Get to Know Your Psoas

The psoas muscle (fully known as the iliopsoas) is a crazy-cool, ropelike muscle that runs from the front of the body to the back. One of the body’s most powerful hip flexors, it is also prone to being passively tight due to all the time we spend sitting down. When the psoas is chronically shortened, it affects your posture, possibly leading to hip, groin, and lower-back issues.

What really makes the iliopsoas so fascinating is how underutilized it is—while being passively tight, it is actively not very strong in many people. In our yoga practice, we can both lengthen and strengthen it to help our posture and our poses. Harnessing the strength of the psoas will enhance the practice and mastery of advanced postures, such as inversions and arm balances.

To stretch the iliopsoas, it is important to contract the opposing muscle, the gluteus maximus. Otherwise, we tend to sag into our low back in the endeavor to open up the front hip. For example, Low Lunge offers us an opportunity to open this large muscle. When the left leg is forward and right knee is on the floor, to enhance the stretch on the right iliopsoas, firm the right gluteus and lightly contract the low belly. Lengthen the side waists to get even more space. Inhale and elongate the whole front body. To go deeper into the stretch, you can bring the right hand on the floor or block and lean the right thigh toward the floor and forward. Adding a slight twist to the left (and even grabbing the back right foot) will deepen the stretch further. Contract the gluteus and open your mouth during each exhale to help the psoas release even more.

There are many ways to strengthen the iliopsoas; in fact, every time, you flex your trunk to lift off the floor, you are using it. To strengthen it in a slightly different way and bring deeper awareness to this muscle in yoga, try this: In Downward Dog, press your left foot into floor and imagine the right leg extends all the way into your front belly. Using this visualization, lift your right foot to hover off the floor by pulling your leg deeper into the belly. Hold this hover, connecting your leg into the belly. Next, try to glide this foot forward, perhaps even touching your right foot to your right wrist. Attempt to feel this deep in the lower belly. This awareness and strengthening will help the lift off into Pike or Handstand. 

Find out about upcoming programs with Lara Heimann at Kripalu.

This post was originally published on Lara's blog.