Union of the Diaphragm and the Psoas Muscle

Union of the Diaphragm and the Psoas Muscle

I had a student ask me this morning if I recommend diaphragmatic breathing while doing yoga postures. This was an absolutely brilliant question!


Knowledge of anatomy not only helps us respect and understand the beauty of the human body, but it helps us build stronger postures to get the most out of each pose. 


The diaphragm muscle is connected to the Psoas. The diaphragm is the central muscle for breathing. It is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest and the abdominal cavity.


The Psoas muscle originates from the T12 and L1 vertebrae of the spine. The Psoas combines with the Iliacus muscle, which originates on the inside of the ilium (inside pelvis) to form the iliopsoas muscle. The iliopsoas then runs over the rim of the pelvis to insert at the top of the femur bone (thigh bone). My friend, Dr. Ray Long, wrote a more detailed article (https://www.yogauonline.com/yoga-anatomy/sankalpa-visualization-and-yoga-diaphragm-psoas-connection) on this and recommends the visualization and reinforcement of this connection during poses such as Triangle Pose. 


Another interesting physical phenomenon to consider is the connection between the fight or flight response and our breathing. When the body switches into the fight or flight function, the breath shortens, the heart rate increases, and the hip flexors/psoas tighten to prepare the body to run. It’s an amazing design that the nervous system has, yet the problem lies in the fact that the body does not differentiate from clear and present danger in the physical sense and the danger that comes up in the mind with stressful events and our ability to handle them.


When there is worry, fear, or anxiety in the thought process, the body will react in the same way as it would in a confrontation with a dangerous animal. Both will activate the fight or flight aspect of the nervous system. When the breath is calm, deep, and constant, the calming and energizing aspect of the nervous system is activated.


The other important fact in our “fight or flight” mode, is that the body’s stamina can only be sustained so long before it weakens and starts impacting the immune system in a negative way.


As in any physical yoga practice, not only is it important to continuously breathe, even in compression postures and poses such as Triangle Pose or Straddle Poses, it is also a great way to release the psoas (hip flexor) a bit more. When your breath stops or shortens in a pose, the hip flexors begin to tighten and contract, and the body will not surrender or support the pose you may be attempting.


Diaphragmatic breathing is excellent during savasana since this is the pose where we want to reenergize the body. Keep in mind, in the poses where we want to sustain and build stamina, it is important to stay focused primarily on the breath, and ideally deep breaths.


Next time you practice, make your breath your primary focus and notice the difference it makes.

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LaRue and Ziva P.

Mahnaz, this is an excellent article! I've done extensive vocal coaching in places like Uganda, East Africa, where I've been able to trigger these functions without the extremely technical explanations that would only confuse my students. It was an enjoyment to read and reflect on my vocal training education.

Without knowing about yoga poses at the time, I was accomplishing success with beginning students by putting them in a savasana pose while resting a heavy book on their belly, and instructing them to focus on making the book rise on an inhalation. Then, through a sustained hiss it would enable them to engage the diaphragm. With this visual aid it help many of the singers realize where the power source of their voice actually was. The result was that they were able to disengage their neck and throat muscles and free up the voice. Like anything, it takes practice!

Thanks for this informative article. I will refer to it often as I grow in my yoga practice!


Mahnaz J.

I love the feedback and appreciate you sharing your teaching tools. See you in class soon!