Pose of the Month: Some deep hip opening!

So, I kinda fell off the bandwagon in April for Pose of the Month. I figured in celebration of my marathon training, I would start it up again.

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I picked out a pose for May that I think everyone could benefit from. I have been plagued with unbelievably tight hips. This can lead to pain in my lower back and even leave me open to some pretty nasty injuries (ITBS, runner’s knee, etc.). As runner’s I know a lot of us suffer from tightness in these areas.

This month’s posture: Fire Log Pose!

I never look that happy in this posture.
I never look that happy in this posture.

To get into this posture, start in a seated position facing the front of your mat. Take your right shin and draw it parallel with the front of your mat (your right foot is by your left knee) and then stack your left shin on top of your right so that your left ankle is on top of your right knee. Now, if your knees are up by your ears, STOP! There are a few modifications you can do to fix that (this is also a good resource for modifications in this posture).

  1. Sit on a block or stack of books to elevate the hips
  2. Take your left foot in front of the right knee and place it on a block or stack of books
  3. Place a block, pillow, or stack of books under each knee to stop hyper-extension

If you have a bit more mobility in your hips you can begin to hinge forward at the hips into a forward fold.

When you are done, switch sides!

So how do I look in this posture?

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Yeah, I am not exactly picture perfect here, but THAT’S OK! I teach this posture all the time in my classes and without shame, even though I am typically the least flexible in the room.

So, practice with me for this month. Let’s do this posture every day and see where we are at in a few weeks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Do you have tight hips? Do you have any other areas of the body that you struggle with flexibility?

Get Your Yin On!

Yin yoga is a slow moving and deep practice where postures are held for up to three minutes (sometimes more!) in order to get deeper into hard-to-get muscles and connective tissues. It is my go to yoga practice when I am sore from long or hard runs (like I am today). The benefits of this yoga are endless. Aside from just the stretchy goodies, you are also able to connect a little deeper to the breath, to your body, and to your mind. This all sounds nice and all, but yin yoga is often overlooked by runners because it is a little uncomfortable, especially for those who struggle with flexibility. It is important to remember that the more uncomfortable a posture is, the more we should be doing it. That does not mean that your practice should be painful. Pain is a different sensation and we want to avoid that in our yoga practice. However, a little (or a lot) of discomfort can be good for us.

I have outlined a beginner friendly yin practice that can be done by any inflexible, running yogi. This sequence concentrates a lot on the outer hips, IT band and hamstrings, which are all areas that need some extra love when you run. You’ll need a space without distraction, a relaxing music playlist, a strap, towel or belt, and a timer. Pillows, blankets and blocks can also be helpful, especially if your knees tend to give you trouble. Each posture will be held for three minutes, which you can time either through songs on your playlist or on a phone timer. Carve out about 45 minutes for this practice (this is very short for a yin practice, so feel free to hold the postures longer and take more time, too). This is a perfect practice after hard or long run day for recovery.

Start on the spine in supine bound angle pose. To get into this posture, get nice and comfortable on your back, then bend your knees and bring your feet together with the knees out. Bring your right hand to rest on your stomach and your left hand to rest on your heart. Remain here with the eyes closed and just breath. Try to lengthen your breath and use your hands to feel the breath entering and exiting the body.

Start with the feet together, knees apart and take a moment to close the eyes and relax here.
Start with the feet together, knees apart and take a moment to close the eyes and relax here.

After a few minutes in this pose, stretch the body out, point and flex your toes and take a few deep breaths. Release the arms to the sides of the body with the legs extended on your mat. Bend your right knee, place the foot on the inside of the left leg and allow the right knee to fall out to the side. Then, reach your right arm up over your head as far as you can, trying to lengthen the right side of your body. Reach your right arm over towards the left side of your mat until you feel sensation in the right side of your body. If your right knee is uncomfortable, place a block or pillow under it. After a few minutes here, switch sides.

Bend your right leg so your foot touches the inside of your left thigh and your right knee splays out. Reach your right arm up and over towards the left side of your mat.
Bend your right leg so your foot touches the inside of your left thigh and your right knee splays out. Reach your right arm up and over towards the left side of your mat.

Again, take a moment to stretch the body out before jumping into the next posture. Then, you are going to come into a simple cross-legged position, but while still on your back. Start with your right shin in front of the left. If this hurts your knees, takes blocks or blankets under them to elevate a little. If you have tight hips, this will be a little uncomfortable for you. Release your ams to your sides and just breath. Be sure to do this on both sides.

This is a simple cross legged position, but on the back. You may not feel much when you first come into this pose, but after a few breaths you should feel your outer hips and inner thighs.
This is a simple cross legged position, but on the back. You may not feel much when you first come into this pose, but after a few breaths you should feel your outer hips and inner thighs.

Hug your knees into your chest, maybe draw opposing circles with the knees. Then, place your feet on to your mat at mat width with your knees up. Just allow both legs to fall over to the right side. Reach your left arm overhead, turn your head to the right and just relax into the posture. As always, blocks or pillows can be used under the knees if there is any pain there. When your are done, switch sides.

Bring your feet to mat width  and have your knees up. Then allow your knees to fall all the way over to the right and reach your left arm up.
Bring your feet to mat width and have your knees up. Then allow your knees to fall all the way over to the right and reach your left arm up.

Place both feet on the mat with the knees up and grab your strap, belt or towel. Sling your strap around the ball of your right foot while holding each side of the strap in one hand. Extend your leg into the air, flex the foot and pull gently on the strap. You should feel a pretty deep stretch in your hamstring and in your calf. If you start to feel this in your lower back, or if the stretch is too intense, bend your extended knee a little. Repeat on the left side.

This is a pretty traditional hamstring stretch. Put your strap around the ball of your foot and extend the leg up. Lengthen the opposite leg on the mat and close your eyes. Be sure to keep tension out of your shoulders.
This is a pretty traditional hamstring stretch. Put your strap around the ball of your foot and extend the leg up. Lengthen the opposite leg on the mat and close your eyes. Be sure to keep tension out of your shoulders.

So, throughout this practice we’ve been working on external hip rotation and on IT band and hamstring stretches. This posture is what we have built up to. Start with both feet on the mat and the knees up. Take your left ankle on to your right knee so that the left knee opens out. Then, left your right knee, drawing it in towards your chest and take your left arm through the hole you made with your left leg and your right arm around your right leg. Lengthen your right leg into the air and clasp your hands on your thigh. If this stretch is a little too much, loop a strap, belt or towel around your right thigh and pull it in. Flex the right foot and try to relax through your face, neck and shoulders. Try to hold this one for the whole three minutes and then switch sides.

Place both feet on the mat with your knees up and then take your left ankle on to your right knee with your left knee out. Reach your left arm inside the triangle you made with your left leg and your right arm around your right leg. Extend your right leg up and clasp your hands on your thigh.
Place both feet on the mat with your knees up and then take your left ankle on to your right knee with your left knee out. Reach your left arm inside the triangle you made with your left leg and your right arm around your right leg. Extend your right leg up and clasp your hands on your thigh.

When you are done, hug your knees into your chest and open your arms out to a “T” position. Allow both legs to fall all the way over to the right side while keeping the left shoulder on the ground. Turn your head to look over your left shoulder. Switch sides. When you are done, take a moment to just lay comfortably on your spine and breath. Notice how your body feels after taking some time to slow down and relax.

Draw both knees into your chest and bring your arms out to a "T" position. Allow the legs to drop to one side and turn your head the other way.
Draw both knees into your chest and bring your arms out to a “T” position. Allow the legs to drop to one side and turn your head the other way.

I hope you enjoy this yin practice. If you are unable to carve out a full 45 minutes for this, try holding each posture for just 60 seconds. It is incredibly important to take some time to rest, slow down and connect. If you have any questions let me know! Namaste. 🙂

Post Run Hip and Hamstring Sequence

When I am done with a run, I like to spend some time stretching to alleviate any residual tightness. I have found that consistent stretching of the hips and hamstrings helps my body remain injury free. The sequence below takes about 5 minutes and does a good job getting into some of the most tight areas for runners.

Start in low lunge (photos below) with the right foot forward. Make sure that your front foot is all the way forward between your hands and that you can feel a stretch in the front and outer hip. Your hands can remain on blocks or stacked books so that your upper back remains straight.

Low Lunge: Draw the front foot forward in between the hands. You should feel a stretch in the front part of your hips and groin.
Low Lunge: Draw the front foot forward in between the hands. You should feel a stretch in the front part of your hips and groin.
Low Lunge: Notice that my ankle is stacked below the knee and that I am leaning forward into the front leg.
Low Lunge: Notice that my ankle is stacked below the knee and that I am leaning forward into the front leg.

On your inhale, lengthen your front leg to straight, moving into a hamstring stretch (picture below). Your hands can remain on your blocks.

Hamstring Stretch: Straighten the front leg so that you come back about half way. Keep the front foot flexed.
Hamstring Stretch: Straighten the front leg so that you come back about half way and your seating bones are stacked above your back knee. Keep the front foot flexed.

On your exhale, come back to your low lunge. Repeat this for about 10 breaths. Once you are done, remain in your hamstring stretch, with your front leg straight for 3-5 breaths. Then, on an exhale, come back to your low lunge. Remain in low lunge for another 3-5 breaths.

Walk your front foot outside of your hands (so if you are on the right side, you are walking it over to the right). Roll the palm of your foot up so that you only have the outer edge and pinky toe on the ground. Allow your knee to fall out to the side. You should feel this stretch in the outer hip. Remain here for 7-8 breaths. When you are finished, go ahead and repeat this sequence on the other side.

Low Lunge with Knee Out: From low lunge, roll the outside of the front foot so the bottom of the foot lifts and the knee moves towards the outside.
Low Lunge with Knee Out: From low lunge, roll the outside of the front foot so the bottom of the foot lifts and the knee moves towards the outside.

You can use this sequence for a post-run stretch. If you foam roll, you can do that as soon as you are done with these stretches. I usually like to end with a short period laying on my back to let the benefits sink in a little and to just calm the body after my run. I hope you find this sequence useful and incorporate it into your own practice.

Namaste 🙂