The psoas is mostly known as a hip flexor. It is one of the muscles that pull our knees towards our chest (and hence very important for walking).
But it’s function as a spinal stabiliser might be even more important. Think of your psoas muscles as two industrial-strength columns girding the sides of your lumbar spine, and you get a pretty good idea of how important these muscles are to spinal stability.
Which is why, when things go wrong in these deep core muscles, a lot of other things go wrong.
When the psoas is chronically tight it mostly tends to pull the lower back and pelvis into anterior rotation (hyperlordosis).
Due to its central position near the body’s centre of gravity, it also has a role in regulating balance, and affecting nerve and subtle energies.
Large nerve bundles that supply the digestive system with nerve impulses must pass through the psoas muscle. In other words, the psoas acts as a bridge between the enteric, central and autonomic nervous systems.
According to Liz Koch, the psoas is far more than a core stabilizing muscle; it is an organ of perception composed of bio-intelligent tissue and “literally embodies our deepest urge for survival, and more profoundly, our elemental desire to flourish.”
If we constantly contract the psoas due to stress or tension, the muscle eventually begins to shorten leading to a host of painful conditions including poor posture (swayback), low back pain, sacroiliac pain, sciatica, disc problems, spondylolysis, scoliosis, etc.
It can affect how well we digest food, the comfort of our menstrual cycle and how well we eliminate and remove waste from the body.
WHAT CAN AFFECT THE PSOAS
Liz Koch describes a healthy psoas as the filet mignon of the human body – juicy, delicate, tender, and very responsive. However, it can easily become tight, dry and unresponsive.
Here are the main reasons why your psoas might not be so juicy anymore.
1- Chronic Stress
Koch believes that our fast-paced modern lifestyle (which runs on the adrenaline of our sympathetic nervous system) chronically triggers and tightens the psoas – making it literally ready to run or fight.
Unfortunately, chronic tightness in the psoas can also trigger a chronic stress response… creating a vicious cycle!
2- Emotions (especially fear and past trauma):
When the psoas muscle is constantly charged with feelings of fear, or it’s holding a past trauma, it may become chronically short, tight and dry.
4- Pelvic Instability:
It can also react this way when there is dysfunction in the pelvis – the psoas will react to take up any slack in pelvic stability. I find that this is quite common post-pregnancy.
5- Too Much Sitting!
MORE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE PSOAS AND DIGESTION
1- A tight psoas inhibits the rest and digest response.
Remember that the psoas acts as a bridge between the enteric, central and autonomic nervous systems. If our psoas is short and tight, it signals to the CNS that we are somehow not safe, secure or calm, keeping us into a state of sympathetic arousal, which inhibits gastrointestinal secretions and causes the digestive tract to constrict or close down.
On the other hand, working on relaxing the psoas muscle will stimulate the Parasympathetic system, also called the “rest and digest system”, which stimulates digestive activities.
Disruptions in the psoas can cause inflammation, leading to small internal adhesions anywhere in the gut, and likely in some of the meters of the small intestine.
This will affect the motility of the gut and have many devastating effects on your ability to digest and process food. It can also be a contributing factor to constipation.
Poor gut motility, especially in the small intestine, is also an important factor to address when treating SIBO. This means that evaluating the possibility of a tight psoas muscle becomes important in the management of this, sometimes very difficult to treat condition.
3- Possible link with Ileocecal valve dysfunction and SIBO.
There might be a link between a tight psoas muscle (and sacroiliac joint instability), a dysfunction of the ileocecal valve and SIBO.
The right sacroiliac joint is the attachment point for the end of the small intestine. It’s also where the ileocecal valve (ICV) is located. When the psoas is very tight, it can pull the sacrum out of place, causing a possible dysfunction of the ileocecal valve. An unstable sacrum/pelvis can also contribute to a tight psoas… causing a vicious cycle.
A dysfunction of the ICV valve can trigger SIBO by allowing the content of the large intestine to backflow into the small intestine, causing a huge increase in the number of bacteria in the small intestine, and hence small intestinal bacterial overgrowth!
I believe this is an important consideration with cases of SIBO that come back very quickly after treatment.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
You can gain amazing benefits by straightening the other core muscles (to give the psoas a well-deserved break), stabilizing the pelvis, and releasing the psoas and working on the fascia.
Here are just a few exercises to get you started.
For pelvic stability:
Hand-knee balance: Starting on your hands and knees, stretch one leg behind, to hip height, and extend the opposite arm forward. Make sure that your pelvis remains centered with the core engaged.
The Constructive Rest Position
I believe this is the best pose to start with as it allows you to become in tune with your psoas and become aware of how it feels when the psoas softens and releases.
I learned this pose from Donna Farhi, an amazing, internationally acclaimed yoga teacher.
In this pose, the careful placement of the legs establishes the skeleton as the primary support so that the deep core muscles can relax and release. The hip bones “plug into” the hip socket, and with the assistance of gravity, allow the whole length of the psoas to release the spine.
I demonstrate this pose in the Exclusive Digestion Series. It’s free!
The psoas, being a bit of a mysterious muscle, it can affect you in more ways than you may think, but I find that a lot of it is experiential, you just have to give it a try and see what it does for you.
Some people report that their constant need to urinate stops once they release the psoas, some people sleep better, some people feel more grounded, and of course, some people notice that their digestion improves!
Freeing the psoas may help relieve emotional tension, and even trauma held deep in the core of the body.
So I urge you to give it a try.