Engaging the deep psoas muscles, known as core muscles, is not an easy task. Understanding that engagement has to be invoked from the inside out, not from the outside in is the first step to finding them. Just imagining it to be so, will never engage them properly nor will just strengthening your abdominal muscles bring them into play. You learn to feel when they are functioning and when you can feel them, you can then engage them with mindfulness. Working with the core muscles this way creates flexibility, stability, suppleness, and balance.

The psoas muscles are our balancing and stabilizing core muscles. When functioning according to their inherent design, they allow the pelvis to sit balanced on top of the legs. Balance is when the pelvis is neither tipping forward nor rocking backwards but anchored on your sitz bones. When the pelvis is dynamically balanced, the lumbar spine aligns naturally as a bridge from the pelvis to the ribcage. The ribs and thoracic spine make up the ribcage which protects our lungs, heart and other vital organs. When the ribcage is balanced on top of the lumbar spine, the head sits comfortably on a little ball at the top of the spinal column. The upper body when balanced on the pelvis supports the shoulders so you don’t have to use your hands for balance. When riding, your point of reference is your sitz bones. It is complicated yet when the body relaxes it naturally comes upright in response to its inherent design. Relaxation is an upward movement.

Knowing where your psoas muscles live is vital to having a working image for engagement. The origin of the psoas major muscle is on the transverse processes of 12th thoracic vertebra, on the transverse processes of the each lumbar vertebra and the lateral aspects of the discs between them. It inserts to the medial side on the lesser trochanter of the femur. Basically the psoas muscles run from your groin to the bottom of your ribcage and they are muscles that help bind the legs to the trunk.

As you can see, the illiacus, psoas minor, and psoas major intertwine through the pelvis offering stability and movement. If you know of how these muscles are designed, you can visualize how they function. Form and function. Muscles can only pull or return to normal resting position. Muscles do not push you forward. Muscles pull the levers of the bones in the direction in which their fibers lay. Dynamic interplay of all muscles produce all the nuances of graceful movement.

Since you are a rider, I would guess that your core muscles inner thigh muscles are tight and strong. As a bodywork I can guess they might be too tight and a tad overworked. In this case, it is a good thing, because you have to be able to feel your muscles in order to relax them. Tight muscles are easy to feel! If they are not working, they are lax and you will first have to develop them before you can teach them to relax. You cannot relax what you cannot feel. A muscle that has too much tension lacks sensitivity. If they are tight, it is like someone always talking … they cannot listen when they are talking. Think about it in terms that your horse can understand, tight muscles feel very hard and static to the sides of your horse. He feels your gripping legs and has to figure out how to move through a vise. Tight psoas muscles pull your thighs up and forward which pulls your trunk forward and no amount of sitting up straight will alleviate the excess tension in your groin muscles. If you cannot let go of tight muscles, your horse is the one who has to adjust to your excess tension.

Just because you line yourself up with external ideas of what is proper and then say, “Relax!” doesn’t mean your body is going to respond to that command. Because … it cannot. The body does not relax that way. The body has to learn how to “let go” of excess tension by getting consistent messages in that direction.

The most important thing is being really honest about how your legs and hips feel to you. Start where your are not where you wish to be. Listening to the muscles in your hips and legs will tell you how they are feeling about the way they work. Accessing these muscles comes first because you need a real sense of how they are behaving. AND don’t beat yourself up because relaxation alludes you. After 40 years of T’ai Chi study, I am still learning to let go deeper into my structure. It is a study and it is a beautiful practice in the art of riding horses. Getting skillful at letting of tension will make your riding more vibrant and alive. Communication with your horse will be more dynamic and graceful.

A few years ago, I noticed that my groin muscles were really tight and I could feel the pressure of that tension against the sides of my horse. He was letting me know it was uncomfortable for him. I thought that perhaps I should relax my deep groin muscles and as I thought that, those muscles relaxed a bit. When they relaxed, I noticed that my trunk popped upward feeling it was where it should be. As my trunk came upright, my shoulders relaxed and my head came into balance. I then noticed that my horse took a deep breath, relaxed his ribcage and moved forward beneath me with more ease. EUREKA! I love eurekas when I am riding. It was a start. Of course, maintaining it was impossible because a very tense muscle is also a weak and brittle muscle and I have to practice softening those muscles as well. I am stronger and can maintain it for longer periods of time. I now have a way to enhance my alignment and balance. Please know that holding onto that great feeling is impossible. It is fleeting and you have to bring it back to the practice of letting go. Holding yourself in position is not an option because that is not relaxed … it is holding. So relax!

This is my practice … By paying attention to my groin muscles, I can now relax them before they begin to grip and tighten. I catch the first impulse of my legs wanting to draw upward. My balance is more subtle with much less movement. I can remain in the middle of my horse’s movement. The practice is to notice the first impulse to tense to maintain balance. Notice and give your body the message to let go. Relax your groin muscles. Release the struggle.

Try that and notice. Become aware of your body, your legs, your trunk and notice how your horse feels about it. As with all practices, the more you do it, the better it gets. By relaxing and letting go of your groin muscles, they will grow stronger with less tension and that softness is a greater strength than strength built by tension and hard work. When your groin muscles are functioning as designed, your abdominal muscles have to function in response to proper alignment. Your body knows when it is in proper alignment and all sorts of micromanagement to the contrary will build in more tension. That is a given. Through practice, you are developing your internal awareness of feel, balance, and ease because your core muscles are not struggling against gravity but are working within their inherent design.

I would love to hear from you about how this works for you. Please drop me a line and let me know. I would love to share what you think and notice in your riding.