What on earth is a Psoas? Pronounced ‘So-as’, the Psoas is a fancy term for the group of hip flexor muscles that run from the thigh to the thoracic ribcage. The hip flexors are the muscles recruited to flex, or bend your hip. However, the Psoas does so much more. It’s the core of your body’s structural stability. Without it, you’d fall down like a rag doll. If you think about it, any time you move you are using these muscles to some degree, so they get worked a lot. If you’re recruiting the muscle incorrectly or overusing it by contracting when you shouldn’t, many things will happen– none of them pleasant. Pain in the groin area, lower back and abdomen are the most common.
The Psoas affects us on an emotional level as well. Not to get too ‘new age-y,’ but many believe that this muscle is where you get that ‘pit in your stomach’ or ‘butterflies’ feeling. Anytime you are stressed or scared or tense, your Psoas is in a contracted state. If you find yourself like this often, it is likely you also have digestive issues, lower back and knee. You may even have breathing issues as a shortened Psoas constricts the Diaphragm, which is pretty important for breathing.
Seeing as though the Psoas stabilizes the spine and keeps us upright, how do you not over use it? Well, in this instance, practice makes perfect. Having balanced muscles of the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and core is one way. When any of these muscle groups is weak or not functioning properly, the Psoas will take over. Repeating this pattern hundreds of times per day causes the muscle to shorten and lose its flexibility. This is when pain in other areas of the body becomes evident. This shortening is compounded even further if you have a structural imbalance (like a tilted Pelvis) that is not muscle related. A shortened Psoas can even restrict organs of the abdomen due to its close proximity to them. Now you are stuck in nasty cycle of imbalance that is hard to reverse quickly. Over time and with work you can. In order to have a healthy Psoas, you need to ‘teach it’ to release. This does not mean to ‘stretch’ it only. Though stretching is good, stretching does involve some work of the muscle at the same time. We need to give the Psoas some time off.
Here are two really simple ways to release the Psoas and get some ‘you’ time in as well.
Elevated Head Position
Lay prone (on your back) with a couple of firm pillows or a yoga bolster under your head and shoulders. Extend your legs out in front of you about hip distance apart. Your hamstrings should be flat on the floor as well. Extend your arm out to the side in a ‘T’ position with the palms up. Relax the abdominal muscles and the leg muscles and try and keep your pelvis level to the floor. If in doing this there is an extreme arch in your upper back, then your Psoas is shortened. Keep taking deep breaths until you feel your ribs and back relaxing toward the floor (they will not touch the floor). This may take some time, but be patient and do not try to force this release to happen as that will cause even more stress on the muscles.
Elevated Sacrum Position
Lay prone (on your back) with a rolled towel or a rolled yoga mat under your Sacrum (right above the tailbone). Maintain the same positioning as in the release above. This is good if the above position is too intense for you in the beginning.
Start out in small spurts of time 5 minutes and then work your way up. If you can relax in the position for 15 minutes you should see real relief.
While you are in either of these positions, close your eyes, take deep inhales through the nose and exhale through the mouth without engaging your core. Try and clear your mind.
Having a healthy Psoas can not only improve the structural integrity of your body but improve your emotional health as well.
-Jessica Kuiken is a Los Angeles based Pilates Instructor. You can follow her on Twitter here.