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The psoas muscle in Yoga

The psoas muscle in Yoga

This month I have been focussing on the psoas muscle in all of my classes, but what is this muscle? In actual fact the psoas works so closely with another muscle, the iliacus that they are often referred to together as the iliopsoas.

Where is the psoas?
The psoas is the primary connector between the torso and the legs, originating as high as the twelfth thoracic vertebra crossing in front of the pelvis to join to the iliacus. The iliopsoas then runs all the way over the front of the pelvis to insert into the upper thighbone – so this is a really major muscle!

What is the function of the psoas?
The primary function of the psoas is to create the movement of flexion in the hips. It can also contract to one side to cause lateral flexion of the torso in postures such as Trikonasana (Triangle). I We often think of the psoas as a hip flexor but because the muscle originates so high up in the body it is also connected to the diaphragm at the bottom of our lungs through the fascia, or connective tissue of the body.

Problems with the psoas
If overused, it can contribute to weak surrounding muscles, causing imbalance in the body and contributing to lower back problems. For many of us, the psoas is in contraction for much of the time, through prolonged sitting or through sports such as running or cycling.
As a link between our legs and torso the psoas also contracts in response to stress – readying us for that “fight or flight” response, so periods of stress and our physical response to stressful and negative thoughts can also impact the psoas.

Yoga asanas
Active stretching is important to help ease tension in the psoas to help us maintain a healthy posture and mobility in the body. We can access this through asanas such as Anjeyasana (low lunge) Virabhdrasana I (Warrior 1) but it is also important to balance this in a yoga practice through contracting the psoas to strengthen. Navasana (boat pose) is good for this, as it isometrically strengthens the muscle. Variations of three legged plank pose and Balasana (crow pose) are also good for strengthening. Asana such as happy baby or variations of pigeon can also help to release tension.

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