Psoas... The Human Tenderloin

Ok, let’s just clarify. Cannibalism is not a principle of the fitilates method. But the psoas major is the tenderloin of the human race! This quirky fact only adds to the Psoas being, quite possibly the most intriguing (at least to me) muscle of the human body.

Let’s just start with its attachments, psoas major originates in the bodies and transverse processes of the last thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and it inserts into the lesser trochanter of the femur. Simply put, if we were to strip away ALL other muscles of the hip and thigh, the psoas major will keep the femur (thigh bone) attached to the spine.  It’s obvious action is hip flexion, although it also assists in straightening the lumbar spine (avoiding excessive lordosis) and uni-laterally it assists in lateral flexion (side bending).  Ultimately it’s imperative that the psoas maintains the pelvis in neutral in order to create movement requiring the least muscular effort. In other words, a psoas in good working order makes movement look graceful, effortless and powerful.

But the psoas is much more complex than that with intimate anatomical attachments to the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. This unique anatomical location allows the psoas major to act as a link between these structures and may help in maintaining the stability of the entire lumbar-pelvic complex. We also know that the psoas houses emotions and feels stress when you do – that gut feeling you have, isn’t just mental, it’s happening in your posas! If there is tightness in the lower psoas, we will commonly see discomfort, aches and pain in the front of the hip socket and you will notice an obvious restriction of movement around the hip socket. If there is tightness in the upper psoas, you will notice a restriction of movement or a sense of tension in the solar plexus. But it doesn’t stop there; a tight psoas can lead to a whole host of problems including digestion and reproductive issues, restricted breath and low back pain. It can be a common thought that psoas must be strengthened and stretched to help combat all these aliments. But in most cases, that is wrong. The psoas is actually exhausted and needs to be restored.

So if that’s the case, how do we restore it? Number one, is as simple as breathing, if breathing was actually simple ;) Lie on your back with your knees bent or propped under a bolster and find your neutral pelvis (refer to how to Master an Ab Curl if you have forgotten how to do this). Exhale all of your air out, almost to the point of releasing a cough. Allow your lungs to naturally refill completely, imaging that the breathe is filling the lungs like a balloon and feeling the expansion into the sides and back of the rib cage (allow the floor to provide you with proprioception). Repeat for 3 to 10 minutes, just allowing yourself to be mindful of the abdominal cylinder you are creating with each breath as well as the setting of the pelvis, and therefore psoas, back to neutral. Taking three to ten minutes to complete this will also allow you to de-stress, which provides numerous benefits!

Active Supine Stretch (aka. Wind Relieving Pose)

Active Supine Stretch (aka. Wind Relieving Pose)

To further restore and lengthen the posas, transition into an Active Supine Stretch or in many yoga practices, Wind Relieving Pose. From the position above, draw your left knee into your chest, hugging it close to your chest, while keeping your pelvis heavy and your tailbone anchored to the mat. keeping the pelvis and spine in the same neutral position, begin to slide the right heel along the floor, straightening the right knee. As the leg straightens, focus on the psoas lengthening on the right side. You can straighten the leg as much as you can without changing the shape of the pelvis and spine (your low back should not excessively arch away nor press into the floor). Hold the position for one to three minutes, allowing the leg to continue to lengthen if possible. Repeat to the left side.

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