There are many yoga postures that focus on opening the hips–specifically to release the psoas. The psoas is the deepest core muscle, originating on the spine near the solar plexus and inserting at the top of the femur. This muscle affects our structural balance, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, and organ functioning.
In animals, the psoas equivalent is known as the ‘tenderloin’. It is the only muscle that attaches the spine to the legs so it is responsible for holding us upright, walking, flexing and rotating the thigh, and flexing the pelvis. The psoas is the first muscle to contract and the last muscle to relax during the ‘fight or flight’ response that arises with fear and stress.
People have the instinct to protect themselves when stressed out. When faced with a fearful or dangerous situation, the strong psoas muscle is tensed to give us the burst of speed when we need to get away. It is also connected to the diaphragm which affects our breath and fear reflex. Low grade stressors of everyday life chronically cause tightness in the psoas that gets stored there until you practice deep release exercises. If we constantly contract the psoas from stress, the muscle shortens which can lead to low back, knee, sacroiliac, and menstruation pain, sciatica, disc problems, scoliosis, hip degeneration, infertility and digestive problems. A tight psoas also constricts the organs, puts pressure on nerves, interferes with fluid movement, and impairs diaphragmatic breathing. When you find a deep release of the psoas through yoga asana practice, you can relieve a range of physical symptoms including back, hip, knee, and leg pain, poor posture, menstrual cramps, sleep difficulties, misalignment of gate, and improper foot rotation.
Often, you hear yoga instructors saying that the hips are where we store tension, fear, and past emotions. This junk drawer of emotions refers to the tightness in the psoas. Emotionally, the psoas release can ease the emotional restraints still present from deep-seated fears and trauma. Because the psoas is a deep and protected muscle, it is a perfect place to store emotions from trauma. The hormones and neurotransmitters released by the brain when we have the fight or flight response are often stored here. During deep release of the psoas, it is common to refire these neurotransmitters and experience the old emotions buried in the hips. Next time you practice a deep hip-opening yoga posture, notice what comes up to help cultivate the awareness of your psoas. A released and healthy psoas can ground you and allow subtle energies to flow through your body. After the release, you may experience a deeper awareness of self, freedom from old barriers, and a greater sense of peace.