The Psoas: Muscle of The Soul

I was delight­ed when I first came across Liz Koch’s amaz­ing work because it con­firmed much of what I’d been intu­it­ing on my own. I had begun to open and close my yoga prac­tise with hip open­ing pos­es with the spe­cif­ic inten­tion of releas­ing ten­sion in my psoas and hip flex­ors. I’d breathe and imag­ine ten­sion flow­ing out of con­strict­ed mus­cles to be released as ener­gy into the tor­so.

It worked, I’d feel my body soft­en yet some­how grow stronger.

Read­ing Liz Koch I instant­ly real­ized what I was doing – by learn­ing to relax my psoas I was lit­er­al­ly ener­giz­ing my deep­est core by recon­nect­ing with the pow­er­ful ener­gy of the earth. Accord­ing to Koch, the psoas is far more than a core sta­bi­liz­ing mus­cle; it is an organ of per­cep­tion com­posed of bio-intel­li­gent tis­sue and “lit­er­al­ly embod­ies our deep­est urge for sur­vival, and more pro­found­ly, our ele­men­tal desire to flour­ish.”

Well, I just had to learn more. Here is just a sprin­kling of the research that Liz Koch and oth­ers have uncov­ered regard­ing the impor­tance of the psoas to our health, vital­i­ty and emo­tion­al well-being.

The Psoas mus­cle (pro­nounced so-as) is the deep­est mus­cle of the human body affect­ing our struc­tur­al bal­ance, mus­cu­lar integri­ty, flex­i­bil­i­ty, strength, range of motion, joint mobil­i­ty, and organ func­tion­ing.

Grow­ing out of both sides of the spine, the psoas spans lat­er­al­ly from the 12th tho­racic ver­te­brae (T12) to each of the 5 lum­bar ver­te­brae. From there it flows down through the abdom­i­nal core, the pelvis, to attach to the top of the femur (thigh) bone.

The Psoas is the only ‘mus­cle’ to con­nect the spine to the legs.  It is respon­si­ble for hold­ing us upright, and allows us to lift our legs in order to walk. A health­ily func­tion­ing psoas sta­bi­lizes the spine and pro­vides sup­port through the trunk, form­ing a shelf for the vital organs of the abdom­i­nal core.

The psoas is con­nect­ed to the diaphragm through con­nec­tive tis­sue or fas­cia which affects both our breath and fear reflex. This is because the psoas is direct­ly linked to the reptil­ian brain, the most ancient inte­ri­or part of the brain stem and spinal cord.  As Koch writes “Long before the spo­ken word or the orga­niz­ing capac­i­ty of the cor­tex devel­oped, the rep­til­ian brain, known for its sur­vival instincts, main­tained our essen­tial core func­tion­ing.”

Koch believes that our fast paced mod­ern lifestyle (which runs on the adren­a­line of our sym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem) chron­i­cal­ly trig­gers and tight­ens the psoas – mak­ing it lit­er­al­ly ready to run or fight. The psoas helps you to spring into action – or curl you up into a pro­tec­tive ball.

If we con­stant­ly con­tract the psoas to due to stress or ten­sion , the mus­cle even­tu­al­ly begins to short­en lead­ing to a host of painful con­di­tions includ­ing low back pain, sacroil­i­ac pain, sci­at­i­ca, disc prob­lems, spondy­lol­y­sis, sco­l­io­sis, hip degen­er­a­tion, knee pain, men­stru­a­tion pain, infer­til­i­ty, and diges­tive prob­lems.

A tight psoas not only cre­ates struc­tur­al prob­lems, it con­stricts the organs, puts pres­sure on nerves, inter­feres with the move­ment of flu­ids, and impairs diaphrag­mat­ic breath­ing.

In fact, “The psoas is so inti­mate­ly involved in such basic phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al reac­tions, that a chron­i­cal­ly tight­ened psoas con­tin­u­al­ly sig­nals your body that you’re in dan­ger, even­tu­al­ly exhaust­ing the adren­al glands and deplet­ing the immune sys­tem.”

And accord­ing to Koch, this sit­u­a­tion is exac­er­bat­ed by many things in our mod­ern lifestyle, from car seats to con­stric­tive cloth­ing, from chairs to shoes that dis­tort our pos­ture, cur­tail our nat­ur­al move­ments and fur­ther con­strict our psoas.

Koch believes the first step in cul­ti­vat­ing a healthy psoas is to release unnec­es­sary ten­sion.  But “to workwith the psoas is not to try to con­trol the mus­cle, but to cul­ti­vate the aware­ness nec­es­sary for sens­ing its mes­sages.  This involves mak­ing a con­scious choice to become somat­i­cal­ly aware.”

 A relaxed psoas is the mark of play and cre­ative expres­sion.  Instead of the con­tract­ed psoas, ready to run or fight, the relaxed and released psoas is ready instead to length­en and open, to dance. In many yoga pos­es (like tree)  the thighs can’t ful­ly rotate out­ward unless the psoas releas­es. A released psoas allows the front of the thighs to length­en and the leg to move inde­pen­dent­ly from the pelvis, enhanc­ing and deep­en­ing the lift of the entire tor­so and heart.

Koch believes that by cul­ti­vat­ing a healthy psoas, we can rekin­dle our body’s vital ener­gies by learn­ing to recon­nect with the life force of the uni­verse. With­in the Taoist tra­di­tion the psoas is spo­ken of as the seat or mus­cle of the soul, and surrounds the low­er “Dan tien” a major ener­gy cen­ter of body.  A flex­i­ble and strong psoas grounds us and allows sub­tle ener­gies to flow through the bones, mus­cles and joints.

Koch writes “The psoas, by con­duct­ing ener­gy, grounds us to the earth, just as a ground­ing wire pre­vents shocks and elim­i­nates sta­t­ic on a radio. Freed and ground­ed, the spine can awak­en”…“ As grav­i­ta­tion­al flows trans­fer weight through bones, tis­sue, and mus­cle, into the earth, the earth rebounds, flow­ing back up the legs and spine, ener­giz­ing, coor­di­nat­ing and ani­mat­ing pos­ture, move­ment and expres­sion. It is an unin­ter­rupt­ed con­ver­sa­tion between self, earth, and cos­mos.”

So, it might be worth it, next time you prac­tice, to tune in and pay atten­tion to what your bio-intel­li­gent psoas has to say.

BY DANIELLE PROHOM OLSON

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