The Psoas Muscle Angel Yoga
How many of you have heard of the Psoas Muscle? It is the only muscle that connects the upper body to the lower body yet most people have never heard of it.
The Psoas possesses crucial fascia connections to support numerous visceral structures and organs. These organs through muscular contraction of the psoas can be stimulated and massaged, and subsequently exert influences on the digestion, excretion/elimination, detoxification and even reproduction processes of the body.
The psoas affects respiration via its anatomic relationship with the diaphragm in area of the solar plexus, which also then influences energy flow throughout the body through its geographic relationship to the lower three chakras.
The Psoas travels vertically from the spine to the leg, and diagonally across the pelvis. As a skeletal muscle that passes across more than one joint, it becomes biarticulate (a muscle that works two joints) The Psoas also supports the internal organs and the pelvic floor. Thus any force of the psoas (Muscular contraction) can stimulate and massage the organs, such as the intestines, kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, bladder and stomach. The psoas because of its proximity to major organs, plays a role in what we call our “gut feelings”.
Structurally, your psoas muscles are the deepest muscles in your core. They attach from your 12th thoracic vertebrae to your 5th lumbar vertebrae, through your pelvis, and then finally attach to your femurs. As I mentioned, they are the only muscles that connect your spine to your legs.
Your psoas muscles allow you to bend your hips and legs toward your chest, for example, when you are going up stairs. They also help to move your leg forward when you walk or run. These same muscles flex your trunk forward when you bend over to pick up something from the floor. They also stabilize your trunk and spine during movement and sitting.
The psoas muscles support your internal organs and work like hydraulic pumps, allowing blood and lymph to be pushed in and out of your cells. They are vital not only to your structural well-being but also to your psychological well-being because of their connection to your breath.
Here’s why, there are two tendons for the diaphragm (called the crura) that extend down and connect to the spine alongside where the psoas muscles attach. One of the ligaments wraps around the top of each psoas. Also, the diaphragm and the psoas muscles are connected through fascia that also connects the other hip muscles. These connections between the psoas muscle and the diaphragm literally connect your ability to walk and breathe and also how you respond to fear and excitement. When you are startled or under stress, your psoas contracts. In other words, your psoas has a direct influence on your fight-or-flight response!
During prolonged periods of stress, your psoas is constantly contracted. The same contraction occurs when you sit for long periods of time, engage in excessive running or walking, sleep in the fetal position, or do a lot of sit-ups. All of these activities compress the front of your hip and shorten your psoas muscle.
7 Ways to Tell If You Have a Psoas Muscle Imbalance
When you have a tight (or short) psoas muscle, you may experience pain in your lower back or in your hips, especially when lifting your legs. This is caused by the muscle compressing the discs in the lumbar region of your back. Stretching your muscles and releasing the tension on the psoas is the best way to prevent this from happening. It takes time and daily attention to keep your psoas muscles relaxed, stretched, and strong.
While most people with psoas issues have tight psoas muscles, there are some people whose psoas muscles can be overstretched. In this case, if you stretch your psoas and it is already overstretched, you will cause more problems.
Here are 7 ways to tell if you have a psoas muscle imbalance:
- Leg length discrepancy.A tight psoas muscle can cause your pelvis to rotate forward. This, in turn, can cause an internal rotation of your leg on the affected side. The opposite leg will rotate externally in an effort to counterbalance. This will make the affected leg longer so that every time you take a step, it drives your leg up into your hip socket. This can lead to functional leg length discrepancy.
- Knee and low back pain.If you experience knee or low back pain with no apparent cause, it may be coming from your psoas muscles. When your femur is in essence locked into your hip socket due to a tight psoas muscle, rotation in the joint can’t occur. This can cause your knee and low back torque.
- Postural problems. When your psoas is too short or tight, it can pull your pelvis into an anterior tilt, compressing the spine and pulling your back into hyperlordosis. If your psoas is overstretched or weak, it can flatten the natural curve of your lumbar spine, creating a “flat bum.” This misalignment is characterized by tight hamstrings pulling down on the sitting bones, which cause the sacrum to lose its natural curve and result in a flattened lumbar spine. This can lead to low-back injury, especially at the intervertebral discs. You may also feel pain at the front of your hip. Finally, it is possible for your psoas muscles to be both tight and overstretched. In this case, your pelvis is pulled forward in front of your center of gravity, causing your back to curve (swayback) and your head to poke forward.
- Difficulty moving your bowels. A tight psoas muscle can contribute to or even cause constipation. A large network of lumbar nerves and blood vessels passes through and around the psoas muscles. Tightness in the psoas muscles can impede blood flow and nerve impulses to the pelvic organs and legs. In addition, when the psoas is tight, your torso shortens, decreasing the space for your internal organs. This affects food absorption and elimination. As such it can contribute to constipation.
- Menstrual cramps.An imbalance in your psoas muscles can be partially responsible for menstrual cramps, as it puts added pressure on your reproductive organs.
- Chest breathing.A tight psoas muscle can create a thrusting forward of the ribcage. This causes shallow, chest breathing, which limits the amount of oxygen taken in and encourages overuse of your neck muscles.
- Feeling exhausted.Your psoas muscles create a muscular shelf that your kidneys and adrenals rest on. As you breathe properly, your diaphragm moves and your psoas muscles gently massage these organs, stimulating blood circulation. But when the psoas muscles become imbalanced, so do your kidneys and adrenal glands, causing physical and emotional exhaustion.
- Take constructive rest.The constructive rest position (CRP) can relieve low back, pelvic, and hip tension while it allows your entire body to come into neutral. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor hip-width apart and parallel to each other. Place your heels a comfortable distance from your buttocks or about 16 inches away. Do not push your low back into the floor or tuck your pelvis. Rest your arms over your belly. Let gravity do the work. Doing this for 10 to 20 minutes every day will release tension in your psoas muscles and help to reestablish the neurobiological rhythms that calm and refresh.
- Pay attention to your pelvis!The length of the psoas determines whether or not your pelvis is free to move. To tell whether your psoas muscles are tight or overstretched, stand sideways by a mirror (or even better, have a friend take a photo of you from the side). Note the position of your pelvis. If you were to draw a line along your pelvis from back to front, that line should be pretty straight. If the line tilts downward, your pelvis is anteriorly rotated or moving toward the front of your body. This means that your psoas muscles may be short and tight. If the line runs upward, your pelvis is posteriorly tilted toward the back of your body. This means that your psoas muscle may be overstretched and weak.