Condition the Psoas, Strengthen your Core

Body Awakening takes a Core-centric approach to the body. This means we focus on the core as a way to facilitate overall health. If you can release tension in the core, you can release tension everywhere. One of the best ways to do this is by focusing on your deepest, and most important core muscle; the psoas.

In order to understand why this muscle is so important, it is helpful to know its location and function. The psoas is a cylindrical muscle which begins at the anterior (front) surface of all five lumbar vertebrae. It then travels through the hip complex, lays over the pubis, and attaches to the lesser trochanter (upper, inner aspect) of the femur. It is the body’s primary hip flexor, creates (in part) the lordotic curve of the lumbar vertebrae, and flanks the Hara (Sacral Chakra & center of gravity). It is our philosophy that it is the source of all movement. With this information one is able to see the importance of this muscle.

While you are not in massage, practicing several exercises will help strengthen, stretch, and condition your psoas. We’ve made a series of videos which demonstrate some of these activities.

Our first exercise gently strengthens the abdominal muscles and hip flexors, encourages natural belly breathing, and softens the lumbar region of the spine. This exercise is called ‘Bellows’. Lay on your back, and rest your knees in your palms. Inhale and feel your abdomen open, expanding your whole body, causing your knees to press into your palms. Exhale, and compress the abdomen. This will draw your legs into the chest. Continue to rest your palms on you knees, but let your breath do the work.

Our next recommendation for healthy hip flexors is a strengthening exercise. Continue to lay on your back. Place your feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. This eliminates any curvature, or angle, in the lumber spine, and is called zero-position. From here, bring one knee toward your chest. Stop when you’ve reached a 90 degree angle with you hip and knee. Lower your foot to the floor and raise the other leg. As a progression, extend both legs and alternate raising them to as close to 90 degrees at the hip as possible. This exercise is great for hip alignment, as well. Continue to alternate leg raises as many times as you wish. We suggest 10-30 repetitions.

Just as important as strengthening, is stretching. Stretching helps muscles achieve their ideal length and condition, so that you can recruit their fullest potential. We recommend a kneeling lunge to stretch the psoas. From a kneeling position, bring one leg forward with the foot flat on the floor and the knee at a slightly obtuse angle, about 100 degrees. Shift the knee that is on the floor back a little. With the back knee rooted into the floor, gently tug your body forward with the forward heel while rolling your sacrum forward. You should feel a stretch in the psoas of the kneeling leg. Hold this position or take the stretch further with an oppositional rotation; twisting away from the planted knee and raising the arm of the same side. As a general guideline, hold stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds, and breath deeply into the abdomen.

The following exercise comes from Yoga. This pose is called Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Hanuman Pose). It is similar to the kneeling lunge. However, instead of having the forward foot on the floor, the front leg is extended so that the leg is straight and the heel is anchored to the floor. The back leg is also taken a further back. The knee is still the anchor for the back leg. Draw the to anchor points toward each other energetically and your hips will rotate slightly, approaching proper alignment. From this position, focus your breath into the base of the abdomen and stabilize your hips. You will feel a stretch in your forward hamstrings as well as the psoas on the opposite side. This posture is fantastic for simultaneously stretching and strengthening the psoas, as well as other core-related muscles. It is also a precursor to a full splits position.

In the next exercise, we stretch and strengthen the psoas again with another Yoga pose, Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). Laying prostrate on the floor, bend your knees, bringing your feet toward your head. Grab your legs at the ankle or blade of the foot. Inhale and let the breath expand your body as you press your feet away from your head. This will raise your torso and legs off the floor. Keep your arms straight as tension cables, allowing your legs to draw the body further off the floor with each breath. Your weight will being to teeter on your hip bones. This position opens the anterior aspect of the body, especially the psoas. Due to the oppositional force created by this position, you’ll also strengthen your hip flexors (and arms) as you hold this pose.

Finally, we draw upon another Yoga position to stretch the psoas. This pose is called Ustrasana (Camel Pose). From a kneeling position, activate your glutes to stabilize and protect the lumbar spine. Inhale and arch your back as you raise your arms overhead (this helps mobilize the spine). Exhale and fan your arms down and rest your palms on your achilles tendons or heels. If this is too much, rest your palms at the top of your hips, just above the glutes. Breath deeply, opening the anterior abdominal wall and hip flexors. Hold this pose as long as you’re comfortable.

Practicing these exercises will help you maintain a healthy psoas, and therefore, healthy core.