Updated: Apr 14
The human body is an amazing piece of natural engineering, a complex system of muscles, bones and joints, all working together in harmony to keep us moving, evolving, breathing, and living. One muscle that often gets overlooked yet plays a crucial role in our overall well-being, is the psoas muscle. Dubbed the "muscle of the soul, the psoas muscle is intimately connected to our emotional and physical well-being.
In this article, we will explore how important is that not-so-well-known part of our bodies, and the importance of releasing tension in the psoas muscle to improve our happiness and well-being.
As you read through this article, you may find it helpful to refer to the index I've included below :
What is the Psoas muscle?
The psoas muscle, also known as the "muscle of the soul," is a unique muscle in the human body as it is the only muscle that connects the spine to the legs. This muscle plays a vital role in the function of the body, both physically and emotionally.
Physically, the psoas muscle plays a key role in maintaining healthy posture and mobility. It is responsible for the movement of the hips and spine, and is often associated with stiffness in these areas. It also plays a role in the way we walk and practice yoga, and is closely connected to the diaphragm, influencing our breathing.
Emotionally, the psoas muscle is linked to feelings of relaxation and stability. A relaxed and awakened psoas can help increase sensitivity in the body and promote the free flow of subtle energy.
The psoas muscle is truly a connector in every sense of the word. It is involved in almost every action and movement of the body throughout the day and is a powerful muscle to focus on for overall wellness.
Exploring the Psoas: Anatomy of the Muscle of the Soul
The psoas muscle, scientifically known as the iliopsoas, is a deep muscle located in the hip region. It is made up of two muscles, the iliacus muscle and the psoas major, which work together to flex the hip joint and rotate the thigh. But let’s have a closer look:
The iliacus muscle originates from the iliac fossa, which is a concave surface located on the inner side of the hip bone. It inserts on the lesser trochanter, which is a small protrusion located on the upper part of the thigh bone (femur).
The psoas major originates from the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae, and the intervertebral discs, and it inserts on the lesser trochanter of the femur. It is responsible for flexing the hip joint.
As you can see the psoas or iliopsoas muscle is the strongest hip flexor and aids in the external rotation of the femur, playing an important role in hip joint strength and integrity. It is required for proper standing or sitting lumbar posture, as well as walking and running.
However, the psoas muscle is not only important for movement but also for our emotional well-being. It is closely connected to the diaphragm, which is responsible for breathing and emotional expression. When the psoas muscle becomes tight or imbalanced, it can restrict the diaphragm's movement, making it difficult to fully express emotions, or triggering stress and anxiety. This is why we call the psoas muscle, the "muscle of the soul."
Understanding the Connections Between the Nervous System and the Psoas muscle
The human body is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which acts largely unconsciously and beyond our direct control. The ANS plays a critical role in maintaining overall health by regulating the body's response to safety and danger, and supporting growth and rest.
It has three states: the parasympathetic state of relaxation (rest and digest), the sympathetic state of activation and defense (fight or flight), and the third option is to freeze.
For optimal health, it's essential for the body to be able to shift seamlessly between these states. The parasympathetic state of relaxation is where the body feels most at ease, with energy flowing to the digestive organs and muscles remaining naturally toned and relaxed.
However, when the body senses or experiences danger, it responds by going into a heightened state of activation, and one of the first muscles to react in this situation is the psoas. It contracts in preparation for the fight or flight response.
Once the danger has passed, the body will return to the parasympathetic state of relaxation and rest, as long as your psoas is released.
You understand now how vital it is to release the tension in the psoas muscle. It’s the mandatory step to free yourself from stress by allowing your parasympathetic system to flow back to its relaxed state.
How to Release the Psoas Muscles: 4 Yoga Asanas
Yoga is an excellent practice for psoas muscle release. Certain asanas can target it specifically, helping to release tension and restore balance to the muscle. Some of the most effective psoas-releasing yoga poses include:
Pigeon pose, or "Kapotasana", is a deep hip opener and a common yoga asana. It is a challenging and intense pose that requires flexibility in the hips and legs.
To practice pigeon pose, begin on your hands and knees, bring your right knee towards your right hand and extend your left leg behind you. Lower your hips to the ground, keeping your right knee close to your right hand, and your left leg extended behind you. You can lower your torso towards the ground, or you can stay up on your hands and arms. You can also move your arms forward and rest your head on the ground in front of you.
This pose stretches the hip flexors, glutes, and thigh muscles of the front leg and opens the hip of the back leg. It also helps to improve spinal flexibility and can be therapeutic for lower back pain. It's important to be mindful of your alignment during this pose and not to push too hard.
It's recommended to start with a modified version of this pose if you are new to it or if you are not flexible enough. You could also use props like blocks or a blanket to support your head and hands. It's also important to move into this pose with care and listen to your body. As you practice, you may find that you are able to deepen the pose over time.
“Anjaneyasana”, also known as the lunge pose, is a great way to strengthen and stretch your psoas. It is named after the Hindu God Anjaneya, also known as Hanuman.
To begin, start in a standing position with your feet together. Take a big step forward with your right foot, and lower your body down so that your left knee is hovering just above the ground. Be sure to keep your right knee directly above your ankle and your hips facing forward.
Next, place your hands on your hips or on the ground beside your right foot. As you inhale, lift your chest and engage your core. On an exhale, lower your hips even further toward the ground. You should feel a stretch in your left hip flexor and thigh. You can also reach your arms up overhead for an added chest and shoulder stretch.
Hold this position for several deep breaths, then gently release and return to standing. Repeat on the other side. As you practice this pose, you'll notice your balance and stability improving, and your legs and hips getting stronger.
Camel pose, or "Ustrasana" in Sanskrit, is a kneeling backbend pose in yoga. This pose is considered an intermediate to advanced posture and requires flexibility in the spine, shoulders and hip flexors.
Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart and your shins parallel to each other. Place your hands on your lower back with your fingers pointing down. As you inhale, press into your hands and lift your chest. On an exhale, begin to arch your back and reach your hands backwards, one at a time, to hold onto your heels. Keep your head in a neutral position or allow it to drop back.
As you hold this pose, you will feel a stretch in your front body including your hip flexors, abdomen and chest. This pose also strengthens the muscles of the back and opens the heart center.
It's important to note that if you have any neck or lower back injury, it's recommended to avoid this pose or do it with modifications. If you are new to it, you might want to practice it with the guidance of a yoga teacher.
Child's pose, or "Balasana", is a basic yoga asana that is often used as a resting pose or as a counterpose between more active asanas.
To practice Child's pose, start on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. As you exhale, sit back on your heels and lower your torso and head to the floor in front of your knees. You can either place your arms alongside your torso with your palms facing up, or you can reach your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down.
This posture stretches the hips, thighs and ankles while calming the mind and relieving stress and tension in the back, neck and shoulders. It also helps to stimulate the abdominal organs, and relieves fatigue and insomnia.
Child's pose is a great pose for beginners, for people with limited mobility, or for anyone looking for a restful and grounding pose. It's also a good pose to do after a workout or after a long day of work.
Psoas, Chakras and Qi: A Glance Into Ancient Eastern Medicine
The connection between the psoas muscle and the root chakra, or Muladhara, has roots in ancient Indian philosophy. Practitioners at the time believed that the psoas muscle, located near the base of the spine, played a crucial role in our overall well-being by being connected to our sense of grounding and stability.
The root chakra is also located at the base of the spine and is responsible for our connection to the earth and our sense of grounding and stability. An imbalanced or tight psoas muscle can restrict the movement of the root chakra and cause feelings of ungroundedness and instability.
Recent research suggests that the psoas muscle may be involved in the expression of emotions such as fear, anxiety, and stress. This is thought to occur through its connection to the nervous system, as the psoas muscle is innervated by the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response.
However, it is worth noting that the sacral chakra, or Svadhisthana, which is located at the lower abdomen, is also related to the psoas muscle. The sacral chakra is related to emotions, sexuality, and creativity, as is the psoas muscle.
In Chinese medicine, the psoas muscle is known as the "energy gate of the body" because it connects the upper and lower body and helps to regulate the flow of energy, or Qi, throughout the body. In Chinese medicine, the psoas is considered to be a key muscle in maintaining overall health and well-being.
An imbalance or blockage in the flow of Qi in the psoas can lead to a variety of health issues. For example, an imbalance in the psoas can lead to a deficiency in Qi in the lower body, which can cause lower back pain, hip pain, and knee pain. On the other hand, an excess of Qi in the psoas can lead to an excess of heat in the body, which can cause fever, redness, and inflammation.
There is a variety of techniques to balance the Qi in the psoas, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and cupping. Acupuncture can help to release tension in the psoas and promote the flow of Qi. Herbal medicine can help to nourish the psoas and balance the Qi. Cupping is a technique that uses suction cups to release tension in the muscles and promote the flow of Qi.
It's worth noting that Chinese medicine is a holistic practice and practitioners will look at the whole person and their symptoms, rather than just a specific muscle or organ, to determine the best course of treatment.
The Benefits of Psoas Release: Improving Posture, Flexibility, Emotional Wellness
Releasing tension in the psoas muscle can be a game changer for your overall health and well-being. The psoas is a muscle that runs from your lower spine to the top of your thigh bone, and it plays a major role in maintaining proper posture, flexibility, mood and breathing. When this muscle becomes tight and imbalanced, it can cause pain, discomfort and impact your emotional state. But the good news is that it’s only up to you to release this tension and bring balance back to your body!
It's important to note that different people will have different experiences when releasing tension in the psoas, and it's always best to consult your yoga teacher before starting any exercises. But by understanding the importance of regularly releasing your psoas and incorporating specific exercises and techniques into your routine, you can absolutely improve your posture, reduce pain, and maybe free yourself from stress or anxiety.