Try these three helpful poses to bring stress relief to your muscles.
Your psoas (pronounced SOAZ) is a major part of your core and most of the movement in your body, since it is the only muscle in your body that connects your spine to your legs. It can be responsible for back pain, sciatic pain, core issues, and even chronic stress. The psoas contracts under stress or trauma as if to pull us into the fetal position or away from harm, and sometimes we can get habitually contracted in this way. The psoas also has a relationship with the kidneys and adrenal glands, which produce our stress hormones, and it runs right through the gut and into the pelvis on both sides, snuggling up with the ovaries for women. For these reasons, it can also contribute to digestive problems and the way we feel our “gut feelings.”
Without getting too detailed about the anatomy, the psoas muscle runs from the spine near the low back ribs through the front on both sides to attach at the inner part of each hip. Its major action is to pull the thighs into the chest, so to release this muscle we must extend the leg behind us—something we rarely do in our culture of sitting. Here are the three poses that I’ve found most helpful for releasing this important muscle:
1. Warrior One
From standing, step your right foot back and turn the toes out a bit so the heel can land completely on the ground. Start with both legs straight. Press your back foot strongly into the ground to activate the muscles of the back leg, especially your glutes, which help release the hip flexors. Point your tailbone down so your low back lengthens. Square your hips to the front. Do your best to keep all this and then bend into your front leg. The front knee shouldn’t go farther than the heel; lengthen your stance if it does.
Now interlace your fingers, pointing the first finger up (like Charlie’s Angels!) and reach to the ceiling. Work to keep your belly in and your tailbone down. Imagine lifting the back ribs up away from the ground even as you lean back slightly. Take five to eight breaths and switch sides.
2. Low lunge with side stretch
Come to a low lunge with your right leg back, knee down on some padding if you like. Keep the toes tucked under. Bring your hands to your hips. Square your hips and tuck your tailbone under, just like you did for Warrior One. Press the floor away from you with your back foot and bend into your front leg, pressing your hips forward.
Reach your arms up, then bend your right elbow so your hand comes near your shoulder blades. Hold the elbow with the left hand and gently side bend to the left, away from your back leg. Try to pull your back ribs gently up. After five to eight breaths, repeat on the other side.
3. Supported Bridge Pose
This pose is more of a passive stretch for the psoas, very calming, so it’s especially helpful if you are feeling stressed. Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Lift your hips up and place a block or pillow under your hips. The prop should be below your spinal vertebrae, right on the sacrum on the back of your pelvis. Keep in mind this isn’t a backbend; you want to allow your belly to fall back into your ribs, for your low back to lengthen gently. Widen your feet about mat’s distance so the knees can relax in towards each other. Place your hands on your belly or on the ground and let your breath be deep and relaxed, heavy into the floor.