The ‘Muscle of the Soul’ may be Triggering Your Fear and Anxiety

Psoas MusclesBrett Wilbanks, Staff Writer
Waking Times

The psoas major muscle (pronounced “so-as”) is often referred to as the deepest core, or as yoga therapist and film-maker Danielle Olson states, the “muscle of the soul.” This core-stabilizing muscle located near the hip bone affects mobility, structural balance, joint function, flexibility, and much more. In addition to its function to help keep the body upright and moving, the psoas is believed to allow you to connect with the present moment especially when it is stretched out and tension is released from the body.

Research indicates that the psoas is vital to our psychological wellbeing in addition to structural health. Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book, states that our psoas “literally embodies our deepest urge for survival, and more profoundly, our elemental desire to flourish.” This means that there is a lot more to the psoas than one might initially think. It is entirely possible to harness healing pranic energy and improve mental health by keeping the psoas healthy.

Where is the Psoas?

The psoas is the principal muscle associated with physical stability. It stretches from the legs to the spine and is the only muscle connecting the legs to the spinal column. The muscle flares out from the T12 vertebrae, follows down the five lumbar vertebrae, before attaching to the top of the thigh bone.

The Reptilian Connection

In addition to connecting the legs and spine, the psoas is connected to the diaphragm. Breathing is modulated at the diaphragm, and it is also the location where many physical symptoms associated with fear and anxiety manifest. Koch believes that this is due to the direct link between the psoas and the most ancient part of our brain stem and spinal cord, called the reptilian brain.

According to Koch, “Long before the spoken word or the organizing capacity of the cortex developed, the reptilian brain, known for its survival instincts, maintained our essential core functioning.” The way we live today, constantly rushing, competing and achieving, has the psoas in a constant “fight or flight” state.


Issues Associated with Chronic Psoas Stress

Trapped in a constant “flight or fight” state, psoas muscles are stressed and constricted, almost from the time of birth. As Koch notes, “this situation is exacerbated by many things in our modern lifestyle, from car seats to constrictive clothing, from chairs to shoes that distort our posture, curtail our natural movements and further constrict our psoas.” This lifelong chronic stress put on the psoas can lead to many problems like back, hip, or knee pain, and even digestive issues and dysfunctional breathing. It could also be a major cause why people suffer from chronic physical pain.

The physical body is not the only part of you that suffers from a chronically-stressed psoas. The psoas is much more than a muscle used for structural stability. It influences every element of life, from how you feel, to how you look at the world, and even how you treat others. A variety of problems have been associated with a chronically-stressed psoas muscle: it can negatively affect your emotional state; it can impact your interpersonal relationships; and it can influence your general contentment with life. Awareness that a healthy psoas is important to emotional wellness, as well as physical health, is the first step towards ensuring that we give this muscle the attention it deserves.

Koch states, “Whether you suffer from sore back or anxiety, from knee strain or exhaustion, there’s a good chance that a constricted psoas might be contributing to your woes.”

Fear and the Psoas

Since the psoas is closely linked to our “fight or flight” mechanism, fear can be over-represented in those with a constricted psoas.

It is an emotion that manifests itself in the most unusual ways and can “lock” itself into the body resulting in both physical and emotional tension. By restoring balance to your psoas muscles, you are likely to release this pent up tension, which can have a profound effect on releasing unfounded fearfulness about life, and thus improve both your physical and mental wellbeing. You will feel a greater sense of inner peace, along with fewer muscle aches and strains.

The Connection to the Energetic Body

Lengthening and releasing your psoas grounds you to the Earth, which is filled with healing and revitalizing energy, thus allowing you to balance your pranic energy and enabling you to feel more present in the moment. Proper structural stability attributed to a healthy psoas allows prana to flow, unimpeded, throughout the body, allowing for proper distribution of vital energy. In the physical sense, when the body can properly support itself, movement is less-restricted and requires less effort, thus leaving you more energetic.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

Our understanding of the psoas is by no means new knowledge. In fact, it is more akin to ancient wisdom that was either lost or discarded over time. Yoga shows us explicitly that ancient gurus understood the importance of releasing contracted psoas muscles. Ancient yoga asanas, or postures, that are now practiced all around the world, focus on lengthening and releasing psoas muscles and restoring comfort and balance to the entire body. With consistent practice, you can learn how to isolate this muscle, which can be immensely useful and healing in the long run.

Yoga is also a great way to measure the current health of the psoas. There are many postures, such as tree (Vrksasana), which cannot be properly achieved if the psoas is contracted. If you are practicing a sitting or standing yoga pose and feel strain in either your knees or lower back (or both), then there’s a good chance that your psoas is constricted and needs more of your attention.

The psoas is an important, yet often unknown, muscle that plays a vital role in physical health and mental wellbeing. The cumulative effect of neglecting this muscle is physical and mental stress and tension, which manifests itself in our society as anxiety, depression, chronic back pain, knee pain, digestive distress, respiratory problems, etc.


About the Author

Brett Wilbanks is a freelancer writer with great interest in the overall health and wellbeing of the body and mind. He is a staff writer for and an avid gardener, reader, and proponent of natural, green, environmentally-friendly living.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of WakingTimes or its staff.

©2015 Waking Times, all rights reserved. For permission to re-print this article, or the respective author.

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  • Psoas is NOT the only muscle of the soul. It happens to be connected to an entire system that is influenced by the autonomic nervous system. Just focusing on the Psoas(as I did a few years ago) is misleading. Yes it is hugely important but so is the diaphragm, adrenals, celiac plexus and everything else around that area that connect body/mind/spirit It just happens to be the one muscular connection between the spine and lower limbs I spent a few years stretching, releasing, stabilising and strengthening the Psoas only to discover that a simple sensation of release works wonders to restore the function of the Psoas and it’s surrounding buddies. I appreciate the message and love the work of Liz Koch but sometimes it gets lost in translation or is misinterpreted. The Diaphragm is probably more significant than Psoas. Or the interocpetors and proprioceptors that communicate with it. Who knows. New research and sensation emerge from moment to moment.

  • DL

    I was a chronic suffer of psoas tension in my mid 30s. I suffered from chronic stomach pain for over 2 years. After multiple trips to the ER and a very bad episode, I had extensive testing done for everything doctors could think of. I even had a full body CT scan creating a complete 3D image of my entire body. Nothing. It was extremely frustrating. I experience not only stomach pain but also dizziness, chest spasm and digestive issues. On multiple occasions I thought I might be having a heart attack. Other times I would wake up in the middle of the night and double over in pain thinking perhaps I might die. Sounds dramatic but it can hurt like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s real, scary and induces panic attacks, inability to sleep and muscle spams. It also feels like your body is going haywire and having electrical issues. Never experienced knee pain. I do believe however it did trigger something that felt like heart palpitations because of strong spasms in the chest. During a bad episode I would also feel extreme sensitivity to anything emotional from a TV show to personal confrontation. I could handle intense work stress for a period but would then have psoas issues after the stressful event. During my worst episode and started playing with relaxation and breathing techniques. A massage therapist introduced me to the psoas muscule and taught me how it is closely tied to emotions. Many people have flashback and intense emotional releases when a trained massage therapist works on the muscle. I could tell the massage was helping but was not frequent enough to keep the muscle relaxed. Through experimentation with breathing I found a very effective exercise that has facilitated complete healing and control over any episodes. It’s a bit difficult to explain but requires one to stretch from the inside out. I do this by first protruding my stomach out, like you did when you were a kid to look super fat. In that position I then inhale as deeply as possible and hold. I will even try to inhale beyond the first inhale until the lungs are completely full. Putting your hands on your hips and pushing forward can help get in the right position. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Warning – it’s very painful. You know when you have it right because it absolutely kills and will shoot referral pain to your head, back and chest. It can make you dizzy and feel nauseous, but you can feel it stretch inside. Repeating this exercise frequently as first can help address the symptoms. May take a couple of weeks to really relax. Over time all my symptoms are gone. I can now identify when the psoas tension is starting and can completely control with the exercise. I think yoga would be very helpful but I’ve found nothing as effective as the exercise I’ve described.

  • Luke Juszczak

    interesting. I too have a great interest and wellbeing (not a word) of
    the body and mind just as the author Brett Wilbanks claims. I do have to
    contradict his theory, as the brain is firing off these synapses
    triggering this feeling of fight or flight.
    The chemicals (or lack of) are stored all over the body from the
    central point known as the brain. People suffering from an anxiety
    disorder are not suffering from back pain, but irrational thought
    patterns triggered in the ‘Muscle of Being’ known as the brain. This is
    merely a side affect of the chemical imbalance from what I gathered from
    this article written by a freelance writer with no therapeutic or
    medical qualifications. If anything it makes light of those that suffer
    from severe anxiety and I think that it is a bunch of gibberish. Take
    that to the bank Brett Wilbanks. You’ll find that the check will bounce.
    (Maybe I should take his job)

  • Cavalle Louise

    You wrote an entire article about the necessity of improving the condition of the psoas without giving a single tip on how to do so.. That was frustrating and useless…

    • kieferland

      he did yoga tree pose.

      • akmk

        That was to tell you it might need some attention..but nothing to help give it some attention..

    • more like copy/paste (“modern journalism”)
      This article seems to be directed at people who already practice a form of yoga, judging from the source, the original author intended for people to focus on these muscles during their next yoga practice.
      Time to do a google search for yoga exercises

    • just get one of those rolling thing and google some stuff about it

  • xAnonymous

    Is is rather brain program/ #0.1/ Find The.Luciferian.Doctrine.pdf

  • Nanette

    How do you know this? Sources?

  • Raoul Borans

    ‘Research indicates’.
    In other words…we just made this up.

  • Yes please. Go on with articel like this and educate the people outthere wrong. If psoas is a core stabilizier, then try (simply explaint) to sprint without m. transversus abd. and m. rectus sabdominalis action. Try it. Your knees will stop at half of there potential hight while your spin is falling into a hyper extended position. Oh look…. Psoas is trying to pull up your femur and is pulling your spin from L1 to L5 into a ventral arch while transversus and rectus abdominis drinking coffee together and talking over psoas and illiacus and microstrainseffects and muscletissues and also yoga. Please try to report consolidated knowledge.

  • lynn

    Laughter is the best exercise for the psoas.

  • THis is quite insightful. However you don’t mention how to pay more attention to your Psoas. Indeed I have been suffering from chronic joint pain, from breathing issues, from pain in my knees and issues with my digestive system along with tightness in my back.
    I have been practicing yoga for about 3 years and had to stop because I was experiencing too much pain in my back. So how do we “PAY MORE ATTENTION” to our psoas?
    The only relief I’ve found is in laying flat on my back and breathing, in making active efforts to structure my life in a non fight or flight response. Do you suggest anything else?

    • I would suggesting starting a therapeutic or restorative yoga class…or tai chi…of course checking with your doctor first and finding a licensed instructor.

    • Hi, I discovered my psoas through Nia, which is is a somatic, healing, movement practice that looks like a blend of dance, martial and healing arts, but is so much more. Out of it, and through curiosity Nia’s co-founder Debbie Rosas over many years evolved the Nia 5 Stages, which is a self-healing process which gently conditions the psoas muscle and has helped me find healing in my back, hips, shoulders.

      Every time I practice the 5 Stages I find emotional healing too, and mental calm, and I believe it’s because these are the stages of our human developmental anatomy – the ones we all experience before we learn to speak (i.e. before our bodies are ready to speak, they must develop the muscles and strengthen the joints that help us stand and walk.) This is an emotional process as well for any little toddler to rise up and walk. The psoas is an integral part of our bodies that heals through this movement.

      The 5 Stages has been a great tool that I can do in as little as 5 minutes and I feel better. I encourage you to look up and the Nia 5 stages on Youtube, get to a class or training, which is all somatic – through your whole body you’ll learn how to really listen to the wise voice inside your body that tells you what to tweak in order to heal.

      Wishing you joy along the way!

    • Bart

      Get the book muscular retraining for a pain free living follow the instructions. It helped me.

    • TRE or Trauma Release Exercises, practised in 35 countries around the world, focusses on the psoas muscle with a specific gentle exercise program. A natural organic tremor occurs, usually starting in the legs. At the end of the tremor, peaceful, relaxed and all that fight, flight, freeze instinct calmed or dissipated.

    • kate

      Yoga is great, but you may be having back pain still as your muscles in several areas may be tight and contracted and not working properly which puts a strain on other joints and muscles. I came across steve lockhart from australia and his yoga and info are brilliant, look him up on line he gives away a lot of info

      • Kristi

        Yes Steve Lockhart on the Gold Coast is AMAZING!!!! He does SLM bodywork and he did more for me in 3 visits than ANYONE has ever been able to do for me in over 23 years. Sadly I have moved away from the area and can no longer access Steve but I am going to try to find someone close that does SLM bodywork. Absolutely highly recommend Steve Lockhart on the Gold Coast in Australia!!

    • akmk

      For all those issues..there is a great book..Pain Pete Egoscue..less than $10 on Amazon..and one of the exercises in the book is indeed lying flat on back with legs bent over a chair seat..and holding..there are others as well that will balance the joints and muscles from ankles to shoulders..neck and back..feet and wrists..

    • Cat

      Pilates is really great for the psoas. Great for back pain & injuries. I had no idea until I suffered herniated discs and was finally told about pilates, 4 years later. Plus, you get to exercise laying on your back. lol. You still sweat, shake, and work though! I highly recommend it. Wish it were more affordable.

  • pranic roger

    the psoas traverses the diaphragm on both sides so whenever we laugh, cry, cough, or contract diaphragm it contracts psoas which is also connected to iliacus, main hip flexor, and attaches on the medial(inside) of the femur(thigh). Because the psoas is energetically controlled by the solar plexus chakra it is affected by our emotional state, whether it be anger, fear, or grief. the tight psoas is affected by an energetically congested solar plexus chakra. it can be released by a trained massage therapist and energetically cleansed and energized by a trained pranic healing practitioner.

  • Faith

    This page explains the connection between the diaphragm and the psoas:

    • Anonymous

      the psoas traverses the diaphragm and thus when one laughs, coughs, or cries, the diaphragm is contracted as is the psoas and iliacus, the main hip flexor which it shares a tendon.

  • Dan

    Yes…and my biceps open a portal to another dimension.

    • Dr Whoever

      Hahaha… they should get a degree in a hard science, then see if they lend credit to this BS

      • Kim

        I have several degrees, two of which are “hard” medical and bio-mechanical sciences. This article is a bit fluffy but there are certainly facts in it; in relation to primal response, the hips flex. The location of the psoas muscle is also relevant in it’s proximity to the kidneys, therefore, adrenal glands. Fight or Flight is purely based on Adrenaline, the endocrine system is also our mood stabalizer. Are you able to follow these line of science, or is it still too much BS for you? Just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean it’s wring!

        • Kim


  • Monika

    Hiya, don’t take me wrong I absolutely love yoga, in fact I am a yoga teacher. Just one little comment. If you quote ‘research’ look for more reliable sources, not the .com websites. Your anatomy information about psoas is fundamentally wrong. If psoas was connected to the diaphragm you would pull on it each time you extend your leg. It would disrupt your breathing big time. And it is not a core stabiliser either. Psoas is a primary mover and its main function is hip flexion.

  • Jeannine

    For those who do not believe in religion, there is simply this idea: the essence of your being, the part that makes you YOU, the energy or LIFE is directly connected to your soul. While you may think a soul is something religious people try to “save” it simply is who you are. If you aren’t spiritual, your soul/essence/being still leaves the physical body after the body no longer supports life. Your essence actually gives off energy that intertwines with others on this planet. Example-have you ever met someone and absolutely HATED them for what appears to be no reason? Or the opposite, felt as if you have known them all your life? That is your essence blending or repelling others. Call it what you will. Deny it is a soul. It still exists.

    • Cam Just

      Its unfortunate that you dont understand how the burden of proof works..

  • aaron

    Philip, this isn’t about atheism. don’t label people based on their beliefs or nonbeliefs. let people figure sh** out on their own. or not.

  • aaron

    people are going to believe what they want to believe. and be as close minded as they want to.

    i astral projected when i was 13. maybe if you did this, you wouldn’t have to believe, you’d understand.

    • Cam Just

      If you believe your delusions, thats fine. Dont expect anyone else to.

  • Darkwing

    You got a real problem. No one has a soul, it is religious BS. The soul does not exist,

    • qtface

      Yes we do, you just don’t know yours, try substituting the idea of “inner being” for the word “soul” which is loaded with weird religious connotations they aren’t necessarily true.

      • Luke Juszczak

        How about using “brain” in place of the word “soul” because it does contain spiritual connotations true or not that’s up to the individual. I think the problem with atheism is that people think it’s an actual religion. It’s just a label for some people that don’t believe in any religion but choose science and things that one can actually see supported by facts. An agnostic view as nobody really knows what happens after you stub your toe on the door, tumble down the stairs, and don’t wake up. Yet, ATHEISM just relies on fact instead of a… Well you get my point.

      • Cam Just

        You cannot just jump to the conclusion that ‘souls are real’, thats not a viable starting point for any other conclusions if you cannot prove it.

    • Ebtitel

      Nope, it isn’t a real problem to talk about a soul. Doesn’t matter what the religious BS people say. It becomes a problem when you start getting angry and doesn’t balance the good with the bad…why do you do what you do.

    • Philippa

      The problem with atheism is that they are just as fanatical about their non belief as religious types in trying to convert everyone else to their way of thinking and telling people what to do and think their beliefs are facts. They aren’t. Try painting…you might be surprised to find yours.

      • Cam Just

        Really? Am I fanatic because I dont believe in unicorns and bigfoot too? Get a fucking life.

    • Darkwing: maybe yours left. There are those who have souls and those who do not. Peace.

    • Dingus O’Malley

      Sociopaths will say whatever they can to make people not believe in themselves. Darkwing, before you say something doesn’t exist again, you should read this article:

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