Teaching Considerations: The Psoas
Systematic Relaxation Practice Needed
Repetitions of leglifts, sit-ups, weightlifting, even standing postures, when done mechanically, may only reinforce existing patterns and do little to restore a healthy resting length for the psoas. In fact, improper training may increase the tension, restricting blood flow and increasing rather than reducing the overall stress level. For that reason the systematic relaxation practice—and I do mean practice, regular daily practice whether you think you need it or not—can help with alignment, physiological functioning, and the host of evils we have touched on. – Sandra Anderson
Daily Hip Flexor Stretches are Important
For people in a sedentary society, daily hip flexor stretches are important to help counterbalance the prolonged hip flexion of sitting for hours. They are also an important preparation for backbends, allowing the hips to extend fully so we can avoid compression in the lower back. – Julie Gudmestad
Cultivate Awareness vs Try to Control It
Koch believes the first step in cultivating a healthy psoas is to release unnecessary tension. But “to work with the psoas is not to try to control the muscle, but to cultivate the awareness necessary for sensing its messages. This involves making a conscious choice to become somatically aware.”. – Danielle Prohom Olson
- Note that when lying on back, a tight psoas will pull on the lumbar spine, causing an arch in the back. In Savasana, address this by propping knees and encouraging deep relaxation.
- Another common issue is unnecessary tension in psoas during cross-leg seats. To avoid this, ensure hips are higher than knees, propping as needed.
- See the excellent article by Sandra Anderson, Release Tension in the Psoas for teaching relaxation specifically to address a tight psoas.
Example: Teaching Asana with Focus on Releasing Psoas
This is drawn from Anderson’s article noted above:
- Lie on back, knees bent, feet near pelvis.
- Bring attention to back of pelvis. Settle deeply into floor.
- Hold one knee and draw in toward torso. (Ardha Apanasana)
- Breathe into hip joint. Keep pelvis stable. Soften back of pelvis into floor.
- Then slowly stretch opposite leg out, sliding foot out but keeping pelvis still.
- Don’t allow low back to arch any further from the floor.
More About the Example
- By stabilizing the pelvis, extending the leg will lengthen the psoas.
- If pelvis tilts, the psoas doesn’t lengthen or release, but pulls low back into an arch.
Poses that strengthen the psoas include:
- Navasana (Boat Pose) – Isometric contraction required to hold up legs and torso
- Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Hand to Toe Pose)
When Psoas Contracts, Hip Flexes
When the psoas contracts, it will pull the femur and the spine closer together (hip flexion). If you are lying on your back, contracting the right psoas will help lift your right leg off the floor as in Supta Padangusthasana, reclining big toe pose. – Julie Gudmestad
A primary consideration in sequencing is to lengthen hip flexors prior to backbending. Poses that stretch the psoas include:
- Pelvic Tilt
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
- Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
- Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1 Pose) – See How to Stretch & Strengthen the Psoas for instructions on practicing in doorway
- Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose) – For some students, of course, this is also a backbend and intense stretch
- King Arthur’s Pose
[To stretch the psoas,] we’ll need to extend the hip, moving the lumbar spine and the femur away from each other… The whole key to stretching the psoas is in the tilting of the pelvis. Remember, a tight psoas tries to tilt the pelvis anteriorly (pulling the spine and top of the pelvis forward and down), so you must tilt the pelvis posteriorly to stretch the hip flexors. – Julie Gudmestad