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The Psoas – Let’s Go Deep!

Tight lower back? Have difficulty getting upright when standing from sitting? Ever feel like you can’t pick up your legs when walking or running? Or how about sit-ups – think you have the weakest abs around? These are some of the physical symptoms of a weak psoas muscle, a recent issue with several of my clients.

Most people expect when something hurts or is weak that it needs to be stretched, yet keep in mind sometimes the opposite is true. A weakness is when a muscle does not move through the proper range of motion with the correct amount of tension and tonus – meaning overstretched, over-contracted, or simply weak. It is important to properly determine the necessary treatment for each individual condition. Because we are a whole system with physical, emotional and spiritual aspects, the cause of a weakness can fall under any one of those areas or more than one at a time. While the issue, pain or weakness manifests physically in your body, if the origin of the problem is emotional or mental in nature, that is where the bulk of the work to heal it will begin. It is NOT ‘all in your head’, however, a proper and accurate determination will provide the best plan of recovery. Below we discuss the physical and emotional functions of the psoas and its corresponding kidney system as well as some potential causes of a weakness in the area.

Psoas Physical Function – Moving from the CORE!

The psoas is a deep seated muscle that connects the trunk to the legs, starting at the lumbar vertebrae L12 connecting to the femur. It is the main muscle for hip flexion, bringing the legs and the torso toward each other, and is a major player in hip stability. When the psoas is not doing its job, it can be difficult to walk, run, stand from a seated position, or basically keep your balance. Our body needs balance and the pelvis is a central pivot for all movement in the body. The other muscles will take on the stabilizing function of the psoas when it is weak such as the quadratus lumborum (the low back muscles), or the quadriceps and hamstrings, often leading to low back pain and knee or hip injuries. You may also experience pain in other parts of your back as the shift in the position of the pelvis affects the thoracic spine.

Psoas as part of the Kidney System

The psoas rests behind the kidneys and is part of the kidney system. It connects to the diaphragm as well which causes the kidneys to move with every breath and with every movement of the pelvis. The kidneys maintain the fluid balance in our body and act as a filtration system of metabolic wastes maintaining the proper balance of electrolytes and sugars in the blood. During evolution the kidneys are what allowed organisms to leave the ocean and live on land. It maintains the ocean within, the source within, is a life or death organ and regulator. The body cannot live without at least one kidney. If your kidneys are not functioning well and metabolic wastes are left in the blood, one will eventually get poisoned to death. The psoas is a long and deep muscle just as filtration is a long and deep process. Because it has such a vital job the kidney system invokes the eyes and ears to assess the external environment to source out what it needs to take in and what it needs to reject to stay alive.

A weak psoas shows up during some core exercises at which point many clients are quick to blame weak abdominal muscles for their fatigue. While they may need stronger abdominal muscles, it can also be weak hip flexors that consequently requires more of those abdominals as they are taking over for the hip flexor weakness. A weak psoas also presents during lower body movements like deadlifts, squats, and lunges, in the position of bentover rows, and even running, walking, hiking and cycling. Typically they will begin to complain about difficulty in getting back up to the standing or starting position, not having balance, particularly with unilateral movements like one-legged dead lifts or lunges, and some refer to pain in their low back.

It is helpful to look at the positioning and placement of the pelvis. In many cases I see a posterior pelvic tilt where the glutes are tucked in and the upper back is rounded. This actually causes a loosening of the psoas but because the psoas is used for hip stability, to compensate, the psoas either contracts in reaction to the instability or other muscles take hold trying to accomplish the same end. A tight back or hamstrings may ensue or possibly knee or hip discomfort or injury. Also seen are overdeveloped quadriceps again as a way to compensate and provide stability. A tucked pelvis and loose psoas is not exercising or moving the psoas through its full range of motion. This alone can cause weakness. A sway back can be indicative of the opposite, an over contracted psoas as the hips are positioned such that the psoas is always somewhat active. A lack of range of motion and a weakness can present in this situation as well.

Physical Symptoms of a poorly functioning Kidney System

  • Back pain
  • Water retention
  • Dry skin
  • Weak Psoas and/or Upper Trapezius
  • Acne
  • Puffy eyes
  • Black circles under eyes
  • Kidney problems
  • Eye problems
  • Ear problems

  • Psoas/Kidney Energetic/Emotional Function

    As with all the systems of the body, the physical function of the kidney system parallels that on the emotional level. On a physiological level the kidney system keeps the organism alive by filtering out what is not healthy for the body or recirculates it for further assessment of what to keep, until it eventually discharges the waste through the bladder. The same is true on an emotional and energetic level. The kidney system maintains the energetic environment by keeping what is most us, meaning most closely connected to our essence, and discharging that which is detrimental or out of alignment with our truest and deepest desires. Consider the environment in which you were raised and that in which you live now. Are you in a toxic environment or one where life can flourish and thrive? Humans need a nourishing environment in which to grow, just as a seed needs darkness, water, and nutrients to germinate and sprout; just as a plant needs to add sunshine to grow while its roots are still drawing from the nutrients below the surface. The seed holds the ESSENTIAL information – what or who we are in essence. You could say the information that determines who we are including our desires and impulses resides in the kidneys.

    When we have an experience, there are 5 stages of processing during which we determine how to relate to and what to do with that we encountered in the external environment. Is it something that we will keep, let go, or use for work and expression based on how consistent it is with our vision of who we are and who we are becoming? The kidney is part of the resolution stage, following understanding. To gain more insight into ourselves (for most a lifelong journey) we often hang out to repeat an understanding/resolution loop until we are ready to act on our findings, either letting it go as not having value or taking action in the form of work or creative expression. The consequences of not filtering out the bad or not taking in the necessary good or not acting on a deep desire can manifest in some emotional or behavioral theme of the kidney system that follows. When an emotional, behavioral or energetic misalignment is not addressed, over time it may manifest as a physical symptom above. We are whole beings, our emotional and mental actions not separate from our physical wellness. Take it as a message or wake up call or an indication that you’re ready to look at a particular issue and doing so will likely help you move forward in your growth.

    Emotional Themes of the Kidney System

  • Fear/anxiety
  • Desire/impulse
  • Fight/Flight
  • Seeing and hearing
  • Guilt
  • Groundedness
  • Flowing
  • Sexuality
  • Creativity
  • Will
  • Darkness, depth
  • Letting go
  • Death

  • Strengthening a Weak Psoas

    As I mentioned above, the cause of the weakness in the psoas will determine the regimen you should follow to strengthen it. This link will lead you to some great stretches and exercises for psoas health. Some good ‘ol slowing down, grounding, getting quiet, and going deep are great starts to the internal/emotional as well as physical processes of strengthening your psoas and kidney system. Meditation, time in nature, time in the dark, chanting, anything that gives you time and space to contact yourself. Go deep my friend, as deep as you can.

    Our modern day living has us sitting in chairs and cars for hours at a time at stressful jobs or tensely in traffic. We are so often rushing, energy staying revved, in our heads, and high up in our body versus going down, deeply processing our experiences fully. Our bodies are lacking the circulation, fluidity and grounding that we require as whole beings to manifest our essence in the world physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Good psoas health is foundational to any successful workout/training program be it running/walking, strength training, dancing, yoga, swimming, paddle boarding, or ninja warrior courses. A strong psoas and kidney system is equally paramount to being centered in your sense of self and the ability to express your Self authentically in the world. With a healthy psoas comes a joyful process of connecting with and moving from your core, a process of both body and being, aligning with your deepest desires as inspired and directed by your essence.

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