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Baby bump doesn’t have to equal backache. Prenatal yoga expert Karly Treacy created this sequence to ease many of the common discomforts and imbalances in the back, pelvis, and hips during pregnancy.
The psoas (referring to the iliopsoas system) is the only muscle in the human body that connects the upper body to the lower body. Its primary function is to flex the leg at the hip. During pregnancy, as the pelvis tilts forward (essentially flexing at the hip) and the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the weight of the growing baby, the psoas shortens and tightens.
This contracted state of the psoas is responsible for several of the common discomforts in pregnancy. It can lead to low back pain, as the contracted state of the psoas can cause compression of the lower back vertebrae, generalized hip discomfort on one side or the other, and sacroiliac joint dysfunctions if the psoas is asymmetrically contracted (shorter and tighter on one side than the other). Any or all of the above can make pregnancy—especially sleeping during pregnancy—quite uncomfortable. We can alleviate these discomforts immensely, though, by releasing and opening the psoas with yoga.
Before we begin, it’s important to point out that we want to open the psoas without overstretching the abdominals so that we don’t risk creating diastasis recti (the tearing away of the rectus abdominis from the fibrous tissue that connects them). The following poses will soften and/or stretch the psoas safely to release any low back tension and balance the pelvis from right to left.
5 Psoas-Releasing Poses Safe for Pregnancy
Reclined Constructive Rest Pose
Place one block in its tallest and widest position and another at the medium height in its longest position, perpendicular to the tall block. Rest a bolster over the 2 blocks. Sit with your bum directly in front of the bolster and lie back. Keep the knees bent and the feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Begin to focus on your breath. Inhale into the side ribs to stretch the diaphragm. With every exhale, imagine the thighbones getting heavier and sinking deeper into the hip sockets. The more the thighs can sink, the more the psoas is encouraged to relax into the back body where it belongs. Repeat for 15 breaths.
Supported Pigeon Pose
Place a bolster perpendicular to your mat and come into Pigeon Pose with the front leg shin just in front of the bolster. Before you forward bend, check in with the back leg. Make sure that it extends straight back from the hip and feel the upper inner thigh roll toward the ceiling, encouraging the psoas to stretch and lift into the back body. Fold in as deeply as your baby bump allows. Hold for 10 breaths.
Low Lunge, Variation 1
Come into Anjaneyasana with the right leg forward. Place the foot slightly to the right if necessary to make space for the belly. Bring the right hand to the outside of the right leg to the earth or a block. Bend the left knee. Reach back with the left hand and reach for the big toe side of the foot. As you feel the stretch in the front of the left thigh, imagine that you are trying to lift your belly up to come upright again, deepening the stretch and lengthening the psoas. Hold for 8–10 breaths, then switch sides.
Low Lunge, Variation 2
Come to Anjaneyasana with the right leg forward (left is shown). Move the foot slightly to the right if necessary to make space for the belly. Place the left hand inside of the right leg to the earth or a block. Bend the left knee. Reach back with the right hand for the pinky toe side of the foot. As you feel the stretch in the front of the left thigh, imagine that you are trying to lift your belly up to come upright again, deepening the stretch and lengthening the psoas. Hold for 8–10 breaths and then switch sides.
See also Post-Pregnancy and Ashtanga Practice
Side Plank, Variation
Start on all fours. Step the left foot back and spin the heel down as you would for Warrior II. With the right wrist directly beneath the shoulder, firm the right outer hip in, lifting the left arm to the sky and opening into a Side Plank variation.
Focus your attention on the back leg. Like in Supported Pigeon Pose, feel the upper inner left thigh roll toward the wall behind you, so the psoas can lift into the back body as it lengthens. Then, externally rotate the left arm in the shoulder socket and take the arm all the way over head. As you press into the left foot, reach through the whole left side body and out through the fingertips. Hold for 8–10 breaths. Switch sides.
Inevitably, one side will feel tighter than the other. Take a bit more care and time with the tighter side so that you can balance them out as best as possible.
About Our Expert
Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Karly Treacy began her practice more than 20 years ago. A student of Annie Carpenter, Karly understands the awareness of body and strength that comes from precise alignment. A mother of three, Karly credits yoga for teaching her that all of life is a practice, especially motherhood and that our children, our bodies, and our environment all are our teachers.