Open Your Hip Flexors for Good

I want to talk about your hip flexors, and why they may seem to be getting tighter over time, even though you stretch them regularly.

First, the anatomy: psoas is a name commonly used for the main hip flexors, and actually refers to 2 muscles, the psoas major and the iliacus, sometimes jointly called the iliopsoas. The ilicaus originates on the inner edge of the hip bones, while the psoas major originates at vetebrae T12 and L1, L2, L3 and L4. They share a joint tendon that attaches at the top of the femur. The iliopsoas is responsible for flexing the hip, as in walking up stairs, the front leg in a lunge, or sitting in a chair.

Often, yogis think they’re stretching the psoas, yet are actually overstretching it.

Generally, when a muscle is overstretched, the fibers contract and grip afterwards, creating more tension and shorter, tighter muscles.

This could result in a chronic feeling of tightness in the frontal hips throughout your day, or in yoga poses.

The fibers are overstretched whenever the tops of the femurs (thigh bones) move forward in the pelvis. The bones put pressure on the bottom fibers of the psoas, resulting in a ‘stretch’ sensation like when you stretch your hamstrings.

But not all sensations are created equal! 

These fibers are delicate and sensitive, and need refined, clean alignment. As a longtime distance cyclist, my psoas was incredibly tight, and I fell into a pattern of overstretch and over-tightening for years. I’ve created space, and have now come to believe that an effective psoas stretch is not high in stretch sensation like we feel when other muscles are opened.

Stop chasing a big sensation in this area, and your psoas will begin to release. 

There are 2 alignment cues you need to remember while opening your psoas:

  1. Tops of the thigh bones BACK
  2. Bottom front ribs BACK
Remember: the psoas will stretch when the hip is in extension (backbend), or the knee is in flexion (bent), or a combo of the two. Think: back leg in a low lunge, bridge pose, and hero’s pose. Watch out for sneaky overstretch, especially in the back leg in asymmetrical poses such as low lunge. Never let the thigh bone of the back leg drop down onto the psoas fibers. Lift the top of your back thigh bone UP (this anchors the thigh bone ‘back’, clearing the hip flexor from strain)., and tone your upper belly to slide the bottom front ribs back.
Avoiding over-stretching is the first key to get more spacious hip flexors. 
So no more hero’s pose on a block with the shoulders to the floor. No more elevated bridge with the pelvis tucked under. No more flattening your low back to the floor when you lay on your back (the tucked pelvis irritates the bottom fibers). No more letting the thigh bone of the back leg drop forward and down. Once you omit all of those from your practice, you’ve stopped overs-stretching and inflaming your psoas.
Now it’s time to stretch smartly and safely. 
Remember: thigh bones back, upper front waistline back. Do this in all poses for clearing, and check out this quick video on the two top openers I recommend for the psoas.
Enjoy, and may your hip flexors be happy and free! Let me know how it goes, and if you have any questions.