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Leave your chair behind! Lillah Schwartz shares a few key yoga poses that will help you stand up and get going with the flow.

With our ever-increasing dependence on the computer and Internet, these days my students spend anywhere from two to eight hours a day sitting in front of a screen. Not to mention, we all spend many hours sitting in a car. If you're a student with many assignments, commute long distances or sit in front of a computer or desk for your daily work, you know the negative effects of staying still for so long. But, whether it's in the form of a finished report or a good day at the office, in the end, sitting leads to praise-worthy accomplishment. So, it may be hard to imagine that in ancient times, the vitality of a person's legs was praised, an accomplishment in itself!.

Let's get back to that importance of energy and reverence. With the help of just a few key yoga poses that focus on the psoas muscle, you can restore and maintain that vitality and improve your posture and gate.

The psoas muscle is a deep core muscle that helps us stand erect and walk. It connects our back to our front and our top half to our bottom half. When it is lengthened and supple, we feel tall, light and elegant. When it is contracted, our backs and hips feel stiff, and our stride and spine become shorter. (See photo a for muscle location.)

As the primary flexor of the hip, prolonged sitting places the psoas in a contracted position; over time, we lose track of this deeper core muscle and how much it has shortened. The length of the psoas determines the tilt of our pelvis, the shape of the abdominal cavity, the efficient use of our diaphragm and the tone of our pelvic floor. An imbalance in the left and right psoas is also indicated as a "core" issue in scoliosis and leg-length discrepancies.

The practice of yoga asanas and the psoas muscle have a unique relationship. Yoga is the only commonly practiced movement form that incorporates full backbends or front body extensions as an integral part of the practice. For many yoga students, this is a love/hate relationship--in order to successfully bend backward without back pain, the psoas muscle must be awakened and progressively lengthened to accommodate the increased range of motion.

To get in touch with your psoas muscle, try this simple exercise: (Photo b illustrates this dynamic alignment.) Stand with one leg on an elevated surface so that the other leg can hang down easily. Imagine the hanging leg to be an extension of the psoas. Lift your navel in and up, then slowly swing the leg back and forth, initiating the action from the psoas. After practicing with one leg, take a few steps and compare the feeling between your legs. Practice on the second side and walk again. Observe the lightness in the front of your leg, the result of an awakened psoas muscle!

If your goal is to have fully erect posture, a relaxed flat abdomen and relief from lower back pain, then a well-placed yoga practice focusing on alignment and on lengthening and toning the psoas muscle will create positive movement.


So, what is the safest way in yoga practice to lengthen and condition the psoas? The first and simplest yogic stretch to awaken, lengthen and tone your psoas is Apanasana, or an alternate knee-to-chest pose done lying face up. Holding your right knee to your chest, find the point halfway between your navel and pubic bone and place the fingers of one hand there. Draw your abdominals in and up so your fingers fall into a soft space. Now lift your straight leg up toward the ceiling and extend it completely. As you exhale, simultaneously lower the leg back down and draw your navel in and up toward your chest. Keep the space below your fingers soft. If your mid-abdominal muscles pop up, then your psoas is contracted and likely pulling on your lumbar spine.

Re-do the pose; this time, lower your straight leg only to the point where your abdomen starts to pop up and wait. Make the extra effort on your next exhale to draw your navel in and up. If your psoas is particularly short, your straight leg may be as high as two feet off the floor. Ideally, a person with a long, toned psoas could hold their straight leg one to two inches off the floor with a soft mid-abdomen.


For an additional psoas-conditioning pose, see below.

Although the psoas is just one of the muscles involved in balancing the pelvic rim, it is the muscle most often affected after long periods of sitting. Attending to the psoas muscle can help relieve back pain and bring you to an upright posture. Enjoy your practice!

* illustrations reprinted with permission from The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga by Dr. Ray Long and Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery by Eric Franklin.


Step one: Begin with a modified Warrior pose with your heel on the wall and foot at a 45-degree angle. Draw your tail down and lift your front hip bones. Keep your leg fully extended by meting your heel into the wall and extending from the back of your knee to your buttocks.


Step two: Extend your arms. With your heel down or up on the wall, elongate your spine from the sides of your hips to the palms of your hands.


Step three: Keeping the extension of the leg and lift of your front spine, bend your front knee toward a right angle.


Hold the pose for five to seven breaths at a time. Repeat.

Lillah Schwartz, founder of Lighten Up Yoga in 1981, is certified by the National Iyengar Yoga Association and the National Safety Council. She has produced two therapeutic yoga DVD's for back and neck pain relief and has been training yoga teachers since 1988; for more information, visit
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Title Annotation:breathe in
Author:Schwartz, Lillah
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Reprint
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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