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?
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?
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.