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. If you have a tight psoas this can lead 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. Because the psoas helps move your legs in relation to your trunk, poses that include this action are the most beneficial.

Meanwhile, 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's and Amy Matthews' book "Yoga Anatomy."

1

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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

Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), hands in Anjali mudra at your heart center. 

  1. Root your feet into the floor, distributing your weight equally on the four corners of each foot.
  2. Shift your weight into your right foot, lifting your left foot off the floor. Keep your right leg straight with a soft bend in the knee.
  3. Bend your left knee and place the sole of your left foot high onto your inner right thigh. 
  4. Press your foot into your thigh and vice versa to provide stability while squaring your hips.
  5. Focus your gaze (Drishti) on a steady object or spot for balance.
  6. Take 5 to 10 breaths before lowering your left foot to the floor and repeating on the other side.
2

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.

  1. Begin in Tadasana, pressing into your big toes with a natural posture.
  2. Bend your right leg and hold your big toe with the first two fingers of your right hand.
  3. Press your right foot forward, lifting your chest to maintain a neutral spine.
  4. Tilt your pelvis forward to activate the hamstrings keeping your hips even.
  5. Hold this position for a few breaths, rooting into your standing foot.
  6. Release by letting go of the foot, slowly lower your leg to the floor, and repeat on the other side.
3

King Dancer (Natarajasana)

King Dancer Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The king dancer also focuses on 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.

Because the psoas connects the leg to the torso, it's working differently in each of these positions but is crucial to each of them. Here is how to do this move.

  1. Place your weight onto your right foot, bending your left knee and lifting the left foot off the floor. Your left knee should stay toward the midline of your body during this pose.
  2. Clasp the inside of your left foot with your left hand, placing your thumb on the sole of your foot pointing in the same direction as your toes.
  3. Raise your right arm straight toward the ceiling. 
  4. Raise your left leg behind you, bringing your torso forward to maintain balance.
  5. Kick your left foot into your left hand with force, lifting the leg higher while deepening the backbend.
  6. Fix your gaze (Drishti) on a distant steady object or spot for balance.
  7. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
  8. Continue kicking your left foot into your left hand to rise back up. Lower your left leg to be in line with your right. Repeat on the other side.
4

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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

The warrior I also provides an excellent psoas stretch. The psoas is lengthened on the back leg as the torso is stretched away from the leg. Here are the steps to this pose.

  1. Start in downward facing dog and bring your right foot upward and place it down inside of your right hand.
  2. Rotate and drop your left heel on the ground, toes turned out about 45 degrees.
  3. Bend your right knee bringing your right thigh parallel to the floor.
  4. Stand, raising your arms to the side and toward the ceiling.
  5. Keep your chest open as you slightly extend your spine (backbend).
  6. Look up at your thumbs and bring your shoulder blades down.
  7. Check the alignment of your hips so that both hips are squared forward.
  8. Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor as you can get it.
  9. Lower your hands to the mat, stepping your right leg back into downward dog.
  10. Stay here for a few breaths or move through a vinyasa before repeating on the other side.
5

Boat Pose (Navasana)

Boat Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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.

  1. Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Raise your feet off the floor, maintaining bent knees for now.
  3. Lift your shins parallel to the floor to half boat pose. Avoid rounding your spine.
  4. Bring your legs to a 45-degree angle, keeping your torso as upright as you can, making a V shape with your torso and legs.
  5. Slide your shoulders back, straightening your arms to parallel with the floor, palms up.
  6. Try to keep your balance on the sit bones, or rest slightly behind them while lifting your chest for balance.
  7. Maintain this pose for 5 breaths or more.
  8. Release your legs during your final exhale and inhale to sit up.
6

Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Camel Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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.

  1. Kneel upright on the floor, hips stacked over knees.
  2. Bring your palms to reach the sides of your rib cage, thumbs resting on the back of the ribs and other fingers wrapping around the sides and fronts of the rib cage. Your elbows should be pointing out.
  3. Lift the rib cage up with your hands and start to open your chest toward the ceiling.
  4. Keep this pose as you reach your hands back one at a time to hold your heels, keeping your hips forward and over your knees.
  5. Lower your head back, opening your throat if it feels comfortable, or keep your chin tucked.
  6. Release, tucking your chin to your chest, and hands to your hips.
  7. Bring yourself to a kneeling position.
7

Reclined Hero Pose (Supta Virasana)

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The forward motion of the lower body countered with the backward movement of the upper body makes this a good stretch for the entire abdominal region, including our favorite, the psoas.

This pose can be pretty intense on the thighs and knees, so approach it cautiously if you're not accustomed to practicing it. You also may not want to try this pose if you have knee issues—or at least talk to a healthcare provider first.

  1. Begin the reclined hero pose by sitting in hero pose or Virasana.
  2. Place your hands on either side of your thighs.
  3. Walk your hands back toward your behind as you lean your torso back.
  4. Come down onto your forearms with bent elbows.
  5. Try continuing to release your back toward the floor, reaching it if you can. Do not attempt this if you feel any pain. Keep your knees together.
  6. Stay in here for 5 to 10 breaths.
  7. Release by raising onto your forearms, then press into your hands to return to sitting.
8

Crow Pose (Bakasana)

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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 say that arm balances are all about core strength. This includes the psoas.

Try side crow pose as a variation.

  1. Begin by standing in mountain pose (Tadasana).
  2. Bend your knees to place your palms flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart.
  3. Place your palms on the mat a foot in front of your feet, spreading your fingers.
  4. Bend your elbows back and raise onto the balls of your feet, opening your knees to come in line with your upper arms.
  5. Position your knees onto the backs of your upper arms.
  6. Shift your weight onto your hands, raising your head.
  7. Lift onto your toes, then raise one foot and the other off the floor.
  8. Squeeze your inner thighs in, and squeeze your feet toward your behind.
  9. Release with an exhale, shifting your weight back to place your feet on the floor.
9

Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)

Woman on yoga mat doing wheel pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, soles of your feet on the mat, heels close to your buttocks about hip distance apart.
  2. Bend your elbows, lifting your palms overhead and under your shoulders, fingers pointing towards your feet.
  3. Inhale pressing into your palms and feet to raise your shoulders and hips off the floor part way.
  4. Lower the crown of your head to the mat without putting weight on you neck. Pause and make sure your elbows are parallel.
  5. Straighten your arms to lift your head off the floor, keeping your feet parallel and knees in line with your feet.
  6. Reach your chest behind you and start straightening your legs.
  7. Release by tucking your chin into your chest, slowly lowering yourself.
10

Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)

Woman on yoga mat doing handstand

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

In handstand, the psoas is one of the key muscles keeping the spine in an upright position, resisting the "bananaing," or overextension of the low back.

If handstand has been eluding you, working on strengthening your psoas with all the poses above should help!

  1. Start in downward facing dog with your hands about 6 inches out from the wall.
  2. Walk your feet toward your hands until your shoulders over your wrists and ideally, your hips stacked over your shoulders.
  3. Lift onto the ball of your right foot and keep a soft bend in your knee. Lift your left foot off the floor and straighten it out behind you. Hop a few times to jump off your right bent leg and lift your left leg vertical.
  4. Aim to bring your heels to the wall, flexing your feet and keeping your head between your upper arms.
  5. Try to remove your heels from the wall while balancing, keeping your feet flexed and legs engaged.
  6. Release by lowering one leg at a time and rest before attempting to kick up with the other leg.

A Word From Verywell

The psoas can become tight and stiff due to sitting or activity. Using these yoga poses, can help release the tension and tightness. Move at your own pace and determine what works best for you. You also may enjoy trying a yoga class as well.

Just be sure to talk with a healthcare provider first to determine what is right for you. You also may want to see a medical professional if the tightness you feel does not resolve.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tufo A, Desai GJ, Cox WJ. Psoas syndrome: A frequently missed diagnosis. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2012 Aug;112(8):522-8. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2012.112.8.522

  2. Beazley D, Patel S, Davis B, Vinson S, Bolgla L. Trunk and hip muscle activation during yoga poses: Implications for physical therapy practice. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017;29:130-135. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.09.009