Want to find a new sense of balance and freedom in your practice? Learn how to skillfully stretch and strengthen the mysterious psoas muscle.
The psoas major is the biggest and strongest player in a group of muscles called the hip flexors: together they contract to pull the thigh and the torso toward each other. The hip flexors can become short and tight if you spend most of your waking hours sitting, or if you repeatedly work them in activities like sit-ups, bicycling, and certain weight-training exercises.
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.
A tight psoas can cause serious postural problems: when you stand up, it pulls the low back vertebrae forward and down toward the femur, often resulting in lordosis (overarching in the lumbar spine), which is a common cause of low back pain and stiffness; it can also contribute to arthritis in the lumbar facet joints.
This psoas stretch is probably the most popular version out there. To perform it, you get down in a lunge position with your knee on the ground. Now squeeze the glute of the rear leg and imagine driving the knee back and into the ground, while having the hip sink down and forward. Brace your abs, as if you’re bracing for a punch. Don’t let your abs protrude outwards, but work to stabilize your pelvis with your core musculature. Don’t let the pelvis tilt forward. Personally, I prefer moving my rear leg back as I go deeper into the stretch, but you can also keep both feet stationary and just let the hip sink down and forward. Remember the following cues though:
1) Keep your back straight and vertical
2) Keep your hips squared up
3) Keep the glute of the working leg tight