The Psoas is referred to as the hip flexor and a core stabilizing muscle but looking closer it’s more of an primordial organ of perception, a messenger of the core. Deep in our physical body the psoas is said to be the muscle of the soul. It surrounds and interacts with the lower major energy centers, chakras, of the body. A flexible and strong psoas grounds us to the earth and allows subtle energies to flow through the bones, muscles and joints down into the earth and back up again through our legs and spine. 

This is a story from one of Ashtanga Yoga Nicaragua’s students:

As a student to yoga, having discovered it about 20 years ago, I have always wondered which parts of the body are directly related to our moods and where in the body we can carry stress and unreleased tension.

I was 19 years old when I first tried yoga. It was the face of BKS Iyengar that first graced my teenage consciousness as I walked through the corridor to the classroom. I remember thinking who is that guy and what is he going to teach me? There are many things he taught me about alignment and so on but mostly he taught me that this physical frame we inhabit needs to be opened up and stretched and moved and balanced and breathed into no matter what the age.

Learning this in my late teens had a profound effect on me in my intervening years. I discovered something that I hadn’t really learnt at school before discovering yoga, the focus was on just exercise for exercise sake. It wasn’t about connecting the mind and the body.

A few years ago I happened upon a yoga journal that talked about the Psoas muscle and it being directly related to stress. A muscle I had never hear of before. But why hadn’t I heard about it before? shouldn’t we be learning this at school? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to try and educate ourselves on the ways in which our bodies can harbour stress and then find ways to release it?

I guess I don’t really need to convince you of the reasons we as humans experience stress, the modern world, this mortal coil is a vehicle for it. Do we realise the implications it can have on our bodies? And if we do then what can we do? With something as high as ‘Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety’. (this quote was taken from AIS the American Institute for Stress).

But how do we know when we are stressed? and just as importantly how can Yoga help us to combat stress? Which parts of the body are stress carriers and how can we find ways to release them?

I wanted to explore further the ways we harbour stress and look directly at the Psoas muscle. I wanted to explore the physiology of our wellbeing, how a singular muscle can release tension and help us to relax and it have a direct impact on our overall health. Stop us from reaching for another glass of wine or another cake or lashing out at someone. Being able to focus and face the day with confidence. Abigail B

The Psoas

The muscle we refer to as Psoas or the hip flexors are three muscles: Psoas Major, Psoas Minor and Illiacus.

The Psoas is not easy to find as it is located deep in the body. It springs from the lower vertebrae, the T12 and the L1-L5,  and is attached on the upper part of the femur (inner lesser trocanter). It is the only muscle connecting the spine to the femur, holding us up and allowing us to move our legs. It is a multifunctional muscle that determines our posture. It gives stability in the spine and pelvis and helps us move dynamically when we run, jump or walk.

Stress will cause the Posas to tighten up chronically.

As we have already discussed, our fast paced modern life, when we are regularly high on adrenaline, constantly triggers the Psoas muscle. It is always in a tight position when we are in flee/fight/freeze mood, ready for us to spring into action, to flee and run. We want to be able to coil up or sprint away quickly.

Psoas is also connected to the diaphragm through connective tissue or fascia which means that it is under the direct influence of the part of the Nervous System that is automatic, the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System. Another way of describing it is to say that it has a direct link to the reptilian brain, the most ancient interior part of the brain stem and spinal cord. The reptilian brain is known for taking care of our survival instincts.

A tight Psoas will interfere with the internal organs.

A chronically tightened muscle due to stress and tension will eventually lead to a number of problems including low back pain, digestive problems, disc problems, knee pain, hip degeneration, infertility and menstruation pain. (The list can go on…) With other words, a tight psoas do not only create structural problems, it will also interfere with the normal function of the internal organs, put pressure on nerves and constrict diaphragmatic breathing. A tight Psoas will over time, due to the physical and emotional triggers of being in constant danger, exhaust the adrenal glands and deplete the immune system.

The reason why you shouldn’t stretch a tight psoas in your yoga practice.

In the yoga room we are quick trying to “fix” any tightness with “hip opening” sequences. It’s all good as long as we remember that the psoas is activated by all types of stress. There are no specific psoas stretches that will work, on the contrary, trying to stretch the muscle will probably make it more prone to tightness. Only because a muscle is tight doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to stretch it. In most cases the muscle is weak and stretching will simply create more stress in the nervous system. The muscle will respond with more tightness and more stress. Finding balance between strength and flexibility is the best solution and sometimes we have to work on the strengh rather than the flexibility.

Recovery is the answer.

As the psoas is an emotional muscle, it stores negative energy in the blocks of tightness and will respond to any yoga practice if done properly with the goal to release stress and improve consciousness.  A gentle approach with the focus on recovery and relaxation is preferable. The Psoas is wild and primitive, it expresses our deepest desires for survival. By listening deeply and respectfully to its message we can collect useful information so that we can adapt accordingly. Trough a consistent and committed yoga practice we will learn how to take care of ourselves and bring peace and balance back into our bodily systems. In our daily yoga practice Savasana is one of the most important asanas to learn properly for deep relaxation. Making sure your yoga practice is geared towards a successful Savasana where you can fully rest and recover is very important. How to learn deep relaxation and how to you successfully practice Savanas will the topic of our next blog post.

Learn more about the many physical, mental and spiritual benefits of yoga and how yoga can help manage stress by attending a month long yoga teacher training with Ashtanga Yoga Nicaragua.