The psoas major joins with the illiacus to form the iliopsoas. It is our most major hip flexor. It is the only muscle to join the torso of the body to the lower limbs (legs). Its origin is the transverse processes’ of T12 to L4 and the lateral aspects of the discs in between those processes’. It inserts in the lesser trochanter of the femur. The antagonist to the psoas is the gluteus maximus, these are hip extensors along with the hamstrings. If these muscles are tight then we can’t come into forward bends so well and therefore won’t be able to take the psoas into its full range of movement in its relaxed state. We also need to strengthen the psoas in positions like Navasana, if our glutes and hamstrings are tight we won’t be able to achieve this so the psoas remains weak, when the psoas is weak it has a direct effect on our posture and stamina.
Sitting for long periods of time tightens the psoas as it is not being stretched enough. Tightness of the psoas results in lower back pain or spasms, sciatica, buttock pain and SI pain, as the lumbar discs are compressed. An inflamed psoas will trap the ilioinguinal nerve resulting in a sensation of heat or water running down the front of the thigh. Therefore, it is imperative to stretch the psoas. This can be done in two ways; hip extension and spinal rotations owing to the frontal attachments of the psoas to the spine.
STRETCHING THE PSOAS
There are many yoga postures that stretch the psoas such as pigeon, sphinx, cobra, bow, bridge, crescent lunge and lizard to name a few. The quads need to lengthen when we extend the hips. If these are tight, we restrict the extension and therefore restrict the extension of the psoas, so we need to stretch all these other muscles in order to release the psoas.
PSOAS AND EMOTIONS
When we are stressed, we shorten our breath and tense our stomachs and psoas, so when we release the psoas, we often release deep seated emotions which can induce crying or euphoria. Therefore, deep breathing in our pranayama practice has a direct effect on releasing the psoas.
Also, when we are stressed adrenaline is released in our fight or flight mode (or sympathetic nervous system is activated) this is when we experience anxiety or fear. Because the psoas sits right over the top of the adrenals this release of adrenaline has a direct effect of tightening the psoas.
Coming into forward bends activates the parasympathetic nervous system which releases the hormone Acetylcholine, calming the body and lowering blood pressure, in other words reversing the effects of the sympathetic nervous system so we can see the importance of being able to come into our forward bends with a relaxed psoas to calm the body.
Martin Thompson & Alex Arnold