The Psoas: Body Mind Connection
This week, we'll be looking at one of the most important muscle systems or connections in the body, one that is implicated in our overall physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.Two muscles, the psoas major and the illacus, together make up what is known as the illiopsoas complex or simply, the psoas. Growing out of both sides of the spine, the psoas spans laterally from the 12th thoracic vertebrae (T12) to each of the 5 lumbar vertebrae. From there it flows down through the pelvis, to attach to the top of the femur (thigh) bone. It is one of the major muscles that allows us to stand upright, connecting our spine to our legs from the front. This is the muscle that pulls our knees towards our chest. The psoas allows us to lengthen the front of the thighs, to rotate the thighs outwards, and provides spinal stablity.As the psoas is so intimately connected through the core of our body, it plays a crucial role in monitoring and managing other aspects of our wellbeing. If the psoas is shortened, this can cause lower back pain, knee and hip issues, even breathing and digestive problems.Our body has a physical response to stress that prepares the body to fight, flee or freeze. The psoas is the muscle responsible for all three – readying our body in a fighting stance, driving our body forward in a run, or curling us into a tight ball. When the psoas muscle is constantly tightened through fear or trauma, it may become chronically short. The psoas is connected to the diaphragm through connective tissue or fascia which affects both our breath and fear reflex. 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.The psoas is connected via tissue to our nervous system. Not only via the bundle of nerves that exists in our central nervous system, but also via connection with the diaphragm to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a key player in stimulating our PARAsympathetic nervous system, which is needed for rest, recovery, digestion and relaxation. It is our antidote to the sympathetic nervous system's flight or fight response mentioned above.The psoas is close to my heart because of ongoing issues in my body stemming from over developed muscles from playing football and hockey when younger, to back surgery, a 14 year career of sitting down for 12 hours a day and chronic stress and depression.We can start to help ourselves and our psoas through lengthening and releasing - but also through intentional relaxation. Slumping on the sofa in front of the TV doesn't count!