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The mighty psoas muscles - What, where & why?

The mighty psoas muscles - What, where & why?

by Jane Hardcastle

Your psoas muscles are key core structures that support the lower thoracic, lumbar and sacral spine, creating core stability, strength and flexibility. These hidden muscles sit behind the belly, feeding through the pelvis to the legs. Although they are difficult to envisage and to physically feel, learning to sense these muscles and their roles helps us to move with awareness, grace and emotional authenticity.

The muscles on each side of the spine and pelvis connect the front body to the back body, the upper body to the lower body and, in forming this critical core structure, affect movement of the arms, legs and position of each segment of the spine.

The lower psoas is a key hip flexor that is often tight and ‘short’ as a consequence of sitting.

This can create, or be caused by, poor posture / spinal alignment that may then spiral into health problems in the neck, arms, shoulders, back, pelvis, knees, ankles and feet. The muscle pulls your lower spine forward giving you the curve that you can feel in your lower back.

As these key muscles hold you upright, help you move and breathe stability and strength in the spine they are fundamental to all aspects of yoga practice:

  • Sitting with comfort for pranayama and meditation

  • Easeful flow of the breath

  • Creating space and openness

  • Stepping back and forwards through asana – think lunge and transition into / out of downward facing dog

  • Protecting the lower back and pelvis when lifting the arms

  • Preventing compression in the lower back and neck in back bends

The psoas muscles are also stimulated to fire during stressful situations; they react in fight and flight. We either sprint off, using the psoas to initiate that movement, or we fight, here the psoas pulls us down into a more protective position. When we feel the need to curl up into the foetal position, it’s the psoas that curls the legs up to protect our centre. These muscles are extremely sensitive to emotions – emotions thus influence our posture, how we hold ourselves, and how we present ourselves to the world.

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