The Psoas a.k.a the Hip Flexor

Hmm? Nani? Whut’s Psoas?

That was my first reaction when I heard about this unfamiliar muscle during the class. In my previous classes, I usually heard about instruction to engage the core or quads when we practised poses related to the lower body, not really the psoas.

What is the Psoas?

The name ‘psoas’ is of Greek origin, which means the ‘muscle of the loin’. The psoas is the strongest and deepest muscles in a group of muscles called the hip flexors. It is a combination of two muscles, the psoas major and the iliacus. Together these two muscles are known as the iliopsoas muscle. The psoas allows us to perform several movements such as running/walking by flexing the thighs, lateral rotation of the thigh (bending the knee outwards in figure four/eka pada utkatasana), and lateral flexion of the trunk (side bend).

Where is the Psoas?

The psoas is located in the lumbar region, which forms a strip of muscle along each side of the spine, extends through the pelvis and connects to the femur. This muscle works by flexing the hip joint (hip flexion) and lifting the upper leg towards the torso (leg flexion).

Why is the Psoas important?

Apparently, the psoas muscle is extremely important and popular as it often gets itself involved in many issues and problems that the general population deals with. A weak or inactive core might also cause the iliopsoas muscle to be tight and can be a significant contributor to the lower back and pelvic pain. If the psoas isn’t activated, or when the psoas is weak and is not supporting the back, or that when the psoas is too tight, other muscles may come into play to compensate and end up often resulting in lordosis which is causing the back pain as it is overarching in the lumbar spine. Long hours of sitting or doing activities such as cycling, weight-training exercises, sit-ups without stretching may cause the hip flexors to become short and tight.

Awakening the Psoas on the mat:

Practising asanas that require activation of psoas enables it to stay strong, healthy and flexible. By doing so, it does help to create a balanced posture.

> Urdha Mukha Svanasana

Engage the psoas major to lift up the pelvis further and avoid dumping most of the weights onto the wrist or shoulder.

Step-by-step:

  1. Come into a table-top position by aligning the wrist underneath the shoulder and knees underneath the hips.
  2. Lift the hips up, at the same time straighten both elbows and ground the heels on the floor.
  3. Reach the pelvis up towards the ceiling, and try to draw the sit bones towards the wall behind, your body is currently in the shape of an “A”.
  4. Press the floor away as you lift through the pelvis.
  5. Flex the hips by contracting the psoas muscle and its synergists, which are the pectineus, adductors brevis and adductors longus. Attempt to drag the feet towards one another for engaging these muscles.
  6. Hold in this pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
  7. Exhale as you bend your knees and lower them down onto the mat to release them from this pose.

> Navasana

The strongest hip flexors – psoas major and the iliacus works primarily when we lift our legs up in this pose. The quadriceps and abdominal muscles function to support rather than initiate this lifting action.

Step-by-step:

  1. Sit on the mat with both knees bent, feet on the floor. Place the hands behind the knees, lift the chest up, engage the back muscles as you inhale.
  2. Engage the inner thighs and draw the lower belly in and up.
  3. Tilt-back on the back of sitting bones and lift the feet up to about knee height with toes pointing.
  4. Extend the arms at shoulder level and parallel to the floor.
  5. To challenge further, you may straighten both legs.
  6. Stay in this pose for 5 breaths, and slowly work up to 10 breaths.
  7. To exit from the pose, lower both feet down on an exhalation, relax in Dandasana.

All the while I have been thinking that the core is the central player in most of the asanas and just found out that you do require activation on the psoas too. In the future, if this thought ever cross your mind: “Ehh I have been activating my core but how come it still doesn’t work!?”, probably you might want to start engaging your psoas muscle in the posture too!

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