Core Strength Exercise for Hip Release & Relaxation
The hip flexor muscle (iliopsoas) is the filet mignon of the body. It is tender, flavorful, and powerful because it is involved in every major physical activity including walking, sitting and standing. The psoas originates in your low back (lumbar spine), weaves inside the bowl of your pelvis, and connects to the head of your thigh bone (femur).
When you experience stress, your psoas contracts as a survival mechanism known as “flight, fight, or freeze.” This sympathetic nervous system response activates your cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular response so you can effectively escape danger. At the same time, this stress reaction slows down the “non-basic” bodily functions, including digestion. This allows your muscles to contract more quickly and efficiently - as required in a life threatening situation.But most of the time, the stress that we encounter in our lives is inaccurately perceived by our bodies as a threat to our survival. In other words, we have overactive psoas muscles that are acting as a storehouse of stress and wasted energy.
Oftentimes, lumbar spine pain and hip tension correspond directly to high stress levels, lack of core stability, and the absence of deep breathing. So in order to find physical relief and a deep state of relaxation, we must strengthen the abdominals and the muscle of the diaphragm. When properly engaged during breathing, the diaphragm can immediately reverse the effects of stress by activating the body’s relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system).
Core exercises paired with diaphragmatic breathing (big, slow belly breaths) is the most effective way establish a sense of equilibrium. Core strengthening is not easy - and it’s not supposed to be. But the physical challenge, the shaking and quivering of your muscles allows you to burn off stress so that your psoas can soften and release. Here is a short sequence…
Step 1: Find the Floor & Establish Deep Breathing
Lying on your back, pull your knees into your chest & take a 5-10 belly breaths.
Inhale through your nostrils, exhale audibly through your mouth.
Step 2: Lengthen Your Legs & Build Heat in Your Belly
Keep your left knee drawn towards your armpit, and slowly extend your right leg straight, hovering your heel 2” above the floor. Take 5-10 breaths, expanding your belly as you inhale, and drawing your navel down to the floor as you exhale.
Repeat on the left side.
Step 3: Core Strengthening + Belly Breathing
Now, extend both legs straight up toward the sky with toes flexed toward your face (pictured above).
**If your core is soft and/or your hips and hamstrings are tight, you will feel your iliopsoas muscles compensate for the lack of core support. Don’t let this happen! Instead of grimacing through the pain and over-working your hip flexors, bend your knees to 90 degrees keeping your femur bones perpendicular to the floor and your knees directly above your hips. (It should look like you are sitting in a chair, except you are lying on your back.) This will strengthen your abdominal muscles and stimulate your diaphragm in order to feel a sense of relief.
In order to create the shape of this pose, your psoas muscle must contract because your hips are flexed. But the goal is to distribute the effort out of your hips and into your belly. Draw your navel down to the floor. Use your breath to create ease and spaciousness in your whole spine.
Breathe deeply here for 1-2 minutes, or until your hips take over the effort and your lumbar spine lifts away from the floor.
Maria Borghoff (E-RYT, YACEP) is the curator of Groove Forward Magazine and has been teaching yoga since 2011. Her work helps people integrate the practice of yoga into their life through meditation, Tantra Yoga philosophy and Ayurveda. Maria writes songs to cultivate faith, leads a 200-hour teacher training, and offers Private Readings & Mentorship for individuals, couples & creative entrepreneurs. @mariaborghoff