Iliopsoas

The Iliopsoas muscle group is made up of your Iliacus and Psoas muscles which are deeply embedded hip flexor muscles. They connect your lumbar vertebrae directly to the top of your leg bone, so the problem is that if your Psoas or Iliacus are tight then any movement from your legs pulls into your lower back!

In today’s society we spend so much time sitting either at a desk, in a car or on a couch that our Psoas is at it’s shortest and the more hours you spend in this position the Psoas shortens and tightens to the point that simply standing up can cause pain.

The following is a great article about this important muscle group but it focuses on the Psoas because it is the more problematic of the two. I will make comments (in blue) along the way to clarify a few points made in this article. I also link to the Author Brett Wilbanks below to give him full credit for such an important article.

The ‘Muscle of the Soul’ may be Triggering Your Fear and Anxiety

The psoas major muscle (pronounced “so-as”) is often referred to as the deepest core, or as yoga therapist and film-maker Danielle Olson states, the “muscle of the soul.” This core-stabilizing muscle located near the hip bone affects mobility, structural balance, joint function, flexibility, and much more. In addition to its function to help keep the body upright and moving, the psoas is believed to allow you to connect with the present moment especially when it is stretched out and tension is released from the body.

So the mind body connection is a real but I would switch the above wording around a little bit to say that “when you stretch out and lengthen the psoas so that it is healthy and loose, you releases tension within your body and allows you to be more present in the moments of your life and enjoy them more.

Research indicates that the psoas is vital to our psychological wellbeing in addition to structural health. Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book, states that our psoas “literally embodies our deepest urge for survival, and more profoundly, our elemental desire to flourish.” This means that there is a lot more to the psoas than one might initially think. It is entirely possible to harness healing pranic energy and improve mental health by keeping the psoas healthy.

This is classic “cart before the horse”. The brain and  body have a interdynamic relationship, but the brain tells the body what to do, so when a person experiences the “deepest urge for survival” (which is triggered in the Amygdala) the “Fight or Flight” response kicks in and guess what? Whether you are Fighting or Flighting the Psoas is one of the first muscles the brain engages because if you are running your knee lunges forward immediately to initiate running (for flight) and the Psoas also launches the leg forward in a kicking motion (for fighting). So accurately stated; keeping your Psoas healthy allows your brain to be at peace with its ability to deal with stress, knowing that it can fight or flight if it has to and is therefor more calm and relaxed on a regular bases.

Where is the Psoas?

The psoas is the principal muscle associated with physical stability. It stretches from the legs to the spine and is the only muscle connecting the legs to the spinal column. The muscle flares out from the T12 vertebrae, follows down the five lumbar vertebrae, before attaching to the top of the thigh bone.

The Reptilian Connection

In addition to connecting the legs and spine, the psoas is connected to the diaphragm. Breathing is modulated at the diaphragm, and it is also the location where many physical symptoms associated with fear and anxiety manifest. Koch believes that this is due to the direct link between the psoas and the most ancient part of our brain stem and spinal cord, called the reptilian brain.

According to Koch, “Long before the spoken word or the organizing capacity of the cortex developed, the reptilian brain, known for its survival instincts, maintained our essential core functioning.” The way we live today, constantly rushing, competing and achieving, has the psoas in a constant “fight or flight” state.

psoas

Issues Associated with Chronic Psoas Stress

Trapped in a constant “flight or fight” state, psoas muscles are stressed and constricted, almost from the time of birth. As Koch notes, “this situation is exacerbated by many things in our modern lifestyle, from car seats to constrictive clothing, from chairs to shoes that distort our posture, curtail our natural movements and further constrict our psoas.” This lifelong chronic stress put on the psoas can lead to many problems like back, hip, or knee pain, and even digestive issues and dysfunctional breathing. It could also be a major cause why people suffer from chronic physical pain.

The physical body is not the only part of you that suffers from a chronically-stressed psoas. The psoas is much more than a muscle used for structural stability. It influences every element of life, from how you feel, to how you look at the world, and even how you treat others. A variety of problems have been associated with a chronically-stressed psoas muscle: it can negatively affect your emotional state; it can impact your interpersonal relationships; and it can influence your general contentment with life. Awareness that a healthy psoas is important to emotional wellness, as well as physical health, is the first step towards ensuring that we give this muscle the attention it deserves.

Koch states, “Whether you suffer from sore back or anxiety, from knee strain or exhaustion, there’s a good chance that a constricted psoas might be contributing to your woes.”

Fear and the Psoas

Since the psoas is closely linked to our “fight or flight” mechanism, fear can be over-represented in those with a constricted psoas.

It is an emotion that manifests itself in the most unusual ways and can “lock” itself into the body resulting in both physical and emotional tension. By restoring balance to your psoas muscles, you are likely to release this pent up tension, which can have a profound effect on releasing unfounded fearfulness about life, and thus improve both your physical and mental wellbeing. You will feel a greater sense of inner peace, along with fewer muscle aches and strains.

The Connection to the Energetic Body

Lengthening and releasing your psoas grounds you to the Earth, which is filled with healing and revitalizing energy, thus allowing you to balance your pranic energy and enabling you to feel more present in the moment. Proper structural stability attributed to a healthy psoas allows prana to flow, unimpeded, throughout the body, allowing for proper distribution of vital energy. In the physical sense, when the body can properly support itself, movement is less-restricted and requires less effort, thus leaving you more energetic.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

Our understanding of the psoas is by no means new knowledge. In fact, it is more akin to ancient wisdom that was either lost or discarded over time. Yoga shows us explicitly that ancient gurus understood the importance of releasing contracted psoas muscles. Ancient yoga asanas, or postures, that are now practiced all around the world, focus on lengthening and releasing psoas muscles and restoring comfort and balance to the entire body. With consistent practice, you can learn how to isolate this muscle, which can be immensely useful and healing in the long run.

Yoga is also a great way to measure the current health of the psoas. There are many postures, such as tree (Vrksasana), which cannot be properly achieved if the psoas is contracted. If you are practicing a sitting or standing yoga pose and feel strain in either your knees or lower back (or both), then there’s a good chance that your psoas is constricted and needs more of your attention.

The psoas is an important, yet often unknown, muscle that plays a vital role in physical health and mental wellbeing. The cumulative effect of neglecting this muscle is physical and mental stress and tension, which manifests itself in our society as anxiety, depression, chronic back pain, knee pain, digestive distress, respiratory problems, etc.

About the Author of above Article

Brett Wilbanks is a freelancer writer with great interest in the overall health and wellbeing of the body and mind. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com and an avid gardener, reader, and proponent of natural, green, environmentally-friendly living.

Back to my website and Iliopsoas:

This is important,  if either of these two movements cause you discomfort or pain then proceed to the next pic and following video to backtrack to easier, more gentle stretches to bring you back to these first two stretches. It is important that you find the correct stretch for the pain level you are at!

This is a great stretching routine to start with for a fairly healthy Iliopsoas.

The following pictures and video’s will help walk you through more gentle stretches if the above stretches are too strenuous.

The first picture shows the most basic version. The progression of this would be to slowly pull the bottom knee further and further back. A healthy iliopsoas should allow you to pull the knee farther back until it is behind the line of the back. It is a simple stretch that anyone can do by simply laying on your side in bed or on the floor. Then reach back with the opposite arm to grab your ankle and gently pull back as far as your tightness will allow. Remember you should never stretch at a point that is painful!

Eventually your knee should be able to so far back that it breaks the plane of the back or goes further behind you than your butt, and eventually you can roll your chest and torso towards the floor and pull foot or ankle into the air.

Chris-Illiopsoas

If the first video was too much then try the following video because it is a much easier of a starting stretch. The practitioner walks through the next two progressions of the Iliopsoas stretch as you get better and better.

The following video helps you relax your Iliopsoas tightness by actually rolling out and self massaging your own tightness!

For the inquisitive client and patient, I have found this video on the Iliopsoas to give a much deeper explanation. It discusses this region of the body more clearly and shows you many issues related to dysfunction within the lumbopelvic area due to improper functioning of this important muscle group!

And my latest addition is for Massage Therapists, PT’s and other practitioners who want to see another version or technique. This video really explains the Iliopsoas and makes us better at what we do!