Stretching your stress out – Meet your psoas

Why is the psoas such a major player in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing?

Sandra Carson, Monkey twist, quad stretch

The importance of this deep core muscle has long been overlooked. Now, yoga teachers and bodyworkers highlight the importance of the psoas muscle and its effect on its ‘owner’.

When do you use the psoas?

The psoas is a big player in the functioning of the hips. Also referred to as Iliopsoas as it merges with another deep hip muscle, the iliacus, it connects your torso to your legs and helps you stay in an upright position. Whether you walk, cycle, do yoga, or just hang out on your couch, this muscle is involved in pretty much everything you do – and don’t do. 

This major hip flexor is “fired up” or engaged, when you lift up your legs whilst walking, do yoga, cycle, swim, etc. It needs to stretch and lengthen every time you do Cobras and Wheels in class. Most people walk around with a tight psoas and are not aware of it. Luckily, practising yoga helps to ‘open’ this muscle to a great extent.

Benefits of a happy psoas

The benefits of having a ‘happy’ psoas, is that you will quite literally feel more grounded and relaxed. Physically, you’ll have a bigger range of movement. The downsides of having a tight psoas can manifest in back and hip pain and even ankle and knee pain. In addition to physical discomfort, a tight psoas is also fatiguing.

The benefits of having a ‘happy’ psoas, is that you will quite literally feel more grounded and relaxed. Physically, you’ll have a bigger range of movement.

Tension, stress and the psoas

Mental stress often shows its ugly head quite clearly in a painful neck and shoulders.  But the deeper parts of the body store stress as well – such as the hips. The psoas is the main muscle involved in the “fight or flight” response of the body. When you’re startled, your psoas contracts; when you experience mental or emotional stress, the psoas will respond by tightening. 

Physically, the hips are similar to Grand Central station: many muscles and forces come together and are distributed through the rest of the body. The weight of the upper body comes into the pelvis and it is the area that separates your upper from your lower body.

The hips have many deep and strong muscles that are needed for stability, movement and mobility. Tension in the hips is not only caused by mental stress or physical fitness; lifestyle, age, genetics, physical accidents and traumas also have an impact on tightness in the hips. 

How can yoga help?

In your yoga practice, make sure you always do some deeper hip openers, like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon) variations, deep lunges and some (basic) backbends.  Most standing poses already have an element of hip opening and contribute to the stretching of your psoas.

Stretch out your stress

In this class, Sandra Carson will guide you through some simple poses and movements that will help you learn to listen to your body and set up the space to allow it to release tension.

Share article
Sandra Carson
Sandra CarsonWith nearly two decades of studying the body, mind and heart, Sandra Carson has developed a teaching style that aims to make your yoga practice more holistic. She is a Certified Anusara® teacher, an E-ryt500, YACEP (Yoga Alliance), a TRE® provider and Keto coach.