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Intro to the Psoas Muscle

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By Liz Koch

Feeling vibrant within your core ultimately depends upon a healthy, juicy and responsive psoas. The psoas (pronounced so-as) is your core muscle and an integral aspect of a centered and functional body. As a major player in back pain, knee injuries and tight hip sockets, it is often the exhausted psoas that disrupts range of motion, as well as digestion, bladder functioning and sexual pleasure.

Your psoas is located deep within your core, growing out of the spine at approximately the twelfth thoracic vertebra (the area called the solar plexus), and moves through the pelvis, crossing over the ball and socket joints into the inner thighbones at the lesser trochanter. Being the only muscle to connect your spine to your legs, the psoas moves through the core like a pendulum synchronizing the free swinging of the leg when walking.

With a psoas on each side of your spine, this intelligent tissue communicates relationships between right and left, back and front, upper and lower body, and the deep and superficial layers of expression. Located behind the large abdominal muscles, digestive and reproductive organs, arteries and veins at the very skeletal and gravitational core, your psoas creates a muscular shelf upon which your kidneys and adrenals literally ride. When in harmony with diaphragmatic breathing, your psoas gently massages all the abdominal organs, stimulates blood circulation and enhances the rhythmic flow of synovial fluid.

The psoas is complex and mysterious, and though defined as a muscle, it is actually a very sensitive and responsive tissue; a vital part of your survival fear response, also called the flight/fight and freeze reflex. As part of the fear response, it is your psoas that propels you into a full run, kicks your leg in defense or curls you into a protective ball while falling. The psoas responds to the full range of the both sympathetic (survival) and the parasympathetic (thriving) nervous systems and plays an essential role in eliciting full-body orgasmic response. It interfaces the reptilian (old) brain and the cortex (new) brain, which indicates that emotional well-being, consciousness and functional movement all hinge upon cultivating a functional psoas.

The psoas becomes exhausted when it is overused, misused and abused. Whenever there is a loss of skeletal proprioception, unresolved trauma and defensive muscular development there will be depleted adrenal health and an exhausted psoas. Poor ergonomics and traumatic events can cause compensations that lead to a shortened, dry and exhausted psoas. If your psoas feels constricted, it may be a reflection of the chair you sit on, the shoes you wear, the stress of sports or fitness activities you engage in, and/or the emotional or physical injuries that you’ve sustained but have not yet healed from. Car accidents, falls, abuse and habitual behaviors are often the cause of muscular/skeletal imbalances that invariably demand help from the psoas.

Here are some visual clues to look for in your clients:

  • When there are any tips, dips and torques in the pelvis, the psoas is being engaged to try and maintain poor core coherency.
  • Overdeveloped muscles pull on the skeletal system causing core disruption and evoking a response from the psoas. For example, powerful quads can pull the pelvic basin forward and down.
  • Tight, restrained or locked hip sockets are often a result of sacral Iliac injury or dysfunction and a clear sign that the psoas is compensating for healthy proprioceptive joint response.
  • Low back, knee, ankle and toe problems all suggest the psoas is involved. Over time, the delicate psoas tissue dries and shrinks compensating for healthy skeletal balance.

As a messenger of the central nervous system the psoas should not be manipulated. Having your psoas directly palpated is not only painful but can be harmful causing bruising, broken arteries and hernias, as well as evoking old trauma without resolution. Manipulating the psoas simply does not address the reason why your psoas is constricted. Although invasive techniques may sometimes achieve temporary relief, they ultimately do not address the messengers’ message.

The best way to sustain or regain a healthy psoas is by listening to its message and resolving dysfunctional patterns and habits. By creating coherency through somatic awareness, you can revitalize the psoas thus gaining a deeper level of core integrity. Working with, not against, the psoas will bring you into direct contact with your deepest fears, but it will also connect you with an instinctive wisdom and deep relaxation within your belly core that increases functional movement and self-expression.

Releasing stress accumulated each day helps keep the psoas invigorated. Take a leisurely walk, enjoy a soothing bath (with Epson salts or sea salts added) and keep your feet supple. Check out the shoes you wear. Are they comfortable and neutral with low heels and bendable soles? Are they wide and long enough for all your toes to move? Choose a desk chair that has a firm or padded flat bottom, and fill in the bucket seat in your car with a flat folded towel or wedge. Sit on top and in front of your sits bones with both feet on the floor and keep your hip sockets slightly higher than your knees.


Constructive Rest PositionThe constructive rest position (CRP), shown above offers a safe, comfortable position to release both physical and emotional tension in the psoas. It helps to relieve low back, pelvic and hip tension and allows your whole body to gain the core neutrality that is so important before beginning an exercise or activity. Simply rest on your back, knees bent with feet on the floor parallel to each other, the width apart of the front of your hip sockets. Place your heels approximately 16 inches away from your buttocks. Do not push your low back to the floor or tuck your pelvis. Keep your arms below shoulder height, resting them over your ribcage, by your sides or on your belly. Rest in this constructive position 10 to 20 minutes every day. In CRP gravity works for you, releasing tension throughout your psoas and helping to reestablish neuro-biological rhythms that calm and refresh.


Liz Koch is an international somatic educator and creator of Core Awareness™ focusing on awareness for exploring human potential. With over 30 years experience working with and specializing in the iliopsoas, she is recognized in the somatic, bodywork and fitness professions as an authority on the core muscle. Liz is the author of The Psoas Book, Unraveling Scoliosis, Core Awareness: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise & Dance, and The Psoas and Back Pain. Approved by the USA National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) as a continuing education provider, Liz Koch is a member of the International Movement Educators Association (IMA). Learn more at coreawareness.com. 


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Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 03:30PM by Registered CommenterPilates-Pro in , , , , | Comments5 Comments | References22 References

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Reader Comments (5)

This article is littered with false facts and statements. Let's keep metaphors seperate from reality and actual anatomy/physiology. Very misleading. And the author should not judge other approaches without adequate knowledge of them.

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFER

I completely agree with comment (1). As a physical therapist, manuals to the psoas is often indicated in the treatment of patients.

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRRR

What about talk about the psoas minor. This article only addressed the psoas major. Eric Franklin has some wonderful techniques for releasing the psoas major. The Iliacus was not mentioned either. Did not find this article helpful in the least. There is obviously some more to be said for the psoas as a whole.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRRS

Excellent information on ways to take care of your back. Thanks for sharing.
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January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

As a Pilates instructor I see a lot of people with very tight psoas and it is a common cause of back problems. Enjoyed the article but I disagree that the psoas shouldn't be manipulated. Sometimes it is helpful to manipulate them (by a qualified professional) and then use Pilates to keep them supple.

April 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPilatesClare

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