Bow down to the all mighty psoas

Let’s do an exercise. Identify the following muscles in your body, move them, think about how they feel when they’re functioning well compared to the feeling when they’re tight, impaired or injured. Ready? Here we go.

Bicep. No brainer. Do your best body builder pose. Got it?

Calf. Raise up on your toes and feel it contract. Put on some high heels. Maybe it bulges out of the back of your leg, maybe not. Ok, moving on.

Abs. Where’s that six pack? The goal of many a workout. Situps. Lots and lots of situps.

Ok ready for the next one?

Psoas. 

Huh?? What is it? How do you even say that?

Psoas. C’mon, flex it. Now relax it. Stretch it.

But how do you feel it? What does it do? And seriously, how do you pronounce that?

Psoas muscle
Psoas muscle

For many of us, the psoas is a mystery muscle. Most people (yoga addicts, pilates gurus, and fitness fiends aside) have no idea what it is or what it does. From what I’ve learned, it’s only been in the last couple of decades that it’s even reached modest levels of significance.

For me, the connection to my psoas was badly damaged during my injury. Although I’ve regained decent connections to my glutes, quads and hamstrings, and gradually but consistently strengthened my abdominals and core muscles, my ability to use my psoas has eluded me.

Why does this matter? How important can the psoas be?

Extremely important, it turns out.

The psoas is the only muscle that connects the spine to the lower body. It originates in the low back, branching out from the 12th thoracic and all five lumbar vertebrae, sloping down underneath all of the abdominal core muscles, through the pelvis and attaching to the top of the thigh bone. It’s responsible for many things including but not limited to trunk stability, low back flexibility, picking up your leg to take a step, supporting organ function and even breathing. Functionally, one of the reasons we have evolved to standing from being on all fours is the emergence and importance of the psoas.

I’ve known for some time now that strengthening my connection to my psoas is maybe the most essential next step in my recovery, since with even moderate engagement, I would be able to lift my leg and swing it through to take a step.

What I didn’t realize however, was just how significant this muscle is not only functionally and physically but emotionally. As one of the deepest muscles in the body, and as a literal bridge from the trunk and abdomen to the legs and lower body, its importance can’t be understated. Additionally, the psoas is connected (via fascia and connective tissue) to the diaphragm, which is responsible for breathing.

So a quick summary: we’re talking about a single muscle that’s largely involved in walking, keeping your entire trunk and lower spine stable, keeping you alive (by allowing you to breathe), and helping your organs work effectively.

It should come as no surprise then that as soon as I started aggressively targeting and working this muscle in the last week, all kinds of things got stirred up within me. Emotions were whirling at me from nowhere, deep fears were conjured up, and everything within me felt kinda topsy turvy.

Although I had previously heard of the emotional importance of the psoas in particular and the core as a whole (some spiritual practices believe that your soul resides deep in your belly), I honestly didn’t really buy it. Now I admit I was wrong and fully succumb to the power and influence of the psoas.

So be nice to your psoas, stretch it and pay attention to it, cause chances are you have no idea how important it is.

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18 thoughts on “Bow down to the all mighty psoas

  1. Yes! When I am nice to my psoas, everything goes better! And when I neglect it, I get pain in my hips and lower back and feel like crap. Stretching the psoas is the exact opposite of sitting. And I sit so much! I didn’t know about the emotion connection–fascinating. Glad you are working these muscles, Arash! Hugs!

    1. It’s good you already understand the value of a healthy psoas. The emotional connection is super interesting indeed. Hugs to you -AB

  2. Hi Arash. I am pleased you are concentrating on activating your psoas more now. If you recall back when you first began your blog, I suggested that while you sat up that you lift one leg at a time, then let it down and do that regularly. I ask you to recognize how it felt and what response you were getting. Those actions would begin to generate connections of your psoas to your brain and lead to the use of the mighty psoas. Your constant hard work and determination is paying off.  Atthe end of this year, people will either be saying, “You CRUSHED IT thisyear!”.   Ever notice that, when you grow, get stuff done, succeed, outperform your past … people NOTICE. And you feel so charged, so fulfilled, sograteful. So, what’s this year going to be about for you? I say go for full expressionand high performance in all you do.Vince From: Arash Recovery To: vnmnvn@yahoo.ca Sent: Saturday, January 24, 2015 9:13 PM Subject: [New post] Bow down to the all mighty psoas #yiv7791710544 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7791710544 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7791710544 a.yiv7791710544primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7791710544 a.yiv7791710544primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7791710544 a.yiv7791710544primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7791710544 a.yiv7791710544primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7791710544 WordPress.com | AB posted: “Let’s do an exercise. Identify the following muscles in your body, move them, think about how they feel when they’re functioning well compared to the feeling when they’re tight, impaired or injured. Ready? Here we go.Bicep. No brainer. Do your best bo” | |

    1. I absolutely remember your suggestion you gave me a while ago and I’ve followed it. Often times I’ve lifted my leg and let it down to the floor. It is interesting to see how the psoas engagement is starting to bring more things together within my recovery. I’m always hoping to CRUSH it all the time. Thanks for the encouraging words. -AB

  3. Likely no other muscle has so many books written on it, nor has any other part received the same fetishizing that the psoas has garnered by osteopaths, yogis, and manual therapists…but all of that is probably for a reason, as you are now finding. Can’t wait to hear and see more about the progress you make, especially on that elusive hip flexion!

    1. Well it’s interesting that there has been so much attention given to it in some circles, and so little in others. I feel like people who know about it know A LOT about it and pay tons of attention but for most people it goes unnoticed. I’ll keep you posted bro. -AB

  4. Interesting..had not heard of that one before. I hope the emotions that are stirred up are mostly good ones 🙂 So anxious to know how your time in Maui is going. Look forward to talking with you soon!

  5. Hi Arash!

    My 7 years old son Samuel got a bleeding from a cavernoma in his spinal cord (C4-C6) late November last year. He had a surgery in December. They told us his legs will not carry him. Before and directly after his surgery he was totally paralyzed from his chest down and in his fingers. Now it has been 6 weeks since the surgery and he can move all his fingers on his left hand (he is left handed) and two fingers on his right hand. He can move his toes and hips and he can bend his left leg. We live in Sweden and the rehab here concentrates on training people to live in a wheelchair and get them back to their lives. Samuel gets approx 2-3 hours of PT per week and here is no equipment like FES or treadmill. We will travel to US as soon as we can, probably start rehab at Shriners children hospital in Philadelphia and then find the best place we can for Samuel. Your blog was a real inspiration for us (I’ve read everything twice). You made me decide to not settle with the line “his legs will not carry him”. I would love to get in contact with you! Thank you for the inspiration! /Elin

    1. That’s fantastic and I’m happy that my blog could be a big resource for you and your family. I’m honored in fact. I’m glad that you’re not accepting the prognoses given to your son by doctors. Whatever they say, you know your son better, you know his abilities and what he’s capable of. Just define his recovery in your own terms. It’s not to say that the doctors can’t help because they’re useful for some things, but don’t let their hopelessness and negativity impact your son’s journey. Happy to be in touch -AB

  6. May I quote your blog? As in, may I have your permission to print this entry on the psoas for my massage clients? I can talk to them about it all I want, but I think your real life observations and experiences with your psoas would be very instructive for them!

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