By Lyla Moore
The psoas (so-as) muscle is actually a pair of muscles found deep within the core. It originates from the lumbar region of the spine (middle low back) and wraps around into the pelvic area, attaching at the hip with the help of several strong tendons. In animals, we call this muscle the tenderloin.
From a physical standpoint, the psoas is responsible for stabilizing the base of the spine. When the muscle is tight or injured, we experience low back pain, sciatica, disc problems, hip degeneration, knee, and pelvic pain. It is engaged when we are sitting, running and walking. As you lift your knee to take a step, the psoas contracts. As the leg swings back, as it does while running, it lengthens the muscle. If you sit for long periods of time, the psoas remains in a contracted state, and this can lead to habituated tightness. During pregnancy, the tone of the psoas can effect the decent of the baby and even fetal position. Maintaining a healthy psoas eliminates low back pain and leg pains, opens and centers the pelvis and hips, which ultimately can support you in bringing your baby into the world with more ease.
From a mind/body standpoint, the psoas is the major muscle which is activated during the fight or flight response, when we respond to stimuli with primitive, primal survival instincts. It is spoken of as the muscle of the soul in Daoist healing traditions. A healthy psoas is linked to our ability to thrive, blossom, and become ourselves fully. Our self expression, self actualization, and speaking our truth, are all emotional aspects of the psoas. And for this reason, along with the physical importance, it serves us well to create awareness around our psoas.
Now that we know more about this important muscle, you may be wondering how you can maintain a healthy psoas. The key is focusing on a deep release of this muscle. It can only lengthen once it has been released. Yoga can be very helpful in aiding the release of the psoas. The simplest pose I would recommend to begin to gain awareness around the psoas would be a simple low lunge. Bend your left knee to a ninety degree angle, and take your right leg back behind you with your knee on the floor. Press the right shin and top of the right foot into the floor and release the tailbone down toward the floor. Even out the hips and lift the chest and you will feel the right side of your psoas in the stretch. Lifting arms overhead while in a low lunge may be tough on the joints during pregnancy. Once you are postpartum and ready for more work, if you lift the arms overhead and move the upper back into a small backbend, you will find even more sensation arise within your psoas. The key to finding release in this muscle is to practice moving through yoga poses using undulating movements, move the spine in a wave like motion, and focus on long exhalations. A gentle or restorative yoga practice will serve you best on your journey toward releasing the psoas.
In so much of our lives we are on go-go mode, and the psoas never gets a chance to release. As we sit for long periods, the muscle contracts and continues to remain engaged even though our bodies are inactive. As you move through pregnancy, and prepare for the intensely primal experience of giving birth, it is a great time to build awareness around the psoas muscle. What I love about the practice of yoga is that it offers us an opportunity for deep awareness within the body, as well as building awareness around how our mind influences our body. Try one of the yoga classes at Thrive to experience a practice designed specifically to support you during your pregnancy. If you’ve recently given birth, you are welcome to attend my Saturday morning Pre/Post Natal class with your pre-crawling baby. Taking time to unwind and recharge is crucial for a healthy pregnancy, and to find balance as a mother. Your psoas will thank you for it!