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  • Mark Sutton

Understanding The Psoas Muscle

The Psoas muscle is the deepest muscle in our body and runs from the mid-back to the inner thigh connecting our spine to our legs and it plays a role in the external rotation of the leg (it lifts the thigh as you walk) it is a muscle that extends and flexes the lower spine and allows the weight to be supported through the bones so that walking commences at the solar plexus rather than the hip joint and the knee.

It is also connected to the diaphragm and other muscles of the upper torso via its connection to the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae and has a role in breathing: it is actually toned by breathing and has a major influence on the structure and functioning of the upper torso.

When the Psoas is chronically contracted either through a repetitive activity such as driving, chairs that give us poor posture or through stress, then there may be strain in the lumbar spine and knees, the trunk may be shortened, the organs work less effectively, stability affected and, where contraction is asymmetrical, one side of the pelvis tilts creating a shortening of the leg. Frequently there is not only pain in the lower back, but also pain in the neck and shoulder as the muscles in the upper body attempt to compensate and bring the body back into alignment. Contraction of the upper part of the Psoas influences breathing patterns as it affects the ribs, chest and lumbar spine, so it can be easily seen that there is a connection between the Psoas Muscle, Your breathing and Your posture.

Liz Koch is an authority on the Psoas Muscle and she describes it as “bio-intelligent” which, like the tongue, is an “organ of perception” as well as functional. For her it embodies our survival urge and our desire to flourish, is linked to the reptile Brain and to our vital energies, for she says “ As gravitational flows transfer weight through bones, tissue, and muscle, into the earth, the earth rebounds, flowing back up the legs and spine, energizing, coordinating and animating posture, movement and expression. It is an uninterrupted conversation between self, earth, and cosmos.” and not to be seen purely as a hip flexor.

The emotional component of the Psoas Muscle: The contraction of the Psoas which occurs as part of the stress response can cause you to curl into a foetal ball or prepare you for flight or fight. Unfortunately, when you have a permanently tightened Psoas, due to habitual stress, it continually sends danger signals to the body reducing your overall healthy immunity and a loss of contact with your core. In a similar fashion Trauma causes a contraction in the Psoas muscle and when it is chronically contracted, the Psoas muscle becomes a source of stored trauma, exacerbated by the overruling of our natural tendency to shake or tremble in response to trauma. There is an evolutionary reason while we shake in response to a traumatic event, the shaking releases excess energy created in the body by the event and in so doing tells the brain to return to normal. However we frequently use our minds and egos to override this shaking and in so doing suppress the release of the energy surging as a result of the trauma. This energy has nowhere to go and the suppressed the energy is stored in the body in the form of contracted Psoas muscles, the overall consequence being that unless the Psoas is relaxed it becomes a store for the trauma within the body. In addition, the brain does not receive the all clear signal and so stays in a high state of alert so adding to the development of chronic tension.

So this whole region has the potential to form major somatic blocks in our body armour and bodymind. If the deeply stored tensions of the Psoas and related systems are released then we become freed from trauma, denial and inner negativity. This relaxation not only marks a release of trauma but opens you to energy flow, stability and grounding. It creates liberation in our movement and pelvis, our breathing and an integration of the heart and pelvis which allows us to become emotionally authentic. There are several ways of relaxing and opening a contracted Psoas muscle, but it is worth noting that simple weightlifting or mechanical means may not be effective in bringing back an effective resting length as it is its relaxation, not further contraction that you are looking for.

Further, the Psoas is a muscle Deep within the body and buried underneath the viscera mechanical manipulation or massage may be painful or of only limited effectiveness. Yoga forms which promote systematic relaxation, the primal release pose by Jane Dixon (Biology of Kundalini), exercises designed specifically to release trauma or biodynamics all relax the Psoas Muscle, but perhaps I should finish by quoting Koch once again in that in working with the Psoas we are:

“not to try to control the muscle, but to cultivate the awareness necessary for sensing its messages”.

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