The Psoas is not the muscle of your F@#$%ING soul

For years now I have seen different articles, books and advertisements stating that the psoas is the muscle of your soul.  Claims are being made that the psoas is the source of all back and hip pain and releasing it will cure your disc issue and heal your sciatica.  To some of these writers, it is also the main storehouse for your emotional issues and since it is where your fear, anxiety and depression reside, all you have to do is lengthen your psoas and distress will magically disappear from the depths of your being.  If you are having trouble with your spouse, it’s because you have a tight psoas.  If you’re not making enough money, just stretch your psoas and your back account will grow.  And if you have gout, just stretch your psoas and you will be healed!

Do not get me wrong.  This article is not discrediting the importance of this muscle.  It is, however, saying the psoas is not the gateway to your soul and the answer to all your problems.

psoasmusclesThe psoas runs from the T12-L5 transverse processes (the sides of your spine) and inserts onto a small boney protuberance on the femur called the lesser trochanter.  First and foremost, due to all its attachments, it is a spinal stabilizer.  Should it become weak, other muscles around the spine have to grip to stabilize.  For some of them, this is their job, and for others, they are simply just picking up the slack.  This is the definition of what we call compensation.

Its second action is that of being a strong hip flexor.  It is involved in walking, running, propulsion, lifting your leg in the air and being able to get your knee to your chest.

For someone who has tight hamstrings and stretches them all the time with only marginal results, the psoas may be part of the answer.   But, it may not be what you think.

IMG_1236Despite what I have read on many occasions about the psoas being tight, it is actually quite prone to weakness and inhibition.  If you want to check for yourself, lie on your back and hold your leg in the air (If you cannot bring your leg near 90°, keep the knee slightly bent and bring it as high as you can).  Ideally, you should be able to hold it up there for a minute or longer without strain.  If you find that this very difficult, there is chance you don’t need to stretch your psoas, you need to strengthen it.  And since the psoas and the hamstrings do opposing actions (the psoas flexes the hip and hamstrings extend it), why would your hamstrings ever want to release if the psoas is not going to do its job in relation to them.

Studies have shown that after a muscle is stretched, it becomes neurologically less active for a short period of time.   If you have back pain and part of the cause is a weak psoas, do you really think that stretching it will make it better?  The evidence strongly suggests otherwise.

Quadratus Lumborum QLThe psoas, just like any other muscle in the body, can become neurologically underactive for a variety of reasons.  One of these reasons can be an overly tight Quadratus Lumborum, a back muscle that also has attachments on the transverse processes of the spine.  When the QL becomes excessively hypertonic, it has a tendency to shut the psoas down and create a dysfunctional relationship between the two muscles. Correcting this can be a vital part of healing your back pain.

Our minds and our bodies are connected.  There are very few people out there that will refute that.  When we are able bring intelligence and life force to an area that the consciousness previously did not penetrate, we increase the quality of our lives, both in terms of mobility and mental health.   To state, however, that one muscle, particularly the psoas, is the kingpin of our emotional distress and physical suffering is simply not true.  And then to say that stretching it is eternally the path to making it healthy and functional is simply uneducated.

The body is complex and demands that we pay attention to it.  If you are confused about what you need, get yourself assessed by a professional.   Find someone good that you resonate with and they will be able to put you on the path of healing.

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7 Comments »

  1. Thabks for all the great articles . I only was talking about the emotional stress affecting different muscles yesterday with my chiropractor. One being the psoas.
    What do you think is the the most effective way to stretch the QL? And is using a foam roller ok for doing this ?
    Thank you
    Regards kathryn Griegg

    • A foam roller will not work. There are many ways to stretch the QL. If you check out my Applied Yoga Integration facebook page, I know I have at least one listed.

  2. Absolutely fabulous post, and so needed! I have been suffering with vertigo for 4 years, and the only treatment that has helped is from renowned physiotherapist and author Aileen Jefferis who did her doctoral thesis on this (particularly at the time) under-estimated muscle. The train of muscles it has pulled out of alignment deeply affects my sternocleidomastoids, which in turn cause the continuous sensation of cloudiness, dizziness and imbalance. I have been a long time yoga practitioner and teacher, with very well stretched (but sore to touch) psoas muscles. Her work involves, among other things, treating trigger points, which have been activated for years in me, creating tight but ineffective psoas activation- so they are actually quite weak. No amount of stretching alone fixes this. True strengthening can’t occur without addressing the underlying cause of its weakness, either. AJ’s work absolutely points to the body-mind connection, observing the deep emotions that can be associated with the psoas muscle. Personally, I think if we simply look at the proximity of this maladapted muscle to the adrenal glands and how they are designed to react to the fight-flight-freeze and other stress induced responses (tightening up to protect the core of the body, ready to run, fight or freeze, bringing the body into a hunched over position), we can see the immediate psycho-physiological responses (body-mind) in action, and how they influence each other and our emotional state. It’s not esoteric or rocket science! Can examining these responses more deeply through mindfulness and self inquiry help deepen your sense of self (what I am assuming people mean by soul in this instance)? Absolutely! But no more so than consciously working with any other form suffering, physical condition or uncomfortable experience, as the spiritual practices of every major spiritual path invites us to. Indeed, being curious about the various influences on our physical and psychological structures and their intersection doesn’t need to be within a spiritual context at all. I agree: there is no ‘king pin’. And yes, this muscle has influence over, and is influenced by, lots of physiological structures and functions. That said, there is only the willingness to inquire into whatever is going on for you- without assuming that there is equal parts spiritual, psychological or physical indicators or causes (that all stem back to one muscle), or that majority of any affliction is spiritual in nature. It’s all unique. We can only work with the body and mind we have to the best of our ability. Beautifully written and most definitely needed. Thank you x

  3. Hi Jory. You are making a number of interesting points, some of which have me thinking. I am wondering if you would be willing to share your list of references on which you are basing your statements, so that I can better understand your reasoning. Thanks!

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