The Psoas Awakening Series synergistically combines the standing poses to awaken the psoas muscle. We accomplish this by first contracting the psoas in poses that face forward, then in poses that face the side. We complete the series with twisting postures.
Click here to review the details of this important muscle in our Sample Chapters section.
Remembering that this muscle is usually “hidden” in the unconscious part of the brain, we must first isolate the psoas in each pose, bringing it back to consciousness.
I use the technique of isometric contraction to isolate and awaken a dormant muscle. This technique requires an understanding of the action of the various muscles. For example, the psoas acts to flex the hip, i.e., contracting the psoas either bends the trunk forward or draws the knee up. Isolate the psoas by attempting to flex the trunk or by trying to lift the leg. Accentuate this by resisting the action. To better understand the instruction, look at the diagram of Trikonasana below.
Remember that Hatha Yoga combines opposites—the sun and moon or yin and yang. With this in mind, balance contracting the psoas by stretching it.
Finally, experience “Body Clairvoyance.” This refers to the awakened body’s ability to anticipate an action and use the most efficient muscles to accomplish it—without thinking about it. The Psoas Awakening Series sequentially activates different parts of the psoas—incrementally and synergistically. When the brain sees a conscious combination of actions like this, it will then automatically use the psoas in unrelated actions. This is analogous to running up a flight of stairs. The first steps are taken consciously, but once we get going we ascend unconsciously (and rhythmically). The act of typing on a keyboard is another example of this.
Put another way, once we’ve awakened the dormant psoas muscle, we begin to use it unconsciously in new tasks.
I demonstrate this phenomenon in my workshops by finishing the Psoas Awakening Series with an inversion such as Full Arm Balance. Students regularly report a sensation of rock solid stability in their pose. This comes from the unconscious brain automatically activating the newly awakened psoas and stabilizing the pelvis. Experience this for yourself by practicing an unrelated asana at the end of the series.
Note: Alternate the right and left sides with each pose in the series. Return to Tadasana between each pose and each side. This helps to prevent fatigue and soreness in the psoas.
Alternatively, hold the leg down with the elbow and attempt to lift the leg. This simulates flexing the hip and also contracts the psoas. Maintain the torso in a flexed position and straighten the knee by contracting the quadriceps. This general sequence will be repeated for each pose throughout the series. Return to Tadasana between each side and also between each pose to give the body a rest.
3) Virabhadrasana II: Again place the elbow on the knee and isometrically contract the psoas by attempting to flex the trunk or lift the leg.
4) Parsvottanasana: Begin by bending the front knee, as with Trikonasana. Now, squeeze the torso against the thigh. This activates the psoas in the side plane.
5) Virabhadrasana I: Attempt to lift the front leg in this pose—but don’t actually lift it. You should feel the pelvis lower with this action, again through contracting the psoas (also in the side plane).
1) Always build contraction of a muscle gently and slowly. This aids to minimize the risk of injury and soreness.
2) Only contract the psoas to approximately 20% of its maximum force.
3) Awakening a muscle is accomplished by contracting it. Balance engaging a muscle by stretching it at the end of your practice.
4) Allow ample time for recovery between practice sessions.
5) Always practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
6) Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider before doing yoga or any exercise program.
If you are new to integrating anatomy into your practice, remember that it is not necessary to memorize this technique on your first pass. Begin by enjoying the beautiful images of the body in yoga. This alone will awaken your brain's awareness of the anatomy during your practice. Return at a later date for a closer look, and then gently go through the motions illustrated above as you do the pose. Then leave it. Your unconscious mind will create new circuitry while you rest. Enjoy this process, and when you return to the mat, you will be surprised at how easily you access this technique.
Ray and Chris