Psoas Muscle Release

The psoas (so-as) is a large pair of muscles between the pelvis and the ribs, that wrap like cradling wings around to the front of the pelvis and drop down to attach at the lower end to the top of the thigh bone.

Drawing of psoas muscle pair

The psoas muscle drapes from the back to the front on the outer portion of the pelvis like a guide along the uterus.

They help us walk upright and support our abdominal organs. The tone of the large psoas can have an effect on the descent of the baby and even fetal position.

 

Adrienne constructive rest pose

This photo shows the Psoas Muscle Release was developed by Liz Koch. I’m really excited about her work, and she teaches some of her hands-on techniques over at her site, Core Awareness.

Why do the Psoas Muscle Release?

…why is the Psoas so important during pregnancy, birth and postpartum?  …The Psoas, spoken of as the muscle of the soul in Daoist healing traditions, holds the key for accessing instinctual wisdom so essential for a resilient natural birth process.

On a very functional level, maintaining or regaining a healthy Psoas relieves or eliminates low back and leg pains, opens and centers the pelvis and hips, and can help you avoid induction. On every level understanding the message of the Psoas resolves the fears of birthing and empowers babies to emerge whole-hearted.

–Liz Koch

 

A short psoas is associated with tightness in breath, upset stomachs, constipation, fetal engagement, and descent. A tight psoas muscle pair keeps the baby high.

A long labor can relax the psoas, as may an epidural, but why not improve your body’s balance by relaxing your psoas in pregnancy? A longer, more supple psoas is one of several factors that helps the baby engage at 38 weeks gestation.

 

How to do the Psoas Muscle Release

We “release” tension stored in the psoas for optimal body function. Liz Koch calls it hydrating the psoas or “unraveling” it. Watch the video below to see how she unravels the psoas using a simple wooden chair!

Unraveling The Psoas Muscle On Land - Using A Chair

You’ll learn a lot from listening to Liz narrate this adventure.

There are several ways of doing a psoas release. Here is another simple one that is easy to learn.

By the middle of pregnancy, lying on the back is not recommended for longer than 20 minutes or if feeling a little off, a little restless or confined, then roll over earlier immediately.

Lie on your back with your feet on a chair so that your calves are at a 90-degree angle to your thighs. Your thighs should be straight up and down and your calves horizontal. After five minutes, roll to your side and get up slowly.

One day you will notice that your lower back relaxes enough so that the space between your lower back and the floor disappears. Just don’t force your lower back to touch the floor, but wait until it happens on its own. Then repeat this daily as much as you can, but for five minutes at a time.

Do this if:

  • You have constipation
  • There’s a lack of engagement of the baby’s head after 38 weeks
  • You’ve had a previous long labor
  • This is your first birth
  • You have a history of sexual or emotional abuse
  • You have a desk job, or do lots of sitting (including driving)
  • It’s hard to stand up tall

Don’t do this if:

  • Any time on your back is not possible.
  • Stop doing it if you feel any amount of discomfort. Roll over to your side if you feel unwell while doing this. Remember, you spend 5 minutes on your back for a prenatal exam. This 5 minutes will be ok!

     

    How to do the Psoas Stretch

    Psoas stretch

    The side the leg hangs freely is the side of the psoas pair that is lengthening. Psoas release of left leg.

    woman does psoas release off of a massage table

    Psoas release of right leg.

    Two great psoas muscles come down from the spine, beneath the level of the ribs and respiratory diaphragm to the lower lumbar spine, and each one angles forward over the pelvis, draping over the leg socket and attaching to the lesser trochanter.

    Gentle stretching (as pictured) seems widely okay.

    Do this for at least 3 minutes or longer if the helper’s arms remain comfortable supporting you.

    How to sit to lengthen the psoas

    There are several activities, as well as generally good posture and breathing, that help release the psoas.

    Sitting with your knees lower than your hips is a really good way to allow the psoas to lengthen. Here’s a picture of Liz Koch giving Gail a lesson in sitting on a bolster.

     

    When should you do it?

    You can do lengthening activities on your psoas at any time—in pregnancy, during labor, before pregnancy, after pregnancy, etc. It’s important to know, however, that a psoas release is not an easy self care in labor. Beginning in labor may have a response but may not.

     

    Lengthening your psoas benefits all of us

    You have some options that will help your :

    • Standing forward lunges, (front lunges) and kneeling forward lunges
    • Daily brisk walking
    • Breathing deeply, and letting your belly relax. 
    • Sitting with your knees lower than your hips helps lengthen your psoas as well.
    • Drink 8-10 glasses of water to hydrate your psoas or the stretches won’t find a muscle with mobility.
     Liz Koch giving Gail a lesson in sitting on a bolster

    Gail learning how high off the floor she needs to sit for her knees to touch the floor. This is the appropriate way to sit cross-legged.

    When should you not do it?

    I can’t think of any time not to!

    But there is a way not to lengthen or release the psoas:

    Liz Koch recommends not to massage the psoas directly. Fascia therapy and self care are preferred.

     

     

    Before a Psoas Release

    Before doing any of these exercises, find a peaceful moment to set up a little space and time to do them without a busy mind distracting you from your perceptions.

    After a Psoas Release

    After doing these exercises, you will feel more relaxed and centered. Keep your breath flowing and repeat the exercises as needed. A resolved psoas is life changing as well as advantageous for the pregnant and birthing woman.

    Further reading

    Check out this link to Collette Crawford interviewing Liz Koch and keep an eye out for a shout-out to Spinning Babies®!

    Also, here’s a link to Liz Koch’s favorite Yoga activities for releasing the psoas.

    Videos
    Daily Essentials
    Daily Essentials can be practiced daily throughout pregnancy to help bring balance and comfort — and an easier, shorter birth.
    Spinning Babies® Parent Class
    Spinning Babies® Parent Class provides clear instructions on how to use Spinning Babies® for a more comfortable and confident pregnancy and labor.