"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." - John Muir
I recently finished an anatomy and physiology training module on the iliopsoas. I have been incorporating some of the information I have learned into my weekly classes and as part of my last yoga retreat (more to come in the next one). Your iliopsoas is so much more than a hip flexor.
A major stability muscle
The iliopsoas is a multijoint muscle, attaching to six joints and passing over two. It’s the only muscle that connects your upper body with your lower body (originating from the lumbar vertebrae and inserting into the lesser trochanter...your femur/thigh bone) and is considered a major stabilizing muscle. The iliopsoas is made up of three parts; the psoas major, the psoas minor, and the iliacus. It can contract or shorten, as well as stretch or lengthen, depending on our neuromuscular habits. It supports the free swing of the leg in walking and plays an important role in many of our daily activities; standing, sitting, biking, and going up stairs, to name a few. Additionally, the psoas major is in relationship with our diaphragm via what’s called the “medial arcuate ligament,” so our psoas can also affect our ability to breathe deeply.
Are there emotions in our hips?
Some yoga teachers say that we can carry a lot of emotions in our hips. Although I don’t believe your psoas can feel emotions such as sadness or happiness, 😊 I do understand the science of it. The iliopsoas is known as our flight, fight, or freeze muscle. When in fight-flight mode, animals (we refer to their psoas as “the tenderloin”) use this muscle to flee from danger. In our human experience (if we are fortunate enough to live in safety) we may not be fleeing from danger anymore. But, when we are in fight or flight mode and our sympathetic nervous system is activated, it’s this muscle that contracts and tenses up so we can sprint to safety. Even when crossing a street and a car drives by a little too closely, our iliopsoas contracts and tightens. Or, if your colleague says, "Remember that project that was due next month? It's now due this week." our sympathetic nervous gets activated, and the iliopsoas (perhaps already shortened from long days sitting at our desks) constricts, and tenses. (Fight. Flight.)
We can also imagine those times of feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the world (or just daily life) when we’ve wanted to curl up in a ball, it’s our iliopsoas that tucks in, gets small, and tight. (Freeze.)
Over time, a constantly constricted and shortened iliopsoas can lead to low back issues, hip and pelvic pain. Because our diaphragm is in direct relationship with our iliopsoas, our breathing can feel shallow and tight. We might not even notice this subtle yet direct impact our iliopsoas has on our parasympathetic nervous system and our ability to rest and digest. When we work to stabilize and gently soften this major core muscle we start to notice a significant change in mobility, hip flexion, overall posture, and low back health. We also feel safe, grounded, and a general feeling of well-being.
Join me for a dynamic vinyasa yoga class, or a hip-opening yin class to develop a supple and strong iliopsoas. You can also do a deeper dive into this grounding, stability muscle at my next Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat