Psoas Muscle in Tai Chi
The psoas (pronounced so-az) muscle isn't well known and yet plays a huge role in our bodies. It is the deepest muscle in the body and unlike most other muscles it lays buried. This muscle is vital for appropriate alignment/structure, full muscular range of motion and correct joint rotation.
- A muscle that is 16 inches long
- The only muscle that connects the lower spine to the legs
- Connection from: twelfth thoracic to the fifth lumbar
- Connection to: lesser trochanter of the femur
- Made up of psoas minor and psoas major
- Both hip flexors are together known as the iliopsoas
- The psoas connects to the diaphragm by connective tissue/fascia which directly relates to our breathing ability and capacity as well as the automatic fight or flight response.
- All of the internal organs connect with the psoas or diaphragm muscle
- Above diaphragm: heart, lungs
- Below diaphragm: stomach, liver, gallbladder, spleen, colon
- Outer edge of psoas: kidneys
- Inner edge of psoas: abdominal aorta (blood flow to the pelvis and legs)
- Parallel of psoas: ureters (tubes that propel urine from the kidneys to the bladder)
- In front of psoas: bladder, reproductive organs
- Unites the upper body to the lower body
- Hip stabiliser, creating appropriate function/movement of the hip-joint
- Helps create a neutral pelvis alignment
- Hydraulic pump that helps nutrients be drawn in and pushed out of the cells (lymph and blood systems)
- The posture muscle supports the lower spine and abdomen muscles
- Supports the organs in the pelvic and abdominal cavity
- Hip flexor, bending the chest towards the thigh
- Lifting the leg upwards to the upper body
- Hip squatting
- The legs moving towards the foetal position
Psoas and Movement
- A relaxed psoas muscle is short
- Movement lengthens the psoas muscle
- No movement means it shortens and does not lengthen, the less movement you do the more the psoas tightens and restricts mobility
Tai Chi / Qi Gong
- All movements in Tai Chi and Qi Gong come from the psoas muscle.
- Responsible for the hip (Kua) squat in Tai Chi and Qi Gong practices.
- The internal arts activate and condition the deep internal psoas muscle.
- In Tai Chi and Qigong we use deliberate intention to soften and release tension in the hip area; psoas, hip flexors.
- We also learn to relax the psoas muscle which helps align the spine and pelvis bowl.
- In your practice, you may be contracting your core muscles rather than using your frame (skeleton, peripheral muscles, connective tissue) to move from the core.
- By developing increased body awareness through the mindful movements of Tai Chi and Qigong in general and specifically with the psoas muscle, this can help improve both physical and emotional health.
What Creates a Weak / Shortened Psoas
- Sitting, walking, running for long periods.
- Stress, tension, negative emotions help to create chronic contraction of the psoas muscle which is linked with the brains fight or flight survival response.
- A shortened psoas mimics the foetal position by moving the head and pelvis together.
- Sleeping in the foetal position.
Physical Effects of a Weak / Shortened Psoas Muscle
Chronic contraction of the psoas leads to many physical problems within the body through the shortening of the muscle;
- Lower back, thoracic, hip, abdominal pain or discomfort, extending to difficulty with bowel movements.
- Encourages shallow chest breathing as throws the ribs forward.
- Trunk becomes compressed/shortened which restricts the organs in the pelvic and abdominal cavity (restricting digestive and elimination function).
- Hips thrust forward rotating pelvis and leg.
- Hip socket is compressed affecting rotation of the hip-joint, aiding hip degeneration.
- Lumbar spine compresses affecting blood flow, nerves and circulation.
- Restricts pelvic area affecting sexual function and urine/waste function.
- Restricts pelvic organs causing menstruation cramps.
- In general; lower back pain, disc problems, hip pain, knee pain, sciatica
Emotional Effects of a Tight Psoas Muscle
Chronic contraction of the psoas can lead to many emotional problems within the body;
- The psoas muscle connects directly to our fight or flight response.
- Both automatic responses cause movement in the psoas muscle; a) moving the body into the foetal position or b) engaging the leg and back muscles to move quickly.
- A tense psoas muscle sends a signal to the body that danger is imminent, which over-exerts the adrenal glands and weakens the immune response.
- If your psoas is chronically tense, this puts your body into a constant state of stress.
- A relaxed and appropriately working psoas muscle helps to maintain appropriate signals for the fight or flight response.
Psoas Muscle Resources
- Tom Myers author of Anatomy Trains and Liz Koch author of The Psoas Book discuss the Psoas
- The Opinionated Psoas Muscle
- The ‘Muscle of the Soul’ may be Triggering Your Fear and Anxiety
- The psoas in yoga practice
- The link between the psoas muscle and the fight or flight brain response
- Overview of the Psoas Muscle
- Anatomy Angel: Psoas Connections by Dr Dooley Noted
Ian Sinclair discusses the importance of the psoas muscle and surrounding structure within Tai Chi practice in this video. I highly recommend subscribing to his channel:
* Please note that the Taoist practices are not a replacement for conventional medical treatment. Please speak with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise programme. This article is for information purposes only and must not be taken as medical advice. *