4 Non-Traditional Ways Yoga Can Target Your Psoas

Smiling friends in fitness wear walking in the meadows with yoga mats

The psoas major has been called “the muscle of the soul.” This recently popularized deep muscle of the core and hips is an important stabilizer of the lumbar spine and deep core as well as a strong hip flexor. There are many different psoas exercises that help to target the psoas muscles, but a few non-traditional ones may be your biggest help.

The Anatomy of the Psoas

Located deep within the abdomen, beside the spine, the psoas major attaches to the transverse processes of T12 through L4 and then inserts onto the lesser trochanter of the femur.

This may sound very complicated, but essentially the psoas attaches to the bony protrusions that extend out from the sides of the vertebrae in the lower back and then runs all the way down the spine into the front of the pelvis to then attach on the thigh bone.

Given its positioning, the psoas is a strong stabilizer of the spine and a strong flexor of the hip. But the psoas also attaches to the diaphragm through fascial and ligamentous connections. The diaphragm is the primary muscle of relaxed breathing, and the interdigitation between the psoas and the diaphragm intrinsically connects the psoas to breath.

When we have short, shallow breathing, our psoas may be affected. Likewise, when we have a tight or weak psoas, our breath may be affected. And in our over-seated modern world, most of us tend to have tight and weak psoas muscles.

But thankfully, there are many ways to target the psoas to both stretch and strengthen this deep muscle.

4 Non-Traditional Psoas Exercises

Use these simple but non-traditional psoas exercises to effectively lengthen and strengthen your psoas.

Diaphragmatic Breath

As noted, the diaphragm and the psoas are intimately connected. So to help relax and unwind the psoas, you can actually use your breath.

How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic Breathing and strengthening the psoas muscle

  1. Lie down on your back in a comfortable Relaxation Pose (Savasana). If you’d like, you can slide a bolster, rolled-up blanket, or pillows underneath your knees for extra support.
  2. Soften your gaze or close your eyes and rest both hands over the top of your belly, directly below your ribcage.
  3. Draw air in through your nose and visualize the air flowing through your whole thorax to reach down to your hands. Feel your hands elevate toward the sky as your abdomen expands.
  4. Reverse the flow of air on your exhalation. Feel your hands lower toward the floor.
  5. Continue to breathe in this slow and relaxed way, strongly contracting and relaxing your diaphragm for about two minutes or so.

Nervous System Relaxation

Nervous system relaxation and the psoas muscle.

Similar to relaxed diaphragmatic breathing, simply soothing, relaxing, and down-regulating your nervous system can greatly help to reduce muscle tone and release chronically contracted muscles like the psoas.

For this psoas exercise, you could do anything at all that helps you to relax like laying in bed and watching your favorite TV show or sipping a glass of wine with friends. If you’d prefer a more structured nervous system relaxation, you can follow this body scan.

How to Relax Your Nervous System

  1. Lie down on your back in a comfortable Savasana and soften your gaze or close your eyes. If you’d like, you can slide a bolster, rolled-up blanket, or pillows underneath your knees for extra support.
  2. Draw your awareness to your breath and deepen its rhythm. Emphasize your exhalations by taking longer releases.
  3. Bring your attention to your feet and consciously relax them. Continue to systematically relax each muscle in your body from your feet all the way up to the crown of your head.
  4. Once you’ve relaxed your full body, pause and surrender to the relaxation for a few minutes in stillness.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt Lunge

Posterior pelvic tilt lunge targets the full psoas by posteriorly tilting the pelvis and adding a side-body stretch.

Many psoas exercises and stretches only target the lower fibers of the psoas muscles. But these huge muscles can also get tight in their upper fibers. This variation of a basic lunge helps to specifically target the full psoas by posteriorly tilting the pelvis and adding a side-body stretch.

How to Practice Posterior Pelvic Tilt Lunge

  1. Start on all fours in Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana) with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees.
  2. Step your right foot forward and place it next to your right thumb.
  3. Energetically scissor your legs toward each other and root down into your right foot.
  4. Lift your torso up and stretch your arms to the sky.
  5. Continue to magnetize your legs toward each other and make sure that your left hip is stacked directly over your left knee.
  6. Tuck your tailbone and lengthen it toward the floor so you create a posterior tilt in your pelvis.
  7. Rest your right forearm on your right thigh and inhale to stretch your left arm higher toward the sky as you lengthen your left side body.
  8. On an exhalation, lean and hinge your torso toward the right as you continue to tuck your tailbone. Gently press your hips forward toward the top of your mat.
  9. Hold here for about 5 to 10 deep breaths before switching sides.

Stand Up and Go for a Walk

(Boat Pose) Navasana to strengthen the Psoas muscle.

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And this couldn’t be more true when it comes to psoas health!

The very best way to target the psoas and prevent it from becoming tight and weak is to use it in its intended capacity!

This means don’t sit all day long, chronically and passively shortening your psoas muscles. Instead, get up and move.

Stand up from your desk at least every 20 minutes for a quick break. Better yet, take a short walk to get your psoas working. Maybe even drop to the floor and practice Boat Pose (Navasana) for a minute or two to really fire up and strengthen the muscle fibers for an excellent psoas exercise.

For optimal psoas health, don’t sit non-stop all day, every day. Get up and move your body the way it wants to be moved, the way it’s designed to be moved. Your psoas muscles will definitely thank you in the long run.

Effective Psoas Exercises Can Help Create Healthy Psoas Muscles

Your psoas muscles can sometimes be temperamental and finicky because they get cranky when we spend too much time sitting. So care for these muscles with both traditional and non-traditional practices to keep them happy and healthy long-term.

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, yoga writer

Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.

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