Mystery Muscle: The Psoas

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Today I went to the docter and found out that I am having low back pain as a result of a tight psoas (pronounced “so-az”) muscle. Apparently it’s incredibly common to suffer from a tight or weak psoas, so I thought I would post some interesting facts about this mystery muscle.

  • The psoas muscle acts as a bridge linking the trunk to the legs, the psoas is critical for balanced alignment, proper joint rotation, and full muscular range of motion.
  • The start of the psoas muscle is found in the lumbar, or lower spine, where the paired psoas muscles anchor on either side of the spine.
  • Intimately involved in the fight or flight response, the psoas can curl you into a protective fetal ball or flex you to prepare the powerful back and leg muscles to spring into action. Because the psoas is so intimately involved in such basic physical and emotional reactions, a chronically tightened psoas continually signals your body that you’re in danger, eventually exhausting the adrenal glands and depleting the immune system.
  • Skeletally and structurally, your legs start at your hip sockets. If your pelvis tilts forward or back or side to side every time you move your legs, the bones can’t bear and transfer weight properly. Your psoas will then be called upon to help protect the spine by stabilizing your skeleton. If you constantly contract the psoas to correct for skeletal instability, the muscle eventually begins to shorten and lose flexibility.

Yoga poses and simple exercises to protect the psoas mucle:

  • Constructive rest position: lie on your back, bend your knees to about 90 degrees, and place your feet on the floor in line with your hip sockets, 12 to 16 inches from your buttocks. Be careful not to flatten or exaggerate the curves in either your lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) spine. Rest your hands and forearms on your rib cage, on your pelvis, or by bringing them to the floor as in Savasana.
  • Pigeon Pose
  • Take a block or thick book and place it 12 to 16 inches away from a wall. Stand on the block or book with your left foot, supporting and balancing yourself with your right hand on the wall. Let your right leg and foot hang completely released. Gently swing this leg back and forth like a pendulum, taking care not to let the trunk bend or twist as your leg swings. (If your pelvis is torquing, you’re going beyond the released range of motion of your psoas.) See if you can sense the pendulum movement deep within your torso; it should begin at the very top of your psoas at your 12th thoracic vertebra, behind your solar plexus. After you swing the leg for a few minutes, step down from the block and see if your two legs feel different. You’ve released the psoas attached to the swinging leg, and most likely this leg will feel longer, freer, and more relaxed.

Hope this helps and keep stretching 🙂

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