key role in postural alignment and spinal stability. They also supports our internal organs and play an important role in maintaining both steady breath and emotional regulation.
Because of its key importance to so many bodily functions, it’s important to keep the psoas healthy and resilient, notes Marlysa.
The psoas and the surrounding internal organs are linked via the fascial structures in the body. Because of this connection, a tight psoas results in restrictions throughout the abdominal region, thereby limiting the mobility and motility in the abdominal organs and potentially decreasing the flow of lymphatic fluids, Marlysa explains.
In addition, a psoas that is chronically short or tight can result in an increased lumbar curve, compression in the spine and decreased activation of the deeper abdominals, and even the pelvic floor, Marlysa states. This can contribute to back pain, pelvic pain, abdominal pain, and even irritable bowel syndrome.
Marlysa further details how the psoas also influences emotional balance via its close link to breathing. The diaphragm and the psoas are connected via the fascial network, so if one becomes tight or dysfunctional, the other will be affected. When we are stressed or startled, the psoas is activated, triggering the fight-or-flight response. This makes perfect sense since one of its main tasks is flexing the hip for running or fighting. However, with repeated stress, the psoas can become chronically tight, trapping us in a chronic state hyperdrive.
Marlysa further gives examples of how we can learn to assess a tight psoas and ways to release it using various yoga techniques (hint: stretching is not enough). She gives examples of a few yoga practices to release the psoas and induce parasympathetic functioning to help both mind and body settle down and let go.
You may also enjoy Marlysa’s course, Awaken the Psoas, Free the Breath – Yoga for Balancing the Core, Releasing the Low Back and Improving Well-being.