The psoas is responsible for hip flexion and can be tight from sitting or intense exercise. Learn yoga poses to ease tension and create more space in your hips.
A common request I hear from my yoga students is to incorporate hip-opening poses to relieve tension. Why do so many of us (including myself) experience tight hips?
When you bring your knee toward your chest, you are flexing your hip. Therefore, every time you take a walk, go for a run, drive a car or sit at a desk, you are contracting (shortening) your hip flexor muscles. When the hip flexors are contracted for long periods of time, they can become tight and weak. Let’s dive into this a little more.
What muscles make up the hip flexors?
The primary hip flexor muscles include the iliopsoas, which consists of the iliacus, psoas major and psoas minor. It starts at the lower back, runs over the pelvis and connects to the inner part of the thigh bone. These core muscles are essential to everyday movement and spine stability. When the iliopsoas becomes tight, it can cause misalignment, poor posture, limited mobility, discomfort, pain in the hips and lower back, and increased risk of injury.
What are some ways to release tightness in the hips?
The techniques I implement for my own body and also offer to my students include standing throughout the day (I use a standing desk whenever I can), rolling out with yoga tune-up balls, working on mobility with strength training and gentle stretches.
Yoga is a helpful tool to lengthen and strengthen the hip flexors, reducing stiffness and tension. I filmed a short yoga sequence with my favorite poses to practice and teach to create more space in the hips. Make sure you are cleared by a doctor before exercising.
What yoga poses are most effective?
Standing side bends: From mountain pose (tadasana), reach your arms overhead. You can clasp your hands and steeple your index fingers, turn the palms up or clasp one wrist in the opposite hand. Gently lean to each side, lengthening from head to toe (including the hip flexor). You can also incorporate a side bend in lunges and warrior 1 (virabhadrasana I)
Lunges: Poses like low lunge (anjaneyasana) and high lunge (ashta chandrasana) will help lengthen the hip flexor in the back leg. To deepen the stretch, rotate your pelvis so your pubic bone tilts forward
Quad stretches: Stretching your quads can lengthen your hip flexors as well, so you get double duty! Try adding a standing quad stretch, bow pose (dhanurasana) and bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana) into your practice
Hip-opening forward bends: The classic hip-opener many people think of is folding pigeon pose (eka pada rajakapotasana). Place your knee outside your wrist with your shin somewhere between a 45 and 90 degree angle (if you are closer to a 90 degree angle, flex your foot). Extend the other leg back behind you. Fold forward any amount and use blocks to elevate the ground when needed
The debate around stretching your hip flexors
When doing an internet search, you may see videos and articles that warn against stretching your hip flexors. It’s important to take into consideration your lifestyle and daily habits, activity level and injuries before stretching. If you have inflammation, a hip injury, hip bursitis or pain in the tendon, consult a doctor or physical therapist before beginning a new stretching or movement routine.
There are studies that suggest stretching helps relieve tightness, but this might only be part of the problem. If stretching your hips doesn’t seem to be helping, it may be because they are either weak or overworked. The key to staying healthy and pain free is to find balance. Incorporating strength and rest into your routine is just as important as stretching.
I am here to support you! If you have questions about how to stretch and strengthen your psoas or want to practice with me individually, send me a message in the contact form of the home page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.