The first post in the psoas series can be read here.
I thought a simpler explanation with pictures of the psoas release would be helpful. Not everyone wants to study the physiology and anatomy, but everyone could certainly benefit from having less tension in their psoas (or psoai as there are two of them).
The first thing you should do is gather some materials that you can use to bolster yourself. We use a yoga bolster but they can be a bit pricey. Some things that could work: couch cushions, rolled up beach towels, a rolled up sleeping bag, a rolled up blanket secured with ties. Here’s how to determine how much bolstering you will need:
First sit on level ground (the floor is best) with your legs straight out in front of you. You can use your hands on the ground behind you so you don’t have to strain to sit up straight. Take one hand and feel along the back of your thigh (hamstrings). Usually the back of the thigh is right down on the ground in this position. There are extreme cases where this isn’t true, but for most people you will have your hamstring muscles on the ground. It will be hard to get your fingers underneath, you kind of have to shove them under the flesh. Got that so far?
Now, ease yourself back until you are lying all the way out on the floor without any bolstering under your head or shoulders. If you feel under your thighs now (you have to side bend a bit) you might find that they are no longer solidly on the ground. The space might differ person to person – sometimes there is a really large gap, sometimes you are almost on the floor, but not the same as when you were sitting. It helps to have a kid or spouse or someone to help with this part, but with practice you can certainly do it, and once you do this the first time you don’t have to repeat this every time. Note that I am not talking about the space behind your knee, but rather the belly, or middle of the thigh.
Sometimes the hamstrings are low but the ribcage looks like this:
Can you see how the model in the photo is arching away from the floor? If you took a horizontal line from the front of her ribs it would be above the pelvis. We want those bottom ribs to be down as well.
Take the bolster you are using and place it under your head and upper shoulders. It takes a bit of practice to get the placement just right, but don’t be too concerned at first, you can always move up or down and make adjustments as you go. I cue people to place it a little above mid-thoracic. The thoracic part of your spine is the rib cage area. The bottom ribs will be hanging in space.
Now check the hamstring situation – are they back down on the floor? If not, and they must be right down, increase the height of the bolster until they are. You can throw folded blankets on top, or use a yoga block or dome, whatever you have handy that is comfortable for you. There are some people who are so tight that they are practically sitting upright to get those hammies down, and if you are one of them, don’t despair. This will change with time and diligent practice. Eventually you can lessen the amount of bolstering.
You might find (this is common) that one hamstring comes down, but not the other. This is because one of your psoas muscles is tighter than the other. Get them both down.
Check out the position of your head and neck. Is your chin pointing to the ceiling? If so, you are in hyperextension of the neck – not good! Place something under your skull (not the neck) until the curve of your neck follows gracefully the curve of your ribcage/upper back. This should be a very comfortable position.
ps I asked the model in the photo to raise her arms for the picture so the placement of the bolster would be visible. You want to have your arms on the floor a little bit out from the body, with the palms facing up.
Now the next part is the most difficult. Lie there and do nothing. That’s right, do nothing. This is harder than it sounds. We all have residual tension in our trunk muscles and letting go of it is really helpful, but first you have to understand that the tension is there. We are so used to having this all the time that letting go is the hardest thing! This why one of my favourite sayings is “Doing nothing is doing something.”
After a bit of time has elapsed (5 minutes is the minimum, but feel free to lie there for 20 minutes) you might find that your bottom ribs are sinking closer to the ground. Maybe they are touching the ground! In most cases, it takes a bit of practice to get the ribs down, but by no means are you to force them down. You can probably engage your abs and tug the bottom ribs toward your pelvis, but this is using tension in the front of the body to override tension in the back of the body, and two wrongs do not make a right! The idea is to alleviate the tension in the back of the body.
AHHHHH! (Ideally this would be on the floor and the entire arm would be supported – I thought the white wall would be a good backdrop for the shoot.)
The goal would be to eventually lie flat on the ground, with the back of the legs in contact, and the back of the ribs in contact with the ground. The fact that the ribs and/or hamstrings are not in contact is indicative of tension in the psoas and other hip flexors.
This is the first of two psoas releases, but it is my favourite and the one all my clients insist on doing every day! Let me know how it goes for you.