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Psoas Release Part 2

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?

photo 1 (4)

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.

photo 1 (5)

Sometimes the hamstrings are low but the ribcage looks like this:

photo 3 (3)

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.

photo 2 (4)

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.

photo 4 (1)

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.

 

 

 

Comments

9 thoughts on “Psoas Release Part 2

  • Great article! Thanks! Found your blog via KatySays.
    I’m really trying to work on my hamstrings and I think my PSOAS is also very tight. As far back as I remember (I’m 43) the backs of my thighs have never really come into contact much with the ground, even when sitting up, as you suggest.

    They just about ‘kiss’ it. My mother is the same, so the understanding is ‘that’s just the way we are’.

    But since getting into the whole alignment/movement/healthy body thing, I’m questioning these ‘myths’. My osteo pointed out that my hip joints are shallow, so I have to work harder at standing up straight. As a baby I had what he called ‘frogs legs’. Funnily enough, that’s what my mum called them too. As a baby, the soles of my feet faced each other. Every time she changed my nappy she would massage my legs and gently straighten them. When I was about 1 yo I had a check up and the doc said briskly that she’d worked wonders, and I wouldn’t need an operation. Mum was appalled! Bear in mind this was the early 70s…

    Years of poor alignment meant me leaning forward on the balls of my feet/toes, and using my quads and other front tissues to stay upright. Acute knee pain (diagnosed as arthritis by the docs) sent me to my osteo, who promptly went to work on release the tension in my thighs (that I didn’t even know I had). He got rid of the knee pain and has prescribed lots of walking and stretching.

    Anyway, I’m wondering if I can ever get to the point of having the back of my thighs resting on the ground? You mention extreme cases and perhaps i’m one of them… perhaps targeting just my hamstrings is the problem? I need to stretch and relax the PSOAS?

    Sorry for rambling – I’m kind of thinking out loud!

  • It sounds like you are on the right path and have done a lot of correct work. Kudos for taking the initiative to learn about your alignment! It also sounds like you’ve had some excellent advice and care from your mom and osteo. You are correct that the hamstrings on the ground is not a hamstring problem, but a hip flexor problem. Carry on with psoas release and maybe (since you’ve been told the quads are in tension) add some quad stretches (lunges, standing runner’s stretch etc – they are all in the book Move Your DNA). Good luck and thanks for the comment, it was very interesting to me to read your story.

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful step-by-step guide to a psoas release that’s new to me (only knew Constructive Rest Position).

    I’ve lately read deeper into stuff about tight psoas and rib thrusting (ex. “Can this psoas be saved” and “Move your DNA” among other of Katy Bowmans stuff) and I have a question about an experience I get in a specific body position.

    I’m frustrated every time my Iyengar Yoga Teacher puts me in this pose (“Viparita Karani” – Legs up the wall, sacrum, lumbar and middle spine on bolster. Scapular, arms and head rests on the floor).
    It feels like I’m pushed into and reinforcing my inappropriate movement pattern of “hiding my kyphosis” by rib thrusting and compressing the lumbar spine, and shortening my very tight psoas.

    I would really appreciate your professional biomechanical view on this pose relative to the general tight psoas/rib thrusting issue.
    Can this position really be helpful to do in this kind of pattern?

    Thank you again!
    Best wishes, Rikke

  • Interesting comment – I’m not a yoga practitioner and know very little about it, but a friend put me in the position you describe and my back did not like it! However, keep in mind a “position” is not in itself damaging, it’s the frequency you spend in that position that can cause negative adaptations. So as long as you don’t rib thrust all day long, or sit all day long, you are probably okay!

  • Is it normal to feel slightly uncomfortable; like a lot of my weight is resting on the back of my pelvic? Is it ok if my feet and toes turn outwards?

  • Sometimes the pressure on the sacrum is excessive, depending on what you are lying on (wood floor) or your sensitivity and other variables I won’t go into here. You can try doubling up a yoga mat or putting a folded towel under your pelvis. If it’s okay for a while and then gets too much to bear, stop earlier. If it continues, I’d suggest getting someone to look at you.
    The feet can fall outward as long as the legs aren’t wide. The legs should be straight down from the hips. Hope that helps Cassie!

  • Hello, I found your article to be really helpful. I too suffer from very tight hip flexors and psoas as diagnosed by orthos, chiro, PT, and massage therapists. Geez! I practice this relaxing stretch, but probably not enough.

    I personally found that self myofascial release helps tremendously, but would like to know your opinion as I’ve only done research on myself!

    I’ve practiced the John Barnes method: https://www.myofascialrelease.com/

  • Could you tell me what a good bolster size would be? I’m finding several different sizes for sale on Amazon and not sure which one you are using
    Thanks

  • There are 8″ and 10″ ones, I’d say if you are tall get a bigger one. My daughter is 5’7″ and is using the 8″ one. You can get round or square, and it doesn’t matter. You can always use a folded blanket to raise the height. So there is no “wrong” size 🙂

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