Pilates, Yoga, & The Psoas Muscle

Published by Liz Koch on April 6, 2004 in Articles

The Psoas muscle (pronounced so-as) is the core muscle of the human body. Attaching to the spine at the 12th thoracic vertebrae (T12) and to each of the 5 lumbar vertebrae, the psoas flows through the pelvis it inserts into the lesser trocantor of the femur (leg) bone. A large massive muscle it is located one on each side of the spine and serves as a bridge between the trunk and the legs. The psoas is the only muscle to attach the spine to the leg allowing for free swing during walking.

Located at the very core of the human organism, closest to the gravitational force the psoas affects structural balance, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, and organ functioning. It is the integration of the deepest core with the external that brings muscular synchronicity, co-ordination and suppleness. Its’ relationship to the diaphragm affects the breath and as part of the fear reflex – a sense of emotional well-being. In every way personal integrity is dependent upon and reflected the supple dynamic psoas muscle.

Understanding the complexity and interdisciplinary functions of the psoas helps the Pilates/ Exercise/Yoga instructor or participant maintain core integrity and prevent injury. Functioning as a hip flexor, rotator, guy wire, hydraulic pump and flee/fight reflex, awareness of the psoas muscle brings a deeper, more wholistic balance.

It is detrimental to the psoas to be used as an anchor or muscular lock to achieve range of motion. Suggestions of pushing the navel to the spine, pressing the lower back or pelvis to the floor for support are all cues that suggest locking the core for structural support. Stabilizing the core by anchoring at T12 limits the functioning of the psoas and prevents it from working as an integrated muscle. For proper skeletal support to be achieved teaching tools such as the use of imagery also needs to reflect the muscles complexity. Only by engaging a released psoas muscle can you begin to unravel core tension patterns and lengthen external muscles.

The Psoas Book by Liz Koch seeks to educate and inform the reader of all aspects associated with the psoas. Simple to read it provides a wealth of information for instructor and client.

Monica Cavanagh
Posted on May 22nd, 2007 | Permalink

I am 59 years old. I’ve had idiopathic scoliosis since I was 12. I’ve been fused anteriorly and posteriorly, many times, until modern technology and I came to terms in 1988. At that time, instrumentation was put in my lumbar spince, posteriorly. An anterior fusion was done in the same day. In 1996 the instrumentation was removed. Since then, I have lost two and a half inches and now stand at 4″11. My curvature was calculated and if I was normal, would stand 5″6. I do not want to lose more height.
Any suggestions?
I am an American now living in New Zealand.
Monica Cavanagh

Gordon Grant
Posted on July 18th, 2011 | Permalink

You have a great site. I am interested in any site that involves health and exercise.

Posted on September 7th, 2012 | Permalink

Liz. I am a movement educator trained in the Franklin Method and certified pilates instructor. I am very interested in psoas in relationship to pelvic tilts and bracing.I really feel to release a client out of a pelvic tilt and bracing the psoas is the key. Any suggestions on the quickest way to release these targeted areas

Liz Koch
Posted on September 21st, 2012 | Permalink

First step is to understand the expression of pelvic tilt as an expression of the core. Second step is to release superfluous tension from the “messenger of the midline”, the psoas. The best way to do this is in constructive rest position. The psoas is dynamic and expresses basic primal responses as we begin to soften the core in constructive rest we can play with these basic expressions. As a living system you as an instructor are witnessing a flight/fight/freeze response. The quickest way to allow the system to find neutral is in constructive rest – no tucking tail, or pushing naval to spine – gravity will do the rest.

Posted on December 20th, 2012 | Permalink

I am a massage therapist of 10 years and just received my 2nd Rolfing session to address a chronic right side pelvic rotation. My psoas has been in chronic tightness for years and by unwinding the many layers of tissue around my pelvis and connections above & below, I’m eager to find ways to keep it juicy and supple. I’ve been taking several yoga and Pilates classes that focus on tightening the abdomen, drawing navel to spine, tightening inner thighs, doing Kegels, etc. I DO NOT want to get back to where I was before, so my question is should I avoid those instructions, and if so, are there any cues I should follow to help engage my core when taking these classes? Many thanks for sharing your life changing work :)

Posted on March 26th, 2014 | Permalink

You are absolutely right about the neutral positioning of the zsoas. In a misguided attempt to release the muscles of the zsoas, many Alexander Technique teachers attempt to soften the psoas to the floor in the semi-prone position. If this becomes habit, as it will, from repetitious practice, the consequences are horrendous.

I have met two other aikido teachers, also long-term yoga practitioners, who had to give up both of these professional pursuits because of an L5 indentation.

Sad, but true. Thanks in part to your research, I am now teaching my aikido and yoga students the proper use(s) of the zsoas.

I would love to arrange a web interview with you at some point in the future.

kind regards

(mr) keni lynch
aikido circle budapest

leave your comment