Yoga for Fighters: Releasing the Psoas

September 4th, 2010  |  Published in Exercise instruction, Stumpblog, Training  |  15 Comments

by guest author Candace Stump

In between beatdowns, MMA fighter Gina Carano demonstrates hip flexion.

In between beatdowns, MMA fighter Gina Carano demonstrates hip flexion.

Yoga means, among other things, “yoking” or “unity”. Traditionally this means unity of body, mind, and breath; the breath being the most important.

One of the most effective ways to think of yoga is as sophisticated relaxation: freedom from unnecessary tension in body, mind, and breath. This does not mean lying down doing nothing! This means using the *least* amount of effort necessary to achieve results. (Sound familiar, grapplers?) Even if that result is a very, very difficult pose.

Most BJJ practitioners, grapplers, and MMA fighters end up with certain muscles totally overdeveloped. I’d like to start with psoas.

The psoas (SO-az) is the main muscle linking the upper body to the legs at the front of the hips. Because of the way BJJ works, the psoas gets very, very tight. I am always surprised when any BJJ or MMA player can sit up completely straight; most have such tight psoas muscles that they can no longer do this.

However, many non-grapplers also have a lot of psoas problems, simply from sitting all day in hip flexion, with thighs at 90 degrees to the torso. The psoas shortens and becomes tight.

An overdeveloped, shortened psoas means less mobility, reduced speed, and greater risk of injury. It tips the front of the pelvis forward and gives us “duck-butt”. It’s more or less abuse of the spine, which will eventually cause back pain.

Poses for relaxing the psoas

Supta Padangusthasana
(Reclined hand-to-big-toe)*
Parvrrta Supta Padangusthasana
(Revolved reclined hand-to-big-toe)
Utthita Trikonasana
(Extended triangle)
Don’t dump into this. Take your time.
Virabhadrasana II
(Warrior II)
Knee over second toe. BEND into this.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
(One legged pigeon)
1 leg king pigeon pose
Chest forward as your tailbone moves toward your heels. Pull your spine apart!
Spin your lifted buttock under, toward your standing heel. Lift your armpit chest!
Use a block if you need one.
Do this at the wall! Push hips into the wall and LIFT your chest.
ustrasana camel pose
Supta virasana
(Reclining hero)
DEFINITELY support your upper back.
reclining hero pose
Knees IN.
Urdhva Dhanurasana
(Full wheel, or modified: head to floor)
Knees and elbows IN!

*If you cannot remember the pose by reading it, try going to the Yoga Journal site and typing in the Sanskrit name in the search box. You’ll get a picture and description.

**If you are new to yoga or need a different variation, check out this article… it walks you through ten simple ways to release the psoas.

I also recommend a few abdominal strengthening poses.

Good luck. Enjoy your practices, all of them, in good health.


“One of the most important skills in any field is learning what to ignore.”

Further reading

The Psoas Is…
The Almighty Psoas Muscle


  1. Jac Lynn says:

    September 4th, 2010at 6:35 am(#)

    Have loved the complement of yoga with weight lifting for years.
    The Anasura style appeals most to my biomechanical sensibilities.

  2. Lieke says:

    September 6th, 2010at 3:52 am(#)

    Have not really gone into Yoga much, but the problem is very recognizable and I will definitely try these. Thanks!

  3. KCK says:

    September 7th, 2010at 9:08 am(#)

    How does it both make you not able to sit up straight and also give you duck butt? Those sound contradictory to me, so I must not be imagining it correctly. How does this work?

  4. Abys says:

    September 22nd, 2010at 12:38 pm(#)

    KCK, I imagine that the duck-butt looks something like this (though 1- I could be very off, and 2- this is an extreme exaggeration):

    Look at the cobra pose. See the elegant arching back going down to the hips? Keep that, but instead of the legs being out back, in the stretch, they go down, and the person is in fact standing and walking like this.

    With the muscles stiff and wanting to remain in that 90 degree position, your lower abdomen would want to tilt forward, while the rest of your upper half wants to stay upright so you can, you know, see where you’re walking and stuff. Unfortunately this makes you look a bit like a duck, which has its legs seemingly set more to the back end of the body. Thus, the duck-butt look (maybe duck pose would be a better description?).

    The not being able to sit up straight is very similar then. The tightened psoas force the upper body to lean forward to not feel strain/stretching pain while sitting fully upright.

  5. kettlebells says:

    October 4th, 2010at 1:36 am(#)

    Great article thanks for this. I have really tight Psoas myself so I will try all these out, Not sure I can do the one legged pidgeon though.

  6. Kaija says:

    October 6th, 2010at 3:50 am(#)

    This is good information and the photos are helpful. I’m a dancer and though we tend to be quite flexible and ultra-aware of good posture, the psoas muscle is one of those that gets very overworked (especially in any dance form that uses turnout, like classical ballet). I learned many of the stretches pictured here in technique classes. They feel soooo good and do help loosen up the hips. Thanks for the neat article! :)

  7. Cam Yoga says:

    November 15th, 2010at 8:26 am(#)

    It’s about time someone posted about this! So many athletes are being overdeveloped for their sports but this only hurts them in the long run.

  8. Courtney says:

    December 7th, 2010at 9:07 pm(#)

    This comment is coming from a yoga practitioner and teacher. The only style that has me completely hooked is Power Yoga. This form of yoga is structured, but at the same time allows me the freedom to make the practice my own. I can adapt every pose to my own body and how it is feeling every time I begin my practice. I love the benefits Power Yoga provides: connecting my mind, body, and soul, creating body awareness, and opening every layer and joint of my body. Each pose is created to prevent injury and provide strength and recovery to everyone who practices. This article supports everything I preach as a teacher. Thank you!!

  9. Arica says:

    December 26th, 2010at 1:06 pm(#)

    Thank you for the tips! Excellent article and very informative. Forwarding this to my BJJ friends now…

  10. J says:

    July 16th, 2011at 5:45 pm(#)

    Don’t even remember how I got to your site on the big world of Interwebs, but very glad I’m here! I love your “no fat chicks” article and this one as well. I think sitting in the office is what’s causing me so much pain! I’ve never heard of the psoas muscles, but this makes soooo much sense!!!!

  11. L.A. says:

    December 6th, 2011at 1:50 pm(#)

    Awesome article. When I first started fighting, I never stretched and ended up pulling both hamstrings while working on kicks just weeks before a fight. Five years later and I am still dealing with sciatic pain. Nearly all striking techniques begin in the hips and these are great stretches help open up those puppies.

  12. Howtolosebellyfatforwomentips says:

    March 6th, 2012at 10:07 pm(#)

    I suffer from extremely tight psoas so these are all definitely helpful thanks!

  13. best exercise bike says:

    March 21st, 2012at 4:55 am(#)

    Thanks a lot for these fitness tips.
    I love has been my recent obsession!

  14. Sam says:

    May 31st, 2012at 3:10 am(#)

    This is really helpful!

    I came back into inline/ice hockey recently after surgery and ended up with back pain in under 2 weeks.

    My obliques had wasted and I had to see an osteopath twice to release my psoas which was actually quite painful!

    So glad there are these exercises here to help keep them relaxed. Hockey players are another breed that suffer with this! :)

    Thank you for posting this up!

  15. Mahindra Raj says:

    August 16th, 2012at 5:49 am(#)

    I have read Athletes (High Endurance and not) benefit a lot from Yoga so this is another beautiful read about its many applications. Yoga is applicable to anybody and I believe the added flexibility will help figthers as well in another point of view.

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