You may have heard of your hip flexors and even bemoaned their tightness. The No. 1 muscle that may be contributing to discomfort in this area is the psoas, a small muscle that connects the lumbar vertebrae (the lower part of your spine) to your femur, or upper leg bone.
The psoas is essential to daily movement, including when you walk or run, as it stabilizes the spine and pelvis. Sitting too much and overusing the hip flexors with too many situps or too much cycling can lead to excessive tightness in the psoas. You'll notice this tightness with a telltale ache in your low back and stiffness in your hips and spine.
Yoga to the rescue! The practice offers numerous ways to stretch out your tight psoas. Lunge variations and Warriors are among the best options.
Crescent lunge addresses the front of the hip, and will get at the deeply set psoas muscle. A more dynamic version of the posture has you stay on the ball of the back foot with your heel lifted. Keep your back leg as straight as possible if you choose this option.
How to: From Downward-Facing Dog, bring your right foot between your hands. Ensure that the knee is right above the ankle. Lower your left knee to the mat. Inhale and raise your arms up over head. Lean slightly into your right hip, keeping both points of your hips facing the front of your mat. Repeat with the left foot forward.
Note that the psoas, especially when tight, tries to rotate the hip externally. This is why keeping your hip points facing forward is so important.
Bridge offers a way to stretch the psoas while lying down. Place a block between your lower thighs to keep the psoas from causing your knees to bow out to the sides of the room.
How to: Lie on your back with your arms alongside your hips. Bend your knees and plant your feet right in front of your sits bones. Inhale as you lift your hips to create a "bridge" between your shoulders and your knees. If you can, wiggle your shoulders together and clasp your hands under your lifted back. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths.
If you do have the block between your thighs, focus on squeezing it as you lift up through your hips and chest.
Warrior I is a standard yoga pose that can help ease up a tight psoas. It's not instant; you must adopt a regular yoga practice for the pose to work its magic overtime. This variation uses your hands to adjust yourself to concentrate the stretch on the psoas.
How to: Stand with your feet about 3 feet apart. Turn your right toes toward the front of the mat and bend the right knee. Place your left foot flat at a 45-degree angle at the back of the mat. Place your hands on your hips and gently rotate your pelvis to face forward. It's OK if you don't align perfectly with the front of the mat, just go in that direction. Repeat on the other side.
Your psoas may be so tight that it only allows the back foot to go down at a 90-degree angle. Start with this and, over time as the psoas opens up, you'll notice the angle progress closer to 45 degrees.