In our culture today we sit… a LOT. We sit down for meals, sit down to drive, sit down to watch TV, sit down to use our computers, sit down to read,… in fact, you are probably sitting down to read this right now! When we sit down or keep the hip flexed often (maybe we even curl up into the fetal position when we sleep at night!), we shorten the psoas muscle (pronounced “so-as”). This can be the source of tightness in the front of the hips, especially when we get up.
The psoas starts at the last few vertebrae of the spine and comes in front of the hip bone and attaches to the top of the inside of the thigh (towards the groin). It is a powerful hip flexor and low back stabilizer. So now that we know more about it, how can we release tension from this area? Soften the jaw and deepen the breath! The psoas goes up the body and turns into the diaphragm and eventually connects into the jaw. Anytime we notice we are holding tension in the jaw or clenching the teeth, we can open the jaw and soften the palate of the tongue. For more release, begin this yoga practice:
- Start to deepen the breath and initiate 3-part breathing: inhale expanding the collarbone, then the ribs, then expanding the belly fully. On the exhale, bring the navel in towards the spine, the ribs go in, and the collarbone goes in, exhaling completely. Continue doing this until the jaw is relaxed and the belly expands effortlessly with each inhale, about 10 breaths.
- Anjaneyasana, or Low Lunge, to stretch the psoas muscle: Begin on all fours, on the hands and knees, Table Pose. Bring right foot forward between the hands, ensuring the right heel is under the right knee. Slide the left knee back as far as it will go keeping the hips shifting forward, allowing the left hip flexor (psoas) to open. Options to cushion the knee (using a small pillow, blanket, towel, etc) and/or use blocks under the hands. With each exhale, breathe softness into the front of the left hip, surrendering into the pose. Hold for 5 breaths.
- Parivritta Anjaneyasana: Find stability, and bring the hands up onto the right thigh, keeping the hips shifted forward. Find balance and bring the hands together in front of the heart in Anjali Mudra (prayer position). Inhale deeply and as you exhale, twist to the right side. Hold it here and breathe. Option to hook the left elbow on the outside of the right knee, ensuring the right knee is still tracking over the right heel (this hooking is not for everybody and that is okay!). The twist stimulates the internal abdominal organs and balancing improves concentration. Hold for 3-5 breaths. On the exhale untwist, and bring the hands on either side of the right foot. Bring the right knee down to the meet the left, back into Table pose. Repeat Anjaneyasana and Parivritta Anjaneyasana with the left foot forward.
- Pavanamuktasana Flow to strengthen the psoas muscle: Begin lying down in savasana, legs extended, head and shoulders relaxed. Bring the hands underneath the sacrum which is below the low back and just above the buttocks to support the back. Inhale the right leg up to 90 degrees from the floor. Exhale the left leg up to meet the right. Inhale deeply and exhale both legs into the body. Inhale to extend the right leg to hover the leg an inch off the floor. (If this is too much at first, release the foot to the floor.). Exhale to extend and hover the left leg. Repeat starting with the left side. Do this a few times on each side.
Once you have completed this set, hug the knees into the body, maybe rocking from side to side or forward and back along the spine, releasing the abdominals. Come back to lying on the floor in savasana and begin the 3-part breath for another 5 breaths.
Stretching and strengthening the deep core muscles, in this case the psoas, provides more mobility and control within the hips and pelvis.