The psoas does more than you might expect from a simple muscle.
"The psoas helps us walk and breathe - it is an integral part of our function as human beings. It is also the space where we hold some of our deepest conditioning both helpful and harmful."
-Anne Jelinek, RYT 200, SFG II, CPT
CEO Pulse Kettlebells and Yoga
When we suffer emotional stress or trauma, we feel it in our bodies. Ever been there? How we react to that stress, and whether or not we deal with it head on, can have a big effect on what amount of tension or pain we experience emotionally as well as inside the body. Did you know that our deepest core muscle, the Psoas, is the ancient, internal root of emotional well-being? Release and maintain a healthy psoas and there’s a good chance you’ll notice improved vitality and emotional wellbeing.
Where is the Psoas?
So what is this strange, hard-to-pronounce muscle group? Pronounced So-az, the Psoas is a deep, very protected, and complex muscle group located in your trunk that acts as the only connector between your upper and lower body. It begins connected to either side of the thoracic spine (T12) near the diaphragm, roots through the inner side of the lumbar spine (L1-L5) through the inside of the hip complex (Iliacus) and ends at the top of each femur. This muscle in an animal would be categorized as the ‘tenderloin’ and in addition to defining the structure of the core, it maintains structural balance and integrity throughout the body, and offers range of motion and healthy organ function.
Ever feel short of breath when you’re stressed or feel building anxiety? The Psoas is also connected to the diaphragm which can have an effect on proper breathing and the amounts of oxygen we can take into the body. Furthermore, nerve endings have been linked from the psoas to what scientists refer to as the reptilian brain, or the most ancient part of the brainstem and spinal cord. This reptilian brain is what triggers a fight or flight response to stressors and trauma.
The Emotional Factor
Our wonderful bodies are so much smarter than we give them credit for, especially where it comes to addressing trauma and emotional injuries. As we age, old emotional scars can affect our bodies’ abilities to function properly. In fact, the psoas is so involved in the basic physical and emotional reactions that we have to emphasize that a tight psoas is a constant trigger to your brain that you are in danger. Repeat signals of stress and danger causes a rise in stress hormones and can eventually lead to a depleted immune system and exhausted adrenal glands. Furthermore, a wound up psoas can cause low back pain, tight hamstrings, postural alignment issues, and more.
How to Stretch and Relax the Psoas
The good news is that by unraveling a tight, overworked psoas, you can find emotional and physical release. Here are three ways you can begin to release physical and emotional tension in the psoas:
Find a massage therapist trained in Psoas release.
A massage therapist or connective tissue specialist trained in psoas release will be able to access the muscle structures from your abdomen. It can be somewhat of an uncomfortable feeling, but the release you experience after the fact makes it well worth it.
Use a firm 5” or 7” ball as a massage tool.
A firm 5” or 7” foam ball can act as a massage tool to release the connective tissue in your core. Simply lie face down and rest your weight on your elbows with the ball between your belly button and your hipbone (aiming for the ASIS - Anterior Superior Iliacus Spine) and slowly roll around until you find a sensitive or sore spot. Repeat on either side of your belly button towards your hip bone as well as up under your rib cage to release your diaphragm.
Lie in your bed on your back with one leg hanging off.
The easiest way to find relief on your own is to lie down on your back near the edge of your bed. If you’re on the right side of the bed, you will let your right leg hang off the side of the bed, creating a nice stretch in the Lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.