“ACTIVATE YOUR PSOAS” is probably one of the most commonly heard phrase for any student taking YTT.
The Psoas muscle is probably one of the most important muscle in your body. It is a combination of two large muscles: the psoas major and the iliacus. They attach from the 12th thoracic vertebrae to the 5th lumbar vertebrae, through the pelvis , and to the inside of the proximal femur bone. This muscle is responsible for plenty of day-to-day activities, including stabilising the trunk and spine during movement and sitting. It is also connected to the breath due to its connection to the diaphragm. When startled or stressed, the psoas contracts as well.
In yoga, the psoas plays an important role in all the asanas. For instance, contracting the psoas bends the trunk forward in Paschimotanasana, or draws the knee up in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Contracting the psoas on one side flexes the trunk, allowing for Utthita Trikonasana. Stretching the psoas allows for backbends such as Ustrasana. A toned psoas is also required for all inversions and arm balances.
Outside of yoga however, we do not hear much of this muscle. What is focused on in most workouts or physical exercises target superficial muscles such as sculpting the ideal 6pac abdominals, training for bulging biceps and achieving firm glutes.
In society, plenty of emphasis is placed on outward appearances. The clothes you wear and how well groomed you are affects the way other people perceive you. Looking the part can help you get ahead in job interviews. A physically attractive person can easily impress others. The endless bombardment of advertisements promoting unattainable beauty standards also has a large part to play. Look good, feel good — Looking good can help build your self esteem. Or so they say. This “self-esteem” or self image, however, is built on what other people think of you. External means are used to fulfil internal satisfaction.
Back to the psoas muscles — An imbalance in the muscle can cause various problems such as pain in the lower back and hips when lifting the legs. Back pain is common, and posture can be affected. Internal muscles are equally important, if not more important, than superficial muscles.
Likewise, the inner self needs equal, if not more, nourishment. Clinical depression has surged by huge percentages in recent decades. Self help related sales have been on an increase year-on-year, with books on topics such as happiness and self-esteem topping the charts. People increasingly find that the mind and body are at odds with each other.
Yoga is an internal journey and is beyond anything I have mentioned above. Not only does it strive to achieve the union of mind and body, it also includes the soul.
The 8 limbs of yoga (Ashtanga) include:
- Yamas – guidelines for social behaviour
- Niyamas – guidelines for inner discipline and responsibility
- Asanas – physical practice of holding steady, continuous, comfortable poses
- Pranayama – practising the extension of breath
- Pratyahara – removal of mind from sense organs
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – transcendence
It is unknown whether or not samadhi is ever achievable in this lifetime. Having that as a goal and through the practice of yoga however, allows for an internal transformation starting from physical, to mental, to spiritual. What is shown on the outside / the external as a by-product then ceases to matter.
Internal to external. Selfishness to selflessness. Inward focus to outward focus.