The psoas defined, explained and explored.
Not many people are familiar with, or have even heard of, the psoas major muscle. It is located in the middle of the spine and extends all the way down to the top of the thigh bone. This muscle is responsible for creating stability in the body and can be negatively affected by emotions such as fear and anxiety, causing the muscle to tighten. A tight psoas can cause lower back pain, shortness of breath, and even digestive issues.
Fortunately, there are certain yoga poses that can be used to help target the psoas muscle to keep our bodies and minds healthy and happy. The six yoga poses below strengthen and lengthen the psoas to relieve tension and help you feel more grounded.
By Jessie Wren
1. Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero’s Pose)
Sit in between your heels (or on a block) with your knees hip-width distance apart. This can be an intense stretch, so feel free to remain here. If you would like to add intensity, place your hands behind your hips. Move slowly to protect your knees. For most people, this stretch will be enough. If your knees and ankles are more open, you can bring your knees closer together, and/or recline onto the mat for a more intense stretch. If your knees lift off the mat, then back out of the pose. Remain here for a few breaths and consciously send your breath to your hip flexors to invite them to fully relax.
2. Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge or Low Lunge)
Begin in Downward Facing Dog and step the right foot between your hands, then lower your back left knee to the mat. Be sure your right knee is stacked above your right ankle. Bring your palms to your right thigh or lift both arms toward the sky. Notice the stretch in your left hip and breathe into that space. If your body allows you to, lean your hips toward your front foot to add a more intense stretch. For an even deeper stretch, interlace your hands behind your back and take a gentle backbend. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
3. Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Begin in a Low Lunge with the right foot forward and the left knee off the mat. Slowly walk your right foot to the right edge of your mat and bring both hands to the inside of your front foot. Activate your left foot and hamstring to keep the left knee lifted. Keep your chest reaching forward. I recommend staying on your hands so you can keep reaching forward with the chest. Some prefer to lower to their forearms to deepen the stretch. Breathe into the left hip flexor to help lengthen the psoas. Remain for a few breaths, then switch sides.
4. Utthan Pristhasana Variation (Revolved Lizard with Quadricep Stretch)
Begin in Lizard Pose with the right foot forward and release the left knee to the mat. Place your left hand on the mat or on a block inside your right foot. Reach back with the right hand (feel free to use a strap if needed) to grab the outside of the left foot. Once you grip your foot, slowly invite a deeper quadricep stretch by bringing your left foot closer to your glute. Inhale and extend your spine, then exhale for a deeper twist. Option to lower onto your left forearm for a more intense stretch. Hold for a few breaths and switch sides.
5. Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Come onto your knees and bring them hip-width distance apart. Tuck your toes so your heels face skyward. Place your hands (fingers facing down) on your low spine for support and to help your spine stay long. Inhale and lift your chest to lengthen your spine. Exhale and slowly press your hips forward as you begin to bend back. Be sure you keep your lower back safe by focusing the extension on your thoracic spine. Visualize your chest reaching up and over an imaginary fence behind you. Keep your hands on your low back for support, or when you have reached your edge, option to place the hands on blocks next to your feet or reach for your ankles for a more intense variation. Hold for a few breaths, then use your core to come back to center.
6. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose or Wheel Pose)
Begin on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted hip-width distance apart. Place your palms under your shoulders with your fingers facing your heels. Press into your hands and feet and place the crown of your head on the mat. Reestablish your arm alignment by hugging the outer arms in and squeezing the elbows closer together. When aligned, push into all four limbs while hugging the outer arms in toward the center of your body. Keep your thighs internally rotated to keep the stretch on top of your legs and not your outer hips. Do not allow your feet to turn outward or your knees to open wider than your hips. Work towards pressing your chest back towards your wrists to open your shoulders and chest. Hold for a few breaths, and slowly release onto the mat when you’re ready.
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All images courtesy of Jessie Wren.