The Psoas is not the Muscle of your F***ing Soul.

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For years now, I have seen different articles, books, and advertisements stating that the psoas is the muscle of our souls.

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 bank account will grow. And if you have gout, just stretch your psoas, and you will be healed!

I cannot tell you how many times in my practice someone has come to me with back pain who was previously told to stretch their psoas. They had been doing it for weeks with no gains whatsoever.

As a NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioner, it is my job to assess the movement functionality of everyone who comes into my office. When someone comes in with back pain, the psoas is one of the five main muscle groups I check every time. More than half of these people present weak or neurologically inhibited psoai, and the key to their health is not stretching it, but strengthening it.

The psoas runs from the T12-L5 transverse processes (the sides of the spine in your lower back) and inserts into a little bony protuberance on your upper, inner thigh called the lesser trochanter.

First and foremost, due to all its attachments, the psoas is a spinal stabilizer. Should it become weak, other muscles around the spine must grip to stabilize. For some of them, this is their job, and for others, they are simply picking up the slack. This is the foundation of what we call compensation.

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

As you’ve seen from what I wrote above, the psoas is actually quite prone to weakness and inhibition. If you want to do a basic check for yourself, lie on your back and hold your leg in the air (if you cannot bring your leg near 90 degrees, keep the knee slightly bent and bring it as high as you can). You should be able to hold it up there for a minute or longer without strain. If you find that this is very difficult, there is a chance you don’t need to stretch your psoas, but you may need to strengthen it!

Most recently, I had a woman who hurt her back doing a lunge in a yoga class. She has had nerve pain down her leg ever since and her physical therapist had her stretching her psoas to find relief. It wasn’t working. Of course not! A lunge actually stretches the psoas, and that’s how she got hurt!

She had compressed a nerve in her back doing the lunge, over-stretched her psoas, and was having trouble finding stability. It took one session to fix. I released the compression, got the non-functional psoas to work, and brought stability back to her spine. At the end of the session, she was crying, had no nerve pain down her leg, and called me a week later in gratitude as the pain never came back! Imagine if she had kept stretching her psoas and that she was even told that her pain was emotional. 

Our minds and our bodies are connected. There are few people out there who will refute that. When we bring our intelligence 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 untrue. And then to say that stretching it is the eternal gateway to making it healthy and functional is simply uneducated.

All of our muscles are the muscles of our soul. When awareness awakens, we awaken.

~

Relephant:

3 Poses to Help the Psoas.

~

~

Author: Jory Serota

Image: Wikimedia

Editor: Travis May

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Jory Serota

Jory Serota is a body worker and a yoga teacher. He is the founder of the Applied Yoga Integration seminars which teaches manual therapists and trainers how to incorporate yoga into their clinical practice. In addition to that, Jory is also a NeuroKinetic Therapy instructor and teaches nationwide. You can connect to him or learn more about upcoming seminars at his website and follow his two Facebook pages here and here.

Leena Karmakallio Aug 5, 2018 7:33am

Good source of the psoai is the book by Donna Farhi and Leila Stuart "Pathways to a Centered Body".

Pinky Marriott-vaughan Feb 26, 2018 2:17pm

Oh joy, oh joy, finally this sensible and knowledgable article makes sense of what the Psoas muscles is and does. T,oday, on this spiritual journey many of us are now travelling, tries, to make reason of every ache and pain and illness curable through spiritual means. While I believe that positivity and mediatation and other modalites of a spiritual nature, may help, we have to be realistic and know that physically there are ways and means of treatment that will bring about relief or even a cure, that spirituality alone will not.

Neil Dennehy Oct 2, 2017 9:28pm

You must release TFL fascial tension with deep tissue massage / trigger point therapy / foam rolling or something similar before trying to strengthen it with exercise. All fibres that are bound by fascial restriction will be unable to contract leaving the remainder to take on the workload. They may become fit enough to do what you need but eventually will become overworked...

Neil Dennehy Oct 2, 2017 9:24pm

In 13 years of physical therapy practice I have found that tight psoas IS the main cause of lower back pain due to a build up of fascial tension around the shortened fibres. The shortened psoas causes anterior rotation of the ilium (pelvis) resulting in excessive lumbar curve and often misalignment of the sacro iliac joint. This compresses the lower back discs. The fascia prevents normal contraction of the psoas muscle fibres resulting in weakness, not simply a lack of exercise. Stretching exercises won't work if the fascia is too strong but strengthening exercises may be aggravating too. Releasing the fascial tension to allow the fibres to contract effectively with deep tissue massage / trigger point therapy, followed by exercise is most effective. Best practice, I have found, is to release all fascial tension around the pelvis and lower back and then adopt a regular flexibility and strength routine...

Rebecca Hardy Sep 28, 2017 6:48pm

as an RMT I also encounter this. Most people have been told the psoas, piriformis, and sciatic nerve are their root issues. It is concerning to see the misdiagnoses and the ill effects.

Toni Hayward Mar 21, 2017 5:24pm

It might not be the muscle of the soul..but it sure fu*king hurts!! I am in tears here. :/

Rosie Onyett Mar 19, 2017 3:17pm

Jory Serota thank you

Jory Serota Mar 19, 2017 2:25pm

Rosie, honestly, with your situation, I could not guide you what to do without seeing you personally. I am only 3 hours south of you so if you wanted to ever come down and see me, I'd be happy to work with you. You do sound like a canditate for a hip replacement and I'm surprised the docs aren't offering one. Reach out to me on Applied Yoga Integration on Facebook and we can talk more.

Nick Cheeawai Mar 19, 2017 5:09am

Ashley, try first with some mula bandhas, then move to squeezing a pillow then two, then lie on ur back with a bent knee, pull the upper right leg in at 90 degrees then keeping that angle gently support the knee with ur right hand as you gently apply opposing forces knee moving downward and right hand resisting the fall, then moving the knee back up the hand having more strength, switch sides. Start off with three reps. and increase with time.. give up the foam roller for the IT band and try strengthening the abductors and adductors...

Nick Cheeawai Mar 19, 2017 4:58am

Svetlana Lysenko pulling the knee into the chest without assistance with the hands is much more of a strengthening exercise rather than the limited range of motion. Think of the lifting of the leg with a straight leg and see if you can bring it to 90 degrees. This is the strengthening. You may want to start on opening the hamstrings and thighs a bit before the strengthening.... good luck.

Ana Franklin Mar 18, 2017 7:27pm

This is very important. This is what I have always told my students. Yoga is "personal integration" - personal is the important word here. Get to know yourself and be intimate with yourself. If you cannot become intimate with your body/breath/emotion/wisdom/awareness, then being intimate with anyone else becomes a lot more challenging. We all need to remember that there is only one person we will have to live intimately with for the rest of our lives. So please don't make your practice soley about healing the psoas or strengthening the psoas. Your psoas is unique and needs your complete attention and understanding. And how you heal or strengthen the psoas is not necessarily how anyone else will do it. Please remember that the psoas does not exist alone, but in connection with your daily habits and also with all the other muscles and tendons around it. So, if you run, dance, sit all day, had an injury, etc. all comes into play. Also, I try not to sound angry or impatient when I am writing or talking to students. We are all on different places along the path. Namaste, Respectfully, Ana

Rosie Onyett Mar 18, 2017 2:36pm

I was a dancer and now have arthritis in both hips, in addition I have ostéophytes in my right hip...which means that I have no rotation in that hip. I cannot walk fluidly and am constantly compensating for that immobility. I can touch my toes, easily, but cannot do warrior poses, with my left foot forwards, that demand turning my right foot out. I am constantly ending up with my pelvis twisted and consequently have a lot of pain in my back and hips... I see an osteopath who straightens me out every 2-3 weeks. I cannot get new hips because i am deemed 'too fit'. Any exercise suggestions that could help me please? I am 70.

Janine Chauveau Mar 17, 2017 11:16pm

I bought a set of videos called Unlock Your Hip Flexors that is a shortened version of Liz Koch's and someones elses work cant rememer who?? It was not too expensive even for South Afrca :-)

Svetlana Lysenko Mar 17, 2017 9:46pm

Dorota Marynowska I am confused. Walking/running is good- you stetch/flex the psoas, which strengthens it. Makes sence. But we are lifting the leg if front of our bodes all day long- we sit at work, in our cars, on the sofa, it's mostly in contracted position. How does this strengthen it? Is it lifting and releasing, and doing repetitions? Thank you

Helka Kaski Mar 17, 2017 9:08pm

Yes, such important (life) work, Liz Koch's Core Awareness.

Jory Serota Mar 17, 2017 5:03pm

You're speaking my language, Sara.

Sara CG Mar 17, 2017 4:44pm

Thank you-you have expertise in the area and explain this well. I am a yoga teacher (and advanced practice nurse) and there are wonderful benefits to the practice. That said, most teachers would benefit from more anatomy and physiology education (12 hours is not NEARLY enough). If they do not have that background, giving prescriptive advice on treating chronic conditions like back pain is not only inappropriate, it borders on gross negligence.

Maura Bank Mar 17, 2017 1:39am

Could you explain your concerns? Thanks

Brian Siddhartha Ingle Mar 16, 2017 6:15pm

there is so much wrong information with this piece.

Ashley Carter Mar 16, 2017 5:12pm

I have the weakest IT muscles EVER! I actually have a strain right now that I am recouping from (possibly from overworking them... or overstretching; maybe both?) I also have weak adductor muscles and I have a strain there too. Ugh. These things take forever to heal!

Jory Serota Mar 16, 2017 4:40pm

Also, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on a wall. Pull one knee to the chest at time, activating the psoas. Repetetions of this will awaken and enliven the muscle.

Jory Serota Mar 16, 2017 4:38pm

TIght ITB is often a result of weak abductors of the hip. Studies have shown that it is actually impossible to stretch the ITB and attempts are futile. Doing things to strengthen the glute medius, minimus and TFL will often provide relief for the IT Band.

Alicia Cronkite Mar 16, 2017 1:58pm

This is great information, thank you! Now I am rethinking the reason for my tight IT that I keep foam rolling and stretching to death; I bet I have a weakness somewhere in the hip or knee. Hmmm.......

Dorota Marynowska Mar 16, 2017 6:21am

Like it is written in the article: walking, running, lifting your leg (in front of your body)and getting your knee to the chest. :)

Kate Colby Nelson Mar 16, 2017 3:04am

As a Dancer, Yoga Instructor, and Therapeautic Movement Educator I highly recommend Liz Koch's work on the Psoas, she maintains it is not just a flexor or stabilizer, further describing it as bio intelligent tissue. Koch has spent her entire life work studying it. Good insights for body workers, instructors, and clients as well.