This Psoas Release Pose can be used to help relieve lower back pain, improve your capacity for deep diaphragmatic breathing, ease physical tension from the knees, hips and even the jaw. It can also help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
Your psoas muscles live in your pelvic region and help to connect your lower back to your upper thighs.
When a psoas muscle is not happy (both soft and supple, relaxed and strong), it can contribute a great deal to lower back pain, shallow breathing, hip and knee pain, and mental stress.
The best way of all to keep your psoas muscles happy is to stand with a healthy, well-balanced posture, from well-placed feet, and hips that are balanced over your ankles, through to a well-balanced head posture. Ideally, if we stood and moved with perfect balance, we wouldn’t even need releasing poses. However, while we’re re-establishing good posture, gentle, and easy ways of releasing the psoas like the Psoas Release pose can really help.
Sometimes the psoas muscle has become tight through lower back pain or injury. While working with Private Yoga clients I’ve observed that psoas muscles often go into tight “protection” mode when there’s been lower back pain, which only perpetuates the back issue until we work gently to release the psoas while attending to postural habits.
Psoas muscles can also tighten up in a moment of stress or trauma. Perhaps we’ve stopped breathing in that moment, with our nervous system on high alert, and the psoas muscle has never really softened again. In this case it can take some time and repetition, but I find this Psoas Release pose incredibly helpful with my clients who have had long-held tightness in one or both psoas muscles. It’s gentle and restful enough to be practised easily with attention on the breath. Often, the very first time we try the pose there is an obvious improvement in breath length and feelings of calm and relaxation.
All of this makes the Psoas Release pose a great one to have in your Yoga toolbox. Use it before you go to bed to relax and unwind for sleep, or at the end of a day of sitting at work to re-balance physically. (Ideally of course we wouldn’t sit in chairs for too long, but if you do…). Or just use it anytime you’d like to feel more easeful in your hips and lower back, and more calm and grounded mentally. It’s not a stretch so try not to put any effort into it! Let gravity and your breath facilitate a deep release without active stretching.
As with every pose, there are countless ways to adapt and tailor the Psoas Release to your individual body, so of course, it’s always best to work with an experienced teacher. However, here’s a general guide to the way I’ve found this Psoas Release pose to work with most bodies.
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Step 1: Lie on the floor, knees bent, with a blanket underneath the back of your head. You’ll want your forehead to be just a tiny bit higher than your chin. This pose won’t work at all if your face is tipping up and your neck shortened, since that will cause tension in your lower back and hips. Be aware of your body breathing naturally, and aware of any movement of your belly as your body breathes.
Step 2: Draw your right knee in. If your knee bends deeply, you may be able to hold and support it with your hands (keeping your shoulders relaxed). If your knee is not happy bending deeply, you can hold the sides of your thigh, or use a scarf to hold the leg in, or place a stack of folded blankets, cushions, or anything handy under your foot. Make it easy on yourself, because you need your shoulders and neck to be relaxed in this pose, too.
Step 3: Straighten and lengthen your left leg. From working with many private clients I’m aware that this doesn’t always come easily at first, so if that’s the case for you, just lengthen it out as much as you comfortably can. Don’t push, just let your left knee drop as much as possible without pain. Continuing to notice your breath will help. If straightening the leg is difficult, practise this step until it becomes easier, before continuing.
Step 4: If your left leg straightened out along the ground without strain and you can reach down through the heel, then rotate the whole left leg to face out to the left side, turning the leg outwards from the top of the thigh bone.
Step 5: If possible, slide your now outwardly-rotated left leg out a little more to the left, along the ground. Some people like to roll over onto their left side and lean into it here for a moment, then returning to both shoulder blades and the back evenly on the ground. It feels as if you’ve “left the leg behind” as the rest of your body comes back to centre, and if it works for you, it can provide a deeper release.
Step 6: Just breathe, and let go. Follow each exhalation to its end, and leave an easy pause before your body breathes in again, without effort. Let go of any holding: in your ankle joints, your knees, your hips, and your back.
Let everything soften, especially that long left leg. Be as relaxed as possible in your arms, shoulders and neck. It’s important to check that there’s no tension in your jaw: have your teeth slightly apart with your tongue resting at the base of your mouth.
With each long exhalation, imagine the back of your left leg softer and heavier, even sinking through floor. It’s a good idea to count your exhalations – try between 10 and 20.
After those 10 to 20 exhalations, slide your left leg back to centre, slowly bend your left knee to place your foot on the ground, and lower your right foot too. Notice your breath, and notice how you feel.
Then try the same steps on the right side.
Afterward, rest with your knees bent and your hands placed on your belly. Notice any movement of your belly expanding under your hands as your body breathes in, and your belly lowering as your body breathes out. Often, this movement is more expansive, and smoother after the Psoas Release. Notice any other awareness of your breath or your body that comes up.
It can also feel good to widen the feet on the floor, knees still bent, and gently rock the legs from side to side, swivelling in the hip joints.
Of course, the Psoas Release pose is most effective when it’s custom-tailored to the individual. Sometimes I’ll recommend a client only do this pose on one side for a while, instead of both, and sometimes it’s good to do both sides but spend a bit longer on one side, for balance. If you’d like to find out about a personally tailored session, please click here.
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