Post-Practice Psoas Relief

If you’re tired of angry hip flexors after practicing or bouting, here’s a combo of moves you can try for some post-practice psoas relief. And of course, since one of your hip flexors is also a low back muscle, these moves can potentially help your low back feel better, too.

Anatomical image of psoas major - art by Stephanie Cost

For those unfamiliar, your hip flexors–which include your mighty psoas, pictured above–are the muscles located at the front of your hip that connect your leg to your pelvis and abdomen. Their job? Any action that brings the front of your thigh closer to your torso: think high knees! It also unsurprisingly that when we sit a lot, they weaken, and when we skate and spend a lot of time squatting, they get grumpy.

Happier Hip Flexor Yoga Flow

Start out lying on your back with the soles of your feet flat on the floor.

Constructive Rest Position

Wiggle your feet away from each other so they’re as wide apart as your mat, and let your knees drop in toward each other (feet apart, knees together). Slowly begin to rock your legs from side to side. Those movements can be as big or as small as makes sense for your hips and low back–in other words, your legs don’t have to come anywhere near the floor.

Psoas Release Step Two

Bring your feet back to hip-width apart (about in line with your sitz bones, the bony parts in your butt). Hug your left knee toward your chest, and slide your right heel toward the front of your mat. Your right leg does not have to straighten fully! You might only slide your heel as far forward as it will go without arching your back away from the floor–which might just be a few inches.

Hold for 5-10 breaths, and repeat with right knee hugged in toward your chest.

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Make your way over onto hands and knees–don’t be shy about cushioning your knees with a blanket or three–and begin to move in cow/cat. As you inhale, lift head and tailbone up and feel your shoulders slide away from your ears (left image). As you exhale, round your spine and curl head and tailbone toward the floor (right image).

Hip flexor magic

From cow/cat, step your right foot forward–you might want to have your hands up on blocks or books–and move into hip flexor magic.

Tuck your back toes, and press back through your left heel to begin lifting your left knee off the floor—but only lift your knee as much as you can without changing the position/height of your pelvis. That’s probably going to be a pretty tiny movement, and that’s a-okay: you’re strengthening and stretching your hip flexors. Do this about 10 times, and then lower your back knee to the floor. Before you switch legs…

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…lower your left knee down to the floor. Place your right hand on your right thigh, and as you inhale, bring your left arm alongside your left ear. As you exhale, lean toward your right with your left arm overhead.

Hold for 5-10 breaths, and then switch sides: bring your left foot forward, and repeat hip flexor magic and this side-stretching lunge (left hand on left thigh, reach right arm overhead) on the opposite side.

Hip Flexor Tree

Return to your back. (It’s easier to see when I’m standing!) While lying on your back, cross your right ankle on top of your left thigh. You might take one end of your skate noose or a belt around your right ankle, and hold the other end of the noose with your left hand. Try to keep your left hip from lifting away from the floor! You could place a book or rolled-up towel underneath your right knee to help support that.

Repeat with your left ankle crossed over your right thigh.

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Last but not least, REST. You might want to place a rolled-up blanket or towel underneath your knees for a little support.

Go on, give your hip flexors a little love and attention!

 

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Hip Flexor Magic

Don’t let the featured image fool you: you’ll be doing some lunges today, but they might be nothing like the ways you’ve done lunges in yoga before!

While I’m a big fan of constructive rest for hip flexors, it’s definitely only one piece of the puzzle. I bet you can relate to the feeling of “I’m sore–I should stretch!”and sometimes, stretching isn’t the needed solution. If that’s the case, give your hip flexors a break in one of the rest poses from my last post, and then give this awesome hip flexor magic that I learned from Jules Mitchell a try.

When you give this a go, move slowly. Slooooooooowly. Even if you don’t have someone’s hand there, pretend someone’s hand is pressing on the back of your thigh and you’re trying to move it. Create your own resistance!

As I mention in the video, it could be really helpful to have a teammate or partner around to place their hand at the back of your pelvis so that you have some resistance and become aware of when you’re actually moving! That will help with proprioception–knowing where you are in space–and won’t let you cheat.

And last but definitely not least, don’t worry if your movements are really, really tiny when you try this. (I’ve taught this in a lot of classes already, and most of my students don’t go very far.) Over time, as you strengthen and stretch your hip flexors in this new and exciting way, you’ll have more control and range of motion.

Like I said: magic!

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Stop Beating Up Your Hip Flexors!

The most frequent question that students ask me is how to stretch their psoas.  They tell me it’s “tight” or “short.” Or they point at the front of their pelvis and say, “This. This hurts. What can I do?” I have an answer that I always give–in short, “Stop beating up your hip flexors!”–and nine times out of ten, they don’t like it.

I’m going to tell you about it anyway.

Here’s the thing: the more I read about the psoas, and the more I talk with medical professionals and teachers who know much more than I do (like the rockstar physical therapist Jill Nye the Science Guy of the Rat City Rollergirls, and yoga therapist and exercise scientist Jules Mitchell), the more I’m convinced that all of the stretching and rolling that we do for our poor psoas muscles isn’t the solution. In fact, when I talked with Jill, she told me that she’s never–yes, never–seen a short iliopsoas. Jules’ research on the science of stretching backs that up: “Your [muscle] length is your [muscle] length – determined by the distance between your attachment points.”

So…your hip flexors feel tight. Or sore. Or both. What do you do?

Stop Beating Up Your Hip Flexors: The Long Answer

You rest. Constructive rest, but rest!

This is why my students–roller derby players like you, rock climbers, and other athletes–hate my response. Everyone wants instant relief, and trust me: I do, too! With the psoas and other hip flexors, though, less is often more.

Get yourself set up to rest well. Make sure you have enough layers on to stay warm so that you’re not jumping up two minutes in. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and place the soles of your feet flat on the floor at least a foot from your hips. You can wiggle your feet a a bit further away–even a few inches more if that helps you feel more settled. One thing that can be pretty awesome is to loop a belt around your thighs so that you don’t have to use your inner thigh muscles to hold your legs up. Give them a break, too.

Constructive Rest Position

And then…you stay there. Possibly for five minutes, maybe ten, maybe even 15 or 20. I know, I know. You want to be up skating! You’ve got things to do! You want instant relief! I hear you, and I’m telling you that it’s not a thing. Lie on the floor. Do nothing. When you start feeling stuff–discomfort or sensations–stay there. Keep breathing. (Don’t torture yourself, of course! But try to stick with this until you start feeling some relief.)

Of course, you might not end up feeling anything. That’s the other thing about this. Then again, you might feel your pelvis sink down a little heavier. You might feel your hip flexors breathe an epic sigh of relief.

And that’ll be worth it. F’reals.

But Kickit, I Really, REALLY Can’t Just Lie There…

If lying on the floor is causing pain or panic, here’s another gentle option for you. Because again: stop beating up your poor, already-derby-abused hip flexors!

Start in the same rest pose as above, only this time bring your left knee in toward your chest for a hug–only so far as the position of your back doesn’t change! (Your low back might want to round and press into the floor. If that’s the case, don’t bring your leg in as close.) Your leg might be nowhere near your chest/belly, and that’s a-okay. If you’re having a really tough time reaching your shin without changing the position of your spine, hold the back of your thigh, or place a belt around your shin and hold the belt instead of your leg.

Psoas Release Step One

Once you’re settled in there, begin to slide your right heel forward to stretch your right leg out in front of you. Your leg doesn’t need to fully extend. Again, only go so far as you’re able to go without changing the position of your spine. If that means your right knee is still bent, let it be bent. (This time, your low and mid back might want to arch away from the floor. If you’re allowing your spine to arch, you’re taking away the possibility for your psoas to release. The more you know, right?)

Psoas Release Step Two

Hang out here for 5-10 breaths, maybe up to 20 if you’re feeling pretty good here. When you’re ready, release and repeat on the other side.

And y’all: don’t do these immediately before you head to practice, okay? Give your body a little time to chill.

And if you’re a serious sensation junkie, you might want a little more movement like in the free Flat Mat hips guide…

Say hi!