Yoga Anatomy: Iliopsoas and How it Affects Your Practice

As it is above, so it is below. Have you ever heard this term before? It actually fits our anatomy. What happens above our body is often the result of misalignment below our body.

As we align ourselves at the bottom, the closest to the ground, the ripple effect will reach our minds and hearts.

The iliopsoas is a muscle that connects the upper and lower bodies. It’s also called the Psoas. The only muscle connecting the legs and torso is the Psoas.

What is it, and where can I find it?

This muscle is technically divided into a Major Psoas and a Minor Psoas. The Major Psoas is the thickest and the most commonly used.

The Major begins at the lower vertebrae (T12-L5) and moves up the pelvis to meet the Psoas at the top of the inner thighbone. The Iliacus starts at the top of the internal pelvic crest and moves through the pelvis, meeting the Psoas at the top of the inner thighbone.

The Minor muscle originates from the lower back (T12-L1) and ends near the pubic bone at the front lower part of the pelvic cup. The Psoas can be too long or short and affect the pelvis’ position in relation to the legs/feet and the upper body. This powerful muscle group is misaligned and causes many of our health problems.

The Pelvic Bowl and the Psoas

Imagine that you have a bowl full of your favorite foods on a table. If you tip the bowl too far forward, all of your favorite treats will spill out onto the table. If the bowl is tilted backward, your favorite treats will spill out onto the floor.

You lose your treats if you tilt the bowl either way. Healthy pelvic muscles help the pelvic bowl to remain upright. This allows us to maintain our internal organs (and their huge network of nervous system and blood supply) while keeping them healthy.

If we spill our treats too far forward and tip the bottle on, this can cause a weaker lower back. Lower organs accumulate waste and puff on. This leads to increased toxicity and further weakens the lower back. Many people with quieter back pain experience this problem. The pressure is placed on the lower spine instead of being distributed to other parts of the body.

If we spill our treats in the back, this can cause constriction to the lower organs. It also flattens the natural curve of the lower back. It can cause nerve pressure and other lower back problems.

Tadasana is More Than You Think

The majority of beginner yoga classes will teach Tadasana. This seems like a simple posture until you start to practice it and realize how much work is required to stand straight.

When we are standing in backbends or forward folds, it is important to maintain a healthy alignment. This will allow us to keep the alignment even when we change our perspective. When standing, you should direct both your pubic and tailbones towards the floor equally.

Once we are in standing poses, many students tend to tilt their pelvis either way, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Some of us lean our buttocks forward, increasing the curve of the lumbar spine and spilling the treats towards the front.

This is a common problem in Triangle Pose and all¬†Warrior Poses. In fact, it’s a problem with every pose. It is necessary to lift the inner abs in order to move the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) from the thighs to neutral. This lifting strengthens the Psoas as well as toning the abdominals.

Students who are tight in their hamstrings will oppositely tilt the pelvis, with the buttocks moving towards the floor and the groins raised towards the ceiling. The treats will spill out towards the back, which indicates that the pelvis may be tight.

It is not necessarily strong. Just really tight. It requires some stretching to create space between the pelvis and thighs. It is beneficial for this type of student to bend their knees in the forward fold and straight-legged positions to help the lower spine move toward its natural curve. This will also release the tightening in the lower organs.

Stretching and strengthening your Psoas

To be healthy, the Psoas must be flexible and strong. Depending on your lifestyle and uniqueness, you may have to focus more on one side or the other in order to balance your muscles and spine.

Stretching and lengthening the Psoas muscles

Poses that stretch the quadriceps (the front of the thighs) are good. The quadriceps is the gateway to the Psoas. Lift the front hips away from the leg as you stretch the front thigh.

Any lunge with one leg extended in front and the other flexed. This asymmetrical positioning causes the body to tilt the hips toward the back leg naturally and the torso forward. Lifting from the legs will draw the back leg towards the front and the front leg toward the back. This will align the torso with the pelvis vertically.

Interlace your fingers and lay down on your stomach. Extend your legs straight out on the floor. Natural inhale and release a long, slow exhale. Drop the belly down to the floor. You may feel this inner muscle stretching deep within your body.

In all these poses, generally, extend your inhalation. The diaphragm presses the top of the Psoas as it moves downwards on the inhale. The stretch is intensified when we add another position. Being still and deepening the breathing is not a waste of time. You are doing inner work to help you free your spine and perspective.

Psoas Strengthening Methods

A posture in which the legs are raised off the ground and placed in front of the body.

Navasana, or Boat Pose, is an excellent example. It’s not uncommon for the top quadriceps to fire instead of the deep Psoas. The thigh bone is pressing into the hip socket as it moves towards the quads.

The thighbone should be moved towards the hamstrings. The Psoas can be accessed by creating space between the thighbone and hip socket.

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