The psoas is a deep core muscle & the primary connector between the upper and lower body. It is the major flexor of the hip lifting the thigh as you walk. The psoas attaches at the bottom of the thoracic spine, along the lumbar vertebrae and then runs along the front of the hip where it attaches at the top of the femur. As the only muscle that connects the spine to the leg, it is the core stabilizer and support for the spine. If the muscle becomes tight from injuries, poor posture, sitting at a desk all day or stress, it can effect the function of the pelvis, lumbar and thoracic spine regions & even the cervical vertebrae. This can result in pain along the front of the thigh and the mid to lower back.
As a result of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles the psoas becomes chronically shortened and tight due to a constantly contracted position. Many activities can also add to this shortening effect such as cycling, spinning, & sitting at weight machines.
If you’re experiencing lower back or knee pain, a tight psoas could well be a contributing or leading cause. You can effectively lengthen your psoas releasing tension throughout the body with these 5 poses:
1. Wind removing pose (Pavanamuktasana)
This pose can be done with or without a prop under your sacrum. I like to use a prop as the gentle backbend helps lengthen my psoas. This pose is also great for stimulating the digestive system.
- Lying on your back, place a foam block or cushion under your sacrum. You should feel a gentle back bend.
- Keeping one leg long on the ground draw the other knee towards your shoulder wrapping your hands around the shin.
- Keep lengthening the opposite leg pressing your heel away so that your toes are pointing straight up towards the ceiling.
- Hold for 10 deep breaths on each side.
2. Upward facing dog (Urdvha Mukha Svanasana)
This pose helps to expand the chest and shoulders as well as stretching the hip flexors and core muscles.
- Lying face down on the ground bring your hands either side of your ribcage, behind your shoulders with the fingers widespread.
- Extend your legs long behind you with the tops of your feet pressing into the ground.
- Firm up through your legs lifting your knees away from the mat, draw your navel lightly in towards your spine & ground down through the heels of your hands.
- Inhale & draw yourself forward as you lift your torso and hips away from the ground so that only your hands & your feet remain in contact with the mat.
- You can either keep your feet flat to stretch through the front of your ankles or experiment with toes tucked under.
- Tuck your chin slightly and keep your gaze soft off the tip of your nose.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute breathing comfortably in and out through the nose.
3. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana 1)
The psoas on the back leg is lengthened as the torso reaches up and away. Make sure the heel on the back foot is grounded with the foot pointing out at a 45 degree angle.
- Starting from Mountain Pose at the back of your mat, take a giant step forward with your right leg towards the front of your mat.
- Position your feet so they are hip-width and about 4 feet apart.
- With your front foot pointing to 12 o’clock, take your hands on to your hips and slowly bend the front knee stacking it over the ankle. Make sure your hips stay square with the front-edge of your mat as you bend the knee.
- Firm up the back leg hugging the muscle to the bone. Squeeze your glutes and lightly scoop your sittings bones forwards towards the front edge of your mat.
- Gently straighten your arms reaching your fingers up towards the sky.
- Hold for 2 minutes each side
4. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
In this pose the psoas works to support the spine and is lengthened by the backbend. This pose also stretches the neck, chest, thighs & ankles. Go gently into this pose using your hands as support on your sacrum as if sliding your hands into your back jeans pockets.
- From kneeling with knees hip-width apart, stack your hips over your knees and place your hands on your lower back with fingers pointing down.
- Hug your thighs in towards one another and reach your tailbone down towards the mat. Draw your navel in to spine and reach your chest up towards the ceiling.
- Take a deep inhale and roll you shoulders back squeezing the shoulder blades towards one another. Slowly start to arch back as you continue to reach your hipbones forwards towards the front of your mat.
- Move only to a point that is comfortable where you can maintain a steady breath in and out through the nose. If you feel discomfort in the neck then keep the gaze forward.
- If you’re feeling strong & comfortable you can move deeper into the pose by reaching your hands towards your heels.
- Hold the pose for 10 deep breaths or hold for 2 sets of 20 seconds, resting for 20 seconds in between in a seated position.
5. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
This pose helps open the hip flexors and rotators as well as your groin. It is contraindicated if you have a knee or sacroiliac injury. I would suggest half happy baby pose as an alternative.
- From hands & knees bring your right knee to the floor just behind your right wrist. Sweep the foot over towards the left side of your mat.
- Stretch your left leg towards the back edge of your mat (toes curled under or foot flat) make sure your leg is in a straight line behind you.
- Feel even weight distributed in your body and your hips level or square to the ground. The tendency will be for the right hip to draw closer towards the ground, counterbalance this by grounding your left hipbone down.
- Take a deep breath and reach your tailbone down towards as you lengthen up through the crown of your head and puff your chest up towards the sky. You may need to use blocks or props either side of your front leg.
- If you’re feeling flexible and comfortable in this position take another deep breath & as you exhale slowly walk your hands out in front of your coming down on to your forearms or with your arms completely outstretched.
- Hold pigeon for 2 minutes on each side, breathing long, slow & deep.
Roz Glanfield is a 200 hour certified Yoga Instructor registered with Yoga Alliance. Roz would love to hear from you if you need further direction or guidance in your yoga practice. You can contact her via her website www.confessionsofasuperfoodie.com