The Psoas (pronounced SO-as) is one of the most important muscle groups of the body. It is the deepest muscle of the human body that affects not just our physical health but our mental health as well. Physically, the psoas muscles are the primary connectors between your torso and your legs. Meaning that, whatever you do- be it running, dancing, biking or even just walking, your psoas muscles are involved. The purpose of this muscle group is to stabilize the spine. Like we mentioned in a previous post about how to strengthen the spine, the key to a healthy body is a healthy spine and a stable spine at that.
The psoas is located from the middle of the spine to the top of the thigh bone. It attaches from the bottom of the rib cage all the way down to the very top of the thigh bone. It is the only muscle that connects the spine to the legs. In reality, the psoas muscle can be quite prone to weakness. You can check how strong your psoas is by lying on your back and holding your leg in the air. Naturally, you should be able to hold your leg up in a 90 degree angle (with leg bent or straight) for a minute or even longer. If you feel this to be difficult, then you may need to strengthen your psoas.
What about a “tight” psoas?
You may have heard many people say how they feel their psoas is tight. Well, since the psoas is also connected to our diaphragm, a tight psoas can also affect your breathing. Their connection to our breath is vital because it also affects how we respond to fear and excitement! If you get startled by something, our psoas contracts. Therefore, the psoas has a direct influence in our flight or fight response!
Fear, anxiety, stress or sadness cause our psoas to tighten. These emotions lead to a tight psoas, which could physically lead to lower back pain, shortness of breath and can cause our sympathetic nervous system to become overactive. This then could lead to weight gain, depression and fatigue. This only confirms more that our bodies, minds and spirits are all connected.
There are also physical factors that can cause our psoas to contract and shorten; such as sitting for an extended period of time, excessive running or walking or even too many sit-ups. All of these activities compress the front of your hips and shorten the psoas muscle. Depending on each person and each situation, sometimes it is better to stretch the psoas and sometimes it is better to strengthen it.
2 yoga poses to stretch your psoas
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
From downward facing dog, exhale and step forward with the right foot. Make sure your knee is directly above your ankle and don’t let the knee pass the ankle. Drop your left knee down to the floor. Slide the left knee back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the left front thigh and groin area. Bring the top of your left foot to the floor. Bring your hands to your right knee. With each inhale, open the chest up and with each exhale push the hips forward and down. Do this for at least 3 full breaths and switch sides.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Kneel on the floor with your knees hips width distance apart. Inhale, lift your sternum up, engage your lower belly. Exhale reach back and drop your hands toward your heels while pushing your hips forward. Remember to keep the chest raised at all times. Press the palms of your hands into the heels of your feet and relax the neck. Keep your gaze at the tip of your nose. Stay and breathe here for 5 breaths. Inhale slowly come up, release the hands from the feet and lower down into child’s pose.
2 yoga poses to strengthen your psoas
Navasana (Boat Pose)
Starting from a seated position on the floor, with legs extended straight forward, place your hands down on either side of your hips. Inhale and lift the legs up and draw your navel in towards your spine. Keep the thighs together and draw the knees in towards your chest by engaging the core. You can hug your legs in until you properly align your spine and find balance. You may keep the legs bent or straight. Lengthen the spine, keep the chest open and lift the chin up. Release the embrace and hold the position for 5 breaths. Repeat this between 3-5 times.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Lie down with your back on the floor. Inhale and lift your right leg up and grab your big toe with your two peace fingers. You may use a strap if you cannot reach your big toe. Lift your shoulder blades off the floor and try to bring your forehead to your shin while keeping the leg straight. Keep your left hand on to your left hip, to keep your pelvis down to the floor. Stay here for 5 breaths. Exhale and lower the head down and open the right leg to the right side, still holding the big toe. Turn the head and look over to the left side. Stay here for 5 breaths. Inhale bring the right leg back to center, lift the head and shoulders up again for one whole breath and exhale, release down. Repeat on the other side.
We hope this post gives you a basic awareness for the mystical muscle that is the psoas. We mention these postures to help keep you and your psoas strong and healthy. In any case at all, please consult your doctor or physician if you have any pain regarding your lower back or psoas muscles. <3