Yoga Poses to Stretch and Strengthen the Psoas

The psoas major muscle is a bilateral (meaning you have one on each side), deep core muscle that connects each leg to the torso. This muscle can become tight when we spend a lot of time sitting at desks and in cars, as many modern people tend to do. A tight psoas leads to a weak core, which can cause back pain and other muscular-skeletal problems.

Yoga poses that strengthen and lengthen the psoas are a good way to counteract all that sitting. Since the psoas helps move your legs in relation to your trunk, expect to see poses that include this action. Balancing poses help increase core strength, particularly the psoas, while backbends are a great way to stretch, and thereby lengthen, this muscle. The following recommended poses are adapted from Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews' wonderful book Yoga Anatomy.


Tree Pose — Vrksasana

Tree Pose Works the Psoas
Tree Pose - Vrksasana. Ann Pizer

This basic standing balance is a good way to work the psoas on the side with the lifted leg. Since all balancing poses require you to use your core muscles for stabilization, it's also a great pose for strengthening your abdominals.


Standing Big Toe Pose — Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

Yoga for the Psoas - Utthita Hasta Padangustasana
Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. Ann Pizer

Utthita hasta padangusthasana is a particularly appropriate pose for this series because it combines challenging balance with moving your lifted leg toward your body. Use a strap around the lifted foot if you can't reach your toe to prevent your back from rounding forward or your shoulder from reaching out of its socket. It's also ok to keep the lifted leg slightly bent.


King Dancer — Natarajasana

Yoga for the Psoas - King Dancer Pose - Natarajasana
King Dancer Pose - Natarajasana. Ian Hootan/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

One last standing balance! As you lift your back leg into position for the backbend, your psoas gets a nice stretch.

As you've probably noticed, in each of these three standing balances the lifted leg is moved in a different direction: first to the side in tree pose, then to the front in utthita hasta padangusthasana, and finally to the back here in dancer. Since the psoas connects the leg to the torso, it's working differently in each of these positions but is crucial to each of them.


Warrior I — Virabhadrasana I

Yoga for the Psoas - Warrior I
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I. Ann Pizer

Warrior I is also a bit of a balancing pose. If you feel too wobbly or have trouble turning both hips forward here, taking your feet a little bit wider toward the sides of your mat helps a lot.

It also provides an excellent psoas stretch. The psoas is lengthened on the back leg as the torso is stretched away from the leg.


Boat Pose — Navasana

Yoag for the Psoas - Boat Pose - Navasana
Boat Pose - Navasana. Ann Pizer

In navasana, the psoas works on both sides to bring the legs and spine into a V position while keeping the spine long and the legs straight. If you begin to lose the V, bend your legs at the knees to draw the torso up again.


Camel Pose — Ustrasana

Yoga for the Psoas - Camel Pose -Ustrasana
Camel Pose - Ustrasana. Ann Pizer

In camel, the psoas works on each side to support the lower spine and is also lengthened by the backbend. To get the full benefits of this stretch, you want to make sure that your thighs stay perpendicular to the floor. If you can't reach your heels with the tops of your feet flat on the floor, try tucking your toes under to lift your heels or use a block on each side for your hands.


Reclined Hero Pose — Supta Virasana

Yoga poses for the Psoas: Supta Virasana - Reclined Hero
Reclined Hero - Supta Virasana. John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

The forward motion of the lower body countered with the backward motion of the upper body make this a good stretch for the entire abdominal region, including our favorite, the psoas. This pose can be quite intense on the thighs and knees, so approach it with caution if you're not accustomed to practicing it. Follow the link for tips for beginners.


Crow Pose — Bakasana

Yoga for the Psoas - Crow Pose
Crow Pose - Bakasana. DC Photo/Photodisc/Getty Images

In crow, the psoas works to hold the spine in the correct position and bring the legs toward the torso. You've probably heard your teacher stay that arm balances are all about core strength. This includes the psoas.


Wheel Pose — Urdhva Dhanurasana

Yoga for the Psoas - Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana
Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana. Ann Pizer

Full wheel provides a strong stretch across your whole midsection. As you can see, it's pretty much the exact opposite position from sitting in a car! Wheel also requires a lot of back and shoulder flexibility and strength, so if it's too intense you can get a similar stretch in bridge pose.


Handstand — Adho Mukha Vrksasana

Yoga for the Psoas - Handstand
Handstand - Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Ann Pizer

In handstand, the psoas is one of the key muscles keeping the spine in an upright position, resisting the "bananaing," or over extension of the low back. If handstand has been eluding you, working on strengthening your psoas with all the poses above should help!

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