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The psoas, located on each side of the spine, is an intelligent tissue that communicates relationships between right and left, back and front, upper and lower, and deep and superficial layers of your core being. Found behind the large abdominal muscles, digestive and reproductive organs, arteries, and veins at our skeletal and gravitational center, the psoas creates a muscular pendulum upon which the kidneys and adrenals literally float. When in harmony with diaphragmatic breathing, the psoas gently massages all the abdominal organs, stimulates blood circulation, and enhances the rhythmic flow of synovial fluid.
Given the dynamics of psoas, it may seem counterintuitive not to stretch it in order to improve its flow, range, and movement. You may ask why stretching it is problematic. Well, the answer is as complex and mysterious as your psoas.
Redefining your psoas
Although it is defined as a muscle, the psoas is actually a very sensitive and responsive tissue. Sue Hitzmann, the creator of the MELT Method®, a system for supporting healthy functional connective tissue, refers to the psoas as part of the NeuroCore™. Your central nervous system, psoas, kidneys, and adrenals is embedded in this NeuroCore. Playing an essential role in thriving, the psoas is also part of your primal survival responses: propelling you into a full run; kicking your leg in defense; and curling you into a protective ball.
You can consider the psoas a core messenger, interfacing the reptilian brain and the cortex. As a messenger, it behooves us to stop pulling on this tissue, and instead learn to understand its message. The psoas is not short and in need of stretching; rather, your psoas may feel short because it is exhausted and possibly dry. It is counterproductive to attempt to stretch dry, exhausted tissue in hopes of making it healthy, fluid, and responsive.
So, why is your psoas dry? How does psoas become “exhausted”?
The psoas becomes exhausted when it is overused, misused, and abused. Whenever there is a loss of skeletal proprioception, unresolved trauma, and defensive posturing, there is often depleted adrenal health and exhausted psoas. Over time, poor ergonomics, as well as sympathetic freeze responses, can cause an array of compensations that recruit psoas for stability, eventually resulting in dry tissue.
Consider your ergonomics and everyday behaviors. If your psoas feels constricted, it may be a reflection of the chair you sit on, the shoes you wear, or the stress of engaging in repetitive sports or fitness activities. You may also have sustained emotional or physical injuries that have not yet healed. A car accident, a fall, abuse, and habitual movements are often the cause of muscular and skeletal imbalances that invariably demand help from your psoas. You may be recruiting your psoas to achieve performance or as a result of tips, dips, and torques in the pelvic basin.
Also, overdeveloped muscles often pull on the skeletal system, disrupting your core and evoking a response from your psoas. Powerful external muscles, such as overdeveloped quadriceps, can pull the pelvic basin forward and down, eliciting a response from the NeuroCore. Tight, restrained, or locked hip sockets—often a result of a sacroiliac injury or dysfunction—can recruit psoas due to a lack of proprioceptive skeletal coherency. Low back, knee, ankle, and toe problems also suggest the psoas may be being misused. Over time, by compensating for the lack of healthy skeletal balance, fluid psoas begins to lose its suppleness.
What not to do
As a messenger of the sympathetic NeuroCore, the psoas does not benefit when manipulated by others or through similar self-help techniques. Using tools that dig into your psoas, or having your psoas directly palpated, is not only painful but also can be harmful by causing bruising, broken arteries, and hernias that manifest trauma without resolution. Manipulating the psoas simply does not address the reason your psoas is constricted. Remember, the psoas is simply the messenger—it is rarely the problem. Although invasive techniques may achieve temporary relief, they do not ultimately address the messenger’s message. My advice is don’t shoot the messenger; learn its language.
Nourishing a healthy psoas
The best way to sustain or regain healthy psoas is by listening to its message and resolving dysfunctional patterns and habits. By creating coherence through sensory awareness, you can revitalize your psoas thus gaining a deeper level of core integrity. (These awareness-building, psoas-releasing poses may help.)
Your emotional well-being, conscious expression, and functional movement all hinge upon cultivating functional psoas. Begin rejuvenating your psoas is by learning to hydrate your overall connective tissue, nourish your kidney/adrenal health, and increase your proprioceptive relationship with gravity.
Working with—not against—the psoas may bring you in direct contact with your deepest fears, but it will also connect you with instinctive wisdom and deep relaxation within your belly core that increases functional movement and self-expression.