This week we will draw our mind to focus on the 3 hip flexor muscles. Doing physical movements to focus the mind is what the ancient master Patanjali told us that Yoga was all about in the Yoga Sutras. Our aim this week is to use this focus to release tension patterns in this muscle that is often the cause of many a back and hip pain. The idea behind Somatic Yoga is that we break down our practice into parts and pieces then put a flow together having understood how a muscle movement pattern works. Most of the flows this week look like that (see your session plan).
The Psoas (which has a silent P and therefore we say Soas) consist of the Iliopsoas muscle (which is the Psoas Major and the Iliacus) and the Psoas Minor. We didn’t focus on the atter but drew the attention to the bigger and more significant former muscles which both join the lower half of the body (since they attach distally at the top of the femur (upper leg bone)) to the upper half of the body (since they attach proximally to the vertebrae of the spine from T12 to L4/5. Their primary function is FLEXION, hence the popular term “hip flexor”. They are quite amazing in that they cross 9 joints and are responsible for a lot of postural issues we encounter in everyday life as well as being responsible stabilisation of the spine.
When a person presents with a marked Lordotic curve in the lower back, the fault lies with the Psoas where the lumbar spine is being pulled down and forwards by the attachment at L2- 5. This forces the anterior pelvic tilt and necessary tightness in the front of the thigh. Equally, if a person is stooping (from poor posture and probably a lot of sitting) the Psoas is the culprit again since a tight attachment higher up the spine at T2 – L2 will be pulling the thoracic spine down and forward. The tightness and weakness of these muscles has an affect on balance, movement and even the capacity to breath deeply.
Basically speaking, the Psoas is in charge of helping you bend your knee. It is an easily abused muscle if you sit a lot since it will be passively shortened in this position at the front of the hip. Having your computer on the desk and maybe slightly leaning forward towards it encourage the head the come forward (quite weighty) which further forces the hip flexors to contract (because the weight is forward) and the low back therefore also becomes contracted (Lordosis). Following this pattern in sitting, when we get up to stand, we think we are straight but there is residual hip flexion – ie we haven’t stood fully upright and there is still a crease at the point where the legs join the trunk. The muscle has been tight for so long, it can’t lengthen fully to allow us to stand upright. If we do manage to fully extend at the crease, this forces a hyperextension of the lower back – a co-contraction with the hip flexors. Another common cause of a tight Psoas is the body weight being slightly too far forward and the weight in the balls of the foot. This posture causes the muscle to shorten in the same way.
In Somatic Yoga the Psoas is seen as mostly too tight or too weak. Our aim is to release the front of the body first to allow the Glutes to work correctly. If we visit the Chiropractor or Osteopath with low back pain, they will often say that the Glutes are weak. However in Somatics it is believed that they can be enabled if the front of the hip flexor is adequately released – there is no need to train the Glutes on their own… this will happen naturally if the front is long. We train the muscle through Sensory Awareness to lengthen fully and smoothly contract when required and of course avoid sitting for long periods as much as possible!