Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Are you acquainted with your psoas muscle? If not, you're not alone! Most people have never heard the word psoas before—even fewer could point to it on the body.
But despite its relatively low-profile, the psoas is one of the most important muscles we have, responsible for our physical, energetic, and emotional health.
The deepest muscle in the human body, the psoas is a core stabilizing muscle that connects our spine to our legs. It affects our balance, flexibility, muscular integrity...even the functionality of our organs.
Want to avoid chronic back and hip pain? A healthy psoas muscle is the way.
But the physical benefits of a healthy psoas are only the start. Often dubbed "the muscle of the soul" (especially within the Taoist tradition,) a healthy psoas muscle also grounds us to the earth, awakens our spine, and reconnects us to the life force of the Universe.
That’s pretty incredible, right?
While the psoas might not always get the attention it deserves, there's no denying this muscle is critical to our overall well being. Let's get to know the psoas muscle and its intriguing relationship to our physical and emotional body a little bit better:
Understanding The Psoas Muscle: The Muscle Of The Soul
1. What and where is the psoas muscle?
Whether it's running, dancing, or simply getting out of bed in the morning, we have our psoas muscle to thank. As previously mentioned, the psoas muscle connects your spine to your legs. This allows you to lift and move your legs forward and stabilizes your spine while sitting, moving, or bending. The psoas muscle also supports your internal organs, an important function which we'll explore further in a moment.
The deepest muscle in the body, the psoas begins at the 12th thoracic vertebrae, extends through the 5th lumbar vertebrae and the pelvis, and attaches at the femur.
2. How does the psoas muscle relate to sensitivity and our emotional body?
Have you ever done a particularly intense psoas stretch during a yoga class and found your hips feel amazing—yet all these triggering emotions are arising, seemingly out of nowhere? For many, that is their first encounter with the psoas.
This emotional connection to the psoas can, in part, be explained by its diaphragmatic relationship.
Your diaphragm controls your breath, and as such, is a reactive emotional center. (Just think about the last time your breath sped up due to anxiety or nerves.) The psoas is attached to the diaphragm through fascia and ligament—and is therefore connected to every inhale and exhale. When you're in "flight" mode, your breath is short—and your psoas muscle constricts.
Liz Koch is globally revered for her work on the psoas, and perhaps says it best when she explains: "Coalescing the central nervous system with the enteric (gut) brain, the psoas literally embodies our deepest urge for survival, and more profoundly, our elemental desire to flourish."
Due to this connection, when we have an unbalanced (deregulated) nervous system and an unhealthy (tight or loose) psoas muscle, we may experience symptoms of anxiety such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, pain, and fear.
It's also worth noting that when the hip is seated for too long, we can experience inflammation of the tissue (including nerve endings) around the psoas muscle. The combination of hip pain and nerve restriction results in an expression of symptoms of anxiety.
If you're feeling anxious and have chronic hip and lower back pain, your psoas may be the culprit.
3. Why is the psoas muscle called the flight or fight muscle?
We've already touched on the connection between the psoas muscle and the diaphragm. But it's essential to review the vital role the psoas muscle plays in our flight or fight response.
Just as the psoas muscle is connected to your breath, it also receives signals from the central nervous system to curl up in the fetal position for safety (or to flex and engage the legs to be ready for action.)
If your psoas muscle is always tight, it's telling your body that it's in a constant state of danger and fear. Receiving these non-stop flight or fight responses is taxing on your adrenal system and hormones. The overproduction of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) and others like adrenaline can lead to substantial health issues.
"...when stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on...The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body's processes. "
This puts us at an increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
Memory & Concentration Impairment
4. We now understand that a constricted psoas muscle can cause anxiety symptoms, but how does trauma manifest itself in the lower back and hip pain if no injury or chronic flexion of the muscle is present?
When we don't allow our body the opportunity to release stress or trauma, that energy has to go somewhere. It often heads straight to our psoas, the deepest muscle of our core. What a seemingly perfect place to hide the stuff we don't want to face, right? Unfortunately, as we already know, trauma won't disappear—no matter how hard we try.
Instead of releasing tension and unhelpful emotions, we often tighten our muscles, inadvertently creating even more stress. Over long periods, this storage of excess pressure is expressed as chronic pain.
For example: If you've experienced severe trauma and are suppressing that trauma by holding subconscious tension in your hips, your body might respond by increasing stress hormones. These increasing stress hormones begin to wreak havoc on the body, causing more trauma and fear. This loop continues until work is done to control the body's stress responses and release pent up tension from the body.
It’s critical we take the time to invest in our well-being and avoid this vicious cycle of health problems through anxiety relief. Need support? Our Key West Anxiety Relief Retreat might be exactly what your soul needs.
Thoughts come Full Circle: Take care of your psoas muscle, and it will take care of you. Shamans call letting go of the flight or fight response as "releasing the tiger." Are you ready to release the tiger of pent up stress and emotions that are no longer serving you?
One powerful way to move inward, relieve stress and anxiety, and return to our true nature is with a morning meditation practice. You can download my FREE Mindfulness Meditation here.
I’ve created it to help all of us live a higher vibrational life full of beauty, presence, grace and bliss. I hope you’ll join me!
Author: Marlo Moments