Originating at the spine, the two psoas muscles, psoas major and posas minor, are located on either side of the lower back. The psoas major flexes the hip, while the psoas minor flexes the lower spine, or lumbar. According to Liz Koch, yoga instructor and author of “The Psoas Book,” the psoas muscle is the key to structural stability in general. Certain yoga poses are particularly beneficial for stretching, releasing and increasing awareness of the psoas muscle.
Constructive Rest Position
Begin releasing your psoas muscle with this simple, gravity-aided posture. Lie down on your back and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, placing the feet flat on the floor in line with your hips and resting your arms by your sides. Breathe deeply and turn your awareness to the weight of your bones, allowing gravity to draw your body downwards and breathing to release any tension or tightness. As your psoas muscle releases, your weight will distribute more evenly throughout your body. Return to this constructive rest position at any time during your practice in order to remind yourself of the sensation created by a tension-free psoas.
Active Supine Stretch
From the constructive rest position, draw your right thigh towards your chest and hug your right leg towards your body. Slowly move your left leg away from the hip, breathing and retaining awareness of the softening sensation in your hip socket and the stretch to your psoas as you fully extend the leg Switch sides and repeat the exercise, hugging the left leg and extending the right, remembering to breathe. Return immediately to the constructive rest position if you experience any discomfort in your lower back.
Modified Pigeon Pose
A more advanced yoga stretch for the psoas muscle is the Modified Pigeon pose, or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. Beginning on your hands and knees, draw your right knee forward and rest your leg on the floor between your hands. Release your right buttock to the floor as you extend the left leg behind you. Keep your hips squared to the front. Use a bolster or stacked blankets to support your right buttock, if necessary; do not strain to reach the floor. Breathe into this pose while maintaining square, forward-facing hips. Repeat on the left. Again, if you experience any pain or discomfort in your lower back, return to the constructive rest position.
Tree pose, or Vrksasana, is a standing pose that simultaneously strengthens balance and core stability while releasing and stretching the psoas. Begin in Mountain pose, or Tadasana, standing straight and gazing forward with the feet firmly planted hip-distance apart. Bring your weight onto your right foot without tilting into the right hip, as you lift your left foot, placing the sole of the foot as high as you can on your right leg. Keeping the hips square to the front, balance in this position while breathing into and softening any tension you may feel in your left hip socket. Maintain a strong right leg without locking the right knee. Hold onto a wall or chair, if necessary for balance, in order to focus your energy on the psoas muscle and maintain proper form.