So What About the Psoas?

Holy cow, it’s been a while since my last blog post! The last couple of months have been pretty busy and stressful, which means that I’ve been doing lots of psoas releasing. (And that was before the election!) I've realized that I’ve never actually written a blog post about the Restorative Exercise psoas release, so I'm rectifying that now. (Click here to go straight to the how-to video.)

What the heck is the psoas?

The psoas (pronounced so-as, and the plural psoai, pronounced so-eye, in case you were wondering) is a huge muscle that affects several joints in the body, most of which hurt in a lot of people. And a lot of people have tight psoai. Coincidence? I think not!

These crazy muscles attach to the vertebrae in the lower back, wrap around the front of the pelvis, and attach to the backs of the thigh bones. Low back pain, SI joint pain, or hip pain, anyone? If so, there’s a good chance that your psoai are involved. Also, because tight psoas muscles change the position of the rib cage and pelvis, they can affect the upper back, neck, shoulders, pelvic floor, and knees, too. Crazy, indeed!

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PSOAI ARE TIGHT?

One common clue that you have tight psoas muscles is if you feel a little twinge or cramp in the front of your hip when you stand up after sitting for long periods. This is one of your psoas muscles complaining about moving after being stuck in one position for so long.

Rib thrust is a good indication that your psoai are holding some excess tension.

Rib thrust is a good indication that your psoai are holding some excess tension.

You can also check by laying down flat on the ground with your legs straight. If you notice that either 1) the backs of your thighs don’t touch the ground or 2) the bottom edge of the front of your rib cage juts up in air (or both 1 & 2!) then your psoas muscles are not lengthening as much as they should. Check out this video to learn how to determine whether your psoas muscles are not lengthening like they should!

WHAT CAUSES TIGHT PSOAS MUSCLES?

Good question. The answer is, lots of things! But there are a couple that are especially predominant in our modern lives.

First, sitting for long periods with a tucked pelvis is a big culprit. When the pelvis is tucked, the psoai are in a shortened position...and if you do this frequently enough, your body gets habituated to it and starts to think this is where it should always be. So then you go to try and untuck your pelvis/lengthen your psoai, and your nervous system has a little freak-out and says “no way, not happening”. Or maybe you DON’T try to untuck the pelvis/lengthen the psoai because no one ever told you that it's a good idea to do so. Well, here I am now telling you that this is a big deal and that you might feel a lot better if you sit less and unlearn the habit of pelvis tucking.

Another huge factor is stress, which most of us unfortunately have an over-abundance of. The psoas is involved in the fight/flight/freeze response, and frequently being in this state takes it’s toll.

Modern technology is awesome in many ways, but it does have some drawbacks too.

Modern technology is awesome in many ways, but it does have some drawbacks too.

I’m not just talking about life-threatening situations, either. There are a whole host of modern-day causes of psoas-tightening stress that most of us don’t even think to consider (and may even see as necessary to our survival...or at the very least our productivity). These include caffeine consumption, being constantly connected through email and social media, driving, night lighting (being exposed to artificial light after the sun goes down)...I could go on and on. The point is that many things we take for granted as “normal” in our modern lives are actually very unnatural and affect our biology in undesirable ways.

WHAT DO I DO ABOUT MY TIGHT PSOAI?

Sitting less and/or moving more while you sit, as well identifying and reducing negative stressors, are two really great places to start. If you’ve never tried mindfulness (aka Vipassana) meditation, I highly recommend checking out this resource with lots of free instruction and talks.

Also, the Restorative Exercise psoas release is a stress reliever in and of itself, so it offers two levels of goodness! Check out the video below for the how-to's of this exercise, a psoas evaluation, plus some excellent self-massage for the low back.