By Diane Roberts

The simple test in my previous blog will tell you if either of your psoas muscles is weak—a common imbalance that can cause low back, hip, and pelvis pain. Now let’s go a step further and find out if one of your psoas muscles is tight. A chronically tight muscle is no healthier than a weak one. Over time, either can trigger lots of torso trouble. That’s no fun. This blog is all about remedying that!

Quick refresher: The psoas (SO-as) is one of your major hip-flexor muscles. These move your spine, pelvis, hips and thighs. Almost any activity—headstands to hiking, barre classes to break dancing—relies on them. To lead a vibrant, active life, it’s essential to keep your psoai (yes, that’s the plural) strong and stretchy, so they can “fire” (contract) when you need them and relax when you don’t.

How to tell if a tight psoas could be triggering your back, hip or pelvis pain
One of the main things that can tighten up your psoas is…life. Specifically, sitting too much and too long, which is nearly impossible not to do if half your life is spent sitting in cars, at computers, and around tables.

Still, maybe you have a walking desk, commute on a bike, work outdoors, or have just been lucky psoas-wise. Either of these two tests will tell you.

1. Lie on your bed with your hips near the edge, then hug both knees to your chest. Straighten one leg and—keeping it straight—lower your toes toward the floor as far as is comfortable. Don’t force it. Estimate the distance between floor and toes. Switch legs and repeat.
Which leg felt tighter as you straightened it? Which got closer to the floor? If there was a noticeable difference, the one that wound up further from the floor is the tighter one.

2. If a bed’s not handy, lie flat on the floor, bend one knee and pull it to your chest with your hands. Check to see if the other thigh lifts off the floor. Switch legs and repeat.
Which thigh came further off the floor? That’s your tighter psoas.

Loosening up a tight psoas
If you have a tight side, it needs extra stretching to get your body back in balance. This will reduce inflammation or pain and make movements fluid, not ouchy. Sounds good, right?

But what if you’re not quite sure that either side is significantly tighter? No worries. This classic yoga move will both clear that up and stretch the tight side. It’s known as the kneeling lunge. To do it, just follow my step-by-step video, below. A few important tips:

• Inhale as you lean forward, exhale as you return.
• Move slowly and gently, focusing on mobility and sensation.
• If the motion feels tight after 3 lunges, do 2-3 more before staying in the lunge.
• Once you stay in the lunge, take several breaths and focus on drawing your tailbone downward; this reduces any low-back arch.
• If one side clearly felt tighter, stretch it again.

Going forward, always stretch the tighter side first, switch legs, then repeat the tighter side.

Help your body help itself
The more consistently you do this therapeutic yoga stretch, the more quickly psoas-related pain points will back off. Daily is great but if you’re hurting, do it two or even three times a day (morning, noon, and night). I’ve been there. I know how much it can help!

NEXT TIME: The most common yoga injuries and how to avoid them.