Make Sensations, Not Shapes

I am oddly flexible for a runner. I can get my palms to the ground without bending my knees, do a full splits, and I have a pretty fantastic backbend. So, it probably does not surprise you that when I talk to runners about yoga, the first thing I hear is that they are not flexible enough to do it. Well, guys, I am here to convince you that you are ALWAYS flexible enough to do yoga!

Ever since Yoga Journal Magazine started publishing professional yogis on their covers, the focus of yoga moved to the shape of one’s body in a particular posture. In a forward fold, the focus was on how Sean Corne could get her belly flat on her thighs with a smile on her face. People who had a naturally large range of motion in their hips, hamstrings, and lower backs looked at these photos and knew that they could make the same shape. But what about athletes? What about runners? What about every normal person? What is yoga when you can’t touch your toes and when that shape is just not something your body does?

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Later was the birth of Instagram, where advanced shape-making yogis were able to show off their beautiful bodies in postures that just looked like a wild contortion. This further distanced runners from yoga because in reality, many of those shapes were simply NOT going to happen for them. Running changes your body and makes your muscles stronger and tighter. For many of us, postures like Compass Pose are just out of our natural range of motion.

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So, if you can’t participate in the full version of the yoga postures, what is a runner to do in a yoga class?

Make sensations, not shapes!

 Next time you are at your yoga mat, instead of focusing on getting the palms to the floor with the legs straight in a forward fold, focus on the SENSATION you are feeling in the legs. In a forward fold, notice where you feel the sensation and notice how slight changes in the posture can change the sensation dramatically. It is important to realize that no two people will look the same and feel the same in the same posture. So instead of making that forward fold look like it does on Instagram, make it FEEL right. Make sure that, although your knees are bent in a forward fold, that you have sensation in the hamstring muscle, NOT in the lower back or the back of the knees.

 Next time you are in a yoga class, grab some blocks and straps. USE THEM! Modifications to a posture are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign that we understand that yoga is there to create space and sensation, not to create a picture worthy shape. In reality, modifications are a sign of strength.

And if you have a competitive streak and you really need to be better than the other people in the room at something… remind yourself that it is unlikely any of them can run 10 miles in one day. That is a little bit of ego, but hey, roll with it.

So guys, do this for me: Go to a yoga class and repeat the matra “make sensation, not shapes”. Go in with an open mind and have fun. Once you let go of attachment to particular shapes of postures, suddenly yoga gets a whole lot more fun.

The Friday 5: My 5 Favorite Balancing Poses

Hey everyone! For today’s Friday Five I am going to talk about my five favorite leg strengtheners. This post was inspired by Judy’s post on the importance of single leg stability. It’s super important for runners to have strong legs, but also have stabilizing muscles in our legs for balance. So these five yoga postures (and movements) not only help gain stabilizing muscles in your legs and hips, but also a lot of strength and flexibility. Remember to do each posture on both sides!! Also, Sydney (my cat) is featured in all of the photos. 🙂

Standing Splits

We’ll just start with a posture that I find incredibly challenging. It requires extremely flexible hamstrings and hips, which not all of us have. Start with your feet together in a forward fold. Then shift your weight to one side and lift the opposite leg as high as you can. Once the leg is lifted, draw the hip of the lifted leg down very slightly. As a modification, you can use blocks or books beneath the hands or bend the standing leg.

StandingSplits
Standing Splits – For me this is one of the most challenging poses

Standing Stick to Knee to chest

This is a movement, not just a single posture. Start in standing and reach your arms up over head. Shift your weight to one side and hinge forward at the hips while lifting the opposite leg. Stop wherever you start to lose balance. Eventually you may get to the point you that you can create a “T” with your torso and legs. This is called Standing Stick. Hold for one breath, and then begin to lift back up, bend the lifted leg and once you are upright, pull the lifted leg in towards your chest. Return back to standing sticks. Make sure to draw your hips in towards center so that one hip isn’t popping out. Repeat 4 times and do both sides.

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Standing Sticks

 

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Standing Knee to Chest

 Standing hand to big toe pose

This is another very challenging pose that requires a lot of flexibility. Start in standing. Shift your weight to the left and draw the right knee towards chest. Then, draw that knee up a little higher than you think you need to using your right hand hand. Take the index and middle finger of your right hand around your right big toe. Begin to draw the leg forward and then out towards the side. The leg does not need to be straight, and as with any standing posture, feel free to lean up against a wall. Make sure that your left hip is not popping out and try and draw it in towards center. Repeat on the other side.

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Hand to Big Toe Pose

Eagle Pose to Standing Stick

This is a bit of a strange posture. Start in standing by taking your right arm over your left arm and see if you can bring your palms together (if not, that’s ok. Just get it as close as you can). Make sure your feet are together and then bend the knees and drop your seating bones back (like there is a chair behind you). Take your left leg over your right (just like your arms are but the legs and arms are opposite). You can try to wrap your right ankle around your left leg, if not, just let the foot stick out. This is Eagle Pose. Hold for a breath or two.

Eagle
Eagle Pose

Then, unravel the right leg away from the left leg (keep the arms the way they are) and start to kick that leg straight back. Now you are in standing stick again, with the arms in a different variation. Take a breath and then slowly come back into eagle pose. Repeat 4x and do both sides.

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Standing Sticks with Eagle Arms

 Half Moon Pose

Most people benefit from a block or pile of books for this pose (or chair as well). Take the block and place it out in front of your feet. Come to standing and hinge forward at the hips for a forward fold. Place your right hand on the block and make sure your wrist is stacked under the shoulder. Shift your weight to your right foot, take your left hand to your left hip and begin to lift the left leg up. Keep the foot flexed and take your left hip above your right hip so your left toes are facing towards the left. Maybe lift that left hand.

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Half Moon Pose

Thanks everyone for checking this out and thanks to Mar on the Run, Eat Pray Run, and You Signed Up for What?! for hosting the linkup.

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What is your favorite balancing posture? Do you work on single leg stabilization?

Short Core Sequence for Runners (and everyone else too)!

Core work is usually everyone’s least favorite exercise to do. In yoga classes, I rarely get suggestions for it, and when I do sequences with a lot of core exercises, usually everyone complains or makes some pretty mean-looking faces. Even though people don’t like it… it’s still important to do. In fact, I think the less you like it, the more important it is that you do it! So… I’ve put together a short core sequence using yoga postures. I picked sequences that should not bother your back, but still give you more strength and body awareness. Let me know what you think in the comments. Enjoy!

Do you hate doing core work? What are your least favorite exercises to do? 

The Friday Five: Five Yoga Poses for Runners

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, I want to do a shout out to my mom. Today is her birthday! She’s pretty awesome, and is a yoga teacher, too! I’ll be heading home in two weeks to celebrate with her.

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We do slightly resemble each other. 🙂

Thanks to Mar on the Run, Eat Pray Run DC, and You Signed Up for What?! for hosting the Friday Five Linkup. This week I’ll be talking about five yoga postures that are great for runners.

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Reclined Pigeon Pose

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Start on your back with the knees up and the cross the right ankle on to the left knee. Go ahead and lift that left foot off the ground and hug around the left thigh. Keep both feet flexed to protect your knees and ankles. This is a great stretch for the outer hip, glutes, hip flexor… pretty much everything in the hip region. If it hurts your knee, back out a little. Switch sides when you’re done.

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If you want to go deeper, come down on to your hands and knees or downward facing dog. Draw the right shin forward and place it on to the ground. Eventually (with lots and lots of yoga), your right shin will be parallel with the front of your yoga mat. Draw your left leg back a little until the entire left leg is on the ground. Make sure the ankle comes out straight from your leg. Now, bring your attention to your hips. Draw your right hip back and left hip forward and make sure that you are not flopped off to one side. Come down to your forearms or lengthen the arms long. Be sure to do both sides.

Low Lunge

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Come on to your hands and knees. Step your right foot forward between your hands and bring your left knee back maybe two inches. Make sure that your front ankle is not behind your front knee, so that your knee is stacked over the ankle joint. Now, you can lean a little dropping your pelvis towards the front heel (it wont go far, I promise), or lift up and out from your hip bones so that your hips are drawing away from the front leg (this is the more proper way to do the poster). Hang here for a few breaths with your hands on the ground or on blocks. Low lunge will really open the front part of your hips, quads, and the outer hips. It should feel really good, so if it doesn’t, back out a little.

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If you want to go deeper, tuck the back toes under and lift the back knee up. Feel as if the power from your back leg is coming from your hamstring muscle lifting towards the ceiling.

Hamstring Stretch

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This posture is a simple stretch and is super great to do right after a run. Come back into low lunge (posture before this one). Come back half way until the front leg is straight and your hips are stacked above your back knee. Flex the front foot. Place your hands onto books, blocks, or the floor and begin to draw your chest forward. Try to keep your back long, so I want you to feel like you are drawing your chest towards the toes… not your head. Breath!

 

Bridge Pose

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Alright, now that your hips are warmed up, come on to the back with the knees up and your hands by your sides with the palms down. Make sure that the feet are hip width apart. Just start by pressing your feet down into the mat as if you were standing up. The power from this posture comes from your feet! Press your hands down into the mat and draw your lower back to the floor and your belly button towards your spine. Now lift the hips up. If you want to go a little deeper, from here try to draw the shoulder blades towards each other and roll the arms under your shoulders. Press into your feet a little more and lift those hips up! Notice how much strength you have in your outer hips and glutes!

Half the Lord’s Fishes Pose (weird name, huh?)

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Come to your seating bones and extend the legs out in front of you. Take your right leg over the left leg so that your knee is bent and the palm of your foot is down. Keep your left foot flexed and take your right hand behind you right up against the spine. You want your spine to be very long. If you want to go deeper, once you have the right leg over the left, bend your left knee and draw it in so your left foot is towards your right glute. Take your right hand behind you up against the spine and either hug your right knee, or bring your left elbow to the outside of the right leg. Don’t forget to breath and do both sides.

Hope you enjoyed this short little (written) yoga practice. Gaining range of motion while working on your training will only help keep you from getting injured AND it’ll make you feel good. Namaste!

What is your favorite yoga pose or stretch for runners? Feel free to give a shout out to my mom for her birthday!

 

Practice Running Fast Through Yoga

I have taught a lot runners and triathletes yoga. So, when I ask those students why they do yoga, I get a list of reasons including stretching, strengthening, relaxation, etc. Rarely, do I hear people say that they practice yoga to run faster or push harder. It seems counter intuitive. I know that in order to run faster, you need to train for it… you have to be strong and you have to be running at that speed in training. However, I think yoga has another benefit that makes us faster.

It teaches us about suffering.

Hard postures can teach us about suffering through hard races.
Hard postures can teach us a thing or two about suffering through hard races.

I don’t mean the suffering that you get from an injury. This suffering is the slight discomfort you get from holding a pose for a little longer than is comfortable. If you want to feel it, go into plank for about 30 seconds, and I promise you will suffer… just a little. Poses like extended side angle, boat, half moon, and many others, can teach us a lot about our minds and how we react to suffering. There are days when you will find that quiet place within yourself, but there are other days when you just can’t shut the mind off. When you start a yoga practice, more often than not, you can’t turn your mind off.

So… what does this have to do with running fast?

When I was running in the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon last weekend, I allowed myself to push a little harder than normal, to a place where I was just beginning to feel that same suffering that I get in more difficult yoga postures. Holding that level of suffering for 13.1 miles is not easy. It takes practice. But most of my running, lately, has been very slow. I didn’t push to that level of suffering in my running… I did it in my yoga practice. And trust me… no yogi ever enjoys holding hard postures. More than any other part of yoga, holding postures takes a lot of practice.

So, we don’t always have to push our minds only in our running. We can do it by practicing simple, but challenging, yoga postures. Sometimes we can practice by remaining seated and quiet. Create PR’s for how long you can hold a chair pose and you’ll see how quickly your mind is able to adapt to running just a little harder. I am certainly not the first person to think of this. Scott Jurek uses matras from his yoga classes when running long distance. It creates a quiet place in his mind when the going gets tough. He just repeats the mantra over and over and reminds himself why he is doing what he is doing. He uses his mind as his super power.

Many of us have the physical capabilities to run faster, but what stops us is that little voice in our heads that says that we have had enough! It takes a lot of practice to push past that voice and continue moving, even though moving isn’t exactly comfortable… even when moving makes us suffer. The simple act of sitting still and quiet can teach us that discipline. We all have this untapped mental power that only requires a little bit of practice.

Pose of the Month: Bird of Paradise

Yoga can teach us a lot about patience and how we perceive progress. We can go to class to after class and feel that we don’t improve fast enough or find ways to get deep enough into new postures. This is usually because we don’t see the small amounts of progress that is made each week. So, I am starting a Pose of the Month Challenge. This way we can track our progress and see it happen over a rather short period of time! Here’s the deal:

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Each month, I am going to pick out a posture to do, and I will take a photo of myself at the beginning of the month. Then, I will challenge myself to do the pose each day for one month. At the end of the month, I will take another photo to see how far I’ve come. I challenge you to do the same! You can use the same posture I am, or you can pick one of your own. The important thing is that you set an intension and stick to it each day.

This month’s pose is… (drumroll please)

Bird of Paradise

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Bird of Paradise is a posture that I have always struggled with. It requires an immense amount of control, balance, and flexibility in the hamstrings and hips, which are two places that I am not flexible. This posture features a very challenging bind as well. You can get into the posture from binding in extended side angle pose, then scooting the back foot forward, and finally standing on the non-bound leg. It’s very difficult, and is a posture that I have always wanted to improve on.

This photo was taken of me in the posture just two days ago:

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By doing this posture each day, eventually, it will become second nature. It’s a way to see results in yoga rather quickly. In fact, usually you end up seeing results in a little over a week. Make sure that you still warm up before going into the posture you have chosen. At the end of the month, go ahead and take another photo and see how far you’ve come. You’ll be amazed how much easier it gets to transition into the posture after just a little bit of practice.

Join me on this fun challenge!

What poses do you struggle with? Have you ever just made an intension to figure out a single posture?

Runners CAN do yoga!

I love running with people. I find it to be really beneficial and fun to delve into a more social side of running. I’m sure that it wouldn’t surprise you that on social runs, I often end up talking to people about yoga, but the conversation often goes something like this…

Runner: What do you do when you don’t run?

Me: I teach yoga.

Runner: I didn’t think runners could do yoga.

This conversation almost always sends me into a fit of rage. Of course runners can do yoga!! In fact, runners NEED yoga. Not only does it help stretch out overused and tight muscles, but the mental benefits are exactly what you need to get through the last few miles of a long run. Somehow, yoga got the rap that it is only for people who walk in ready to chill in full splits. It also got the rap of being something “extra”… not a workout, but this thing you sometimes do… like once a month… you know, if you have the time.

I promise you, consistent yoga will help your running.

This is not only because it will help keep you limber and less injury prone, but learning to quiet your mind is the only way you can beat the negative thoughts that ALL of us struggle with. Yoga teaches us about our bodies, our breath, and tendencies we might have in our thoughts. It also teaches us how to set an intension (and stick with it), it teaches us how to not fly off the handle when someone does something you don’t like, and it makes us strong. If you can do a handstand, you’ve got some serious core strength.

Check out her handstand! She is so strong!
Check out her handstand! She is so strong!

Sometimes I hear how runners probably can’t touch their toes, and that is why they can’t do yoga.

I have been running a lot longer than I have been doing yoga. I was a sprinter by the time I was 6 and I played soccer starting at 11. When I began my yoga practice (as a disgruntled adolescent that was going because their mom said they should), I could barely touch my knees. My hamstrings were like rocks. Over the years, my practice started to get more consistent and eventually, my palms were on the ground.

Standing head to knee pose took many years to build flexibility through consistency and perseverance in my yoga practice.
Standing head to knee pose took many years to build flexibility through consistency and perseverance in my yoga practice.

Am I now a better yogi because my hamstrings are loose? 

NO! Absolutely not. Nothing happened when I touched my toes, well, besides me touching my toes. No rainbows or unicorns appeared. I just touched them. No one high-fived me or threw a party. Maybe I look a little “prettier” (to Yoga Journal Magazine‘s standards) in some postures. I am, however, not “better at yoga” for it. I still lay in relaxation trying to quiet my mind, just like everyone else.

If I have not convinced you yet, here are some runner’s that practice yoga:

Scott Jurek
Shalane Flanagan
Kara Goucher
Lauren Fleshmen
Meb Kefkezighi

They practice for various reasons. Some are looking for the mental benefits, others are looking for strength and flexibility. Regardless, yoga can give you all of these things.

Elites are not the only ones! Here is a pretty awesome (AND FAST) blogger who has a beautiful yoga practice.

So, don’t let the negative talk win. All runners can do yoga. All runners should do yoga.

A Yogi’s Take on Plantar Faciitis Prevention

Plantar Faciitis is no joke! Do lots of stretching and yoga to prevent it.
Plantar Faciitis is no joke! Do lots of stretching and yoga to prevent it.

If you, or anyone you know, has dealt with plantar faciitis, you know it is not to be taken lightly. The facia is a thin band of fibrous tissue between muscles. Plantar faciitis is an inflammation of the plantar facia of the foot. As runners, we spend a lot of time on our feet and are particularly susceptible to plantar faciitis. Most people with plantar faciitis have pain in the heel of foot and describe it as a stabbing feeling that is especially bad in the mornings and after prolonged standing (or running). Like many overuse injuries, plantar faciitis can sideline your running career for a long time. There is no quick fix for this, and it can take from months to years to rehabilitate. So, what are we going to do to prevent it? …YOGA! Plantar faciitis often comes on from tightness of the calf and achilles tendon, which are two areas that are notoriously tight on runners. These are also areas that are easily taken care of by a few yoga postures. I’m going to touch on a few postures you can do at home that are great prevention and relief for plantar faciitis.

Downward Facing Dog Pose

Start by coming to your hands and knees. Place your hands one hand length forward, spread out your fingers and lift the knees up. Press your chest toward your thighs and lift your seating bones up. The knees can be bent, especially if you are not warmed up. Try to drop your heels towards the ground (don’t worry if they don’t make it). Start by peddling the feet and trying to straighten one leg at a time, while bending the opposite a little deeper. After a few breaths, you may find that you can straighten the legs fully. If you get tired, go to hands and knees to rest, and once ready come back to downward dog pose.

Downward Facing Dog: Make sure that the seating bones are lifted and the hands are shoulder width apart. You knees can be bent. Try to draw down through the heels.
Downward Facing Dog: Make sure that the seating bones are lifted and the hands are shoulder width apart. You knees can be bent. Try to draw down through the heels.

Once you are comfortable with the posture, try coming to your toes by lifting the heals off the ground as high as you can and then drop the heels back down to the mat. Try this a few times with the breath and notice if your heels are able to make it a little closer to the ground.

Runner’s Lunge & Crescent Lunge

You may need blocks or two stacks of books on each side of you for this posture. Come to runner’s lunge by starting on your hands and knees. Step your right foot forward in between the hands (make sure that it is all the way forward and that the knee is stacked above your ankle). Then, bring your left knee back a few inches and tuck your left toes under. If you need blocks, place each hand on a block. Lift up your chest and try to get your back straight. Take a moment here to feel the posture. Then, try to bring your right hip back and your left hip forward and straighten your back leg. Press into your left foot a little and notice the sensation in your foot and in the back of your leg.

Runner's Lunge: Keep your knee above our behind the ankle. Make sure that it never comes forward of the ankle. Try to press into your heel and draw the back hamstring up. Lengthen the spine.
Runner’s Lunge: Keep your knee above our behind the ankle. Make sure that it never comes forward of the ankle. Try to press into your heel and draw the back hamstring up. Lengthen the spine.

Take a few breaths in runner’s lunge and then begin to feel your inner thighs engage. Draw your belly button up towards your spine and then lift the hands up, lift your torso up and reach your arms into the air for a full crescent lunge. Continue to push weight into your back leg and straighten the back leg by lifting the hamstring as high as you can.

Crescent Lunge: This is the same as runner's lunge, except your are lifted upright. Engage your inner thighs and core. Lift the arms up into the air. Press into the back foot and straighten your back leg.
Crescent Lunge: This is the same as runner’s lunge, except your are lifted upright. Engage your inner thighs and core. Lift the arms up into the air. Press into the back foot and straighten your back leg.

Warrior III Pose

Warrior III is a difficult posture, but it allows you to get deep into the back of the leg while building strong hips, back, and core. Start by coming to standing with the feet together. Step forward about a foot and a half with your right leg. Engage your core and left leg and flex your left foot. While drawing forward with your chest, hinge forward at the hips, eventually making a “T” with your body. Keep the arms by your sides at a low “V” or reach them forward for more core work. Try to remain here for 5 breaths, but if you wobble and fall, just come right back in.

Warrior III: Step one foot forward and lift the back leg up by hinging forward at your hips. Keep your spine straight, push out through your back heel and reach your arms forward. Try to make yourself feel as long as you can from fingertip to heel.
Warrior III: Step one foot forward and lift the back leg up by hinging forward at your hips. Keep your spine straight, push out through your back heel and reach your arms forward. Try to make yourself feel as long as you can from fingertip to heel.

Bonus round: Try coming into this from crescent lunge!

Seated Head to Knee Pose

If you have tight hamstrings or calves, grab a strap or towel. Come to a seated position and extend both legs out in front of you. Take a moment to remove the flesh from the seating bones (I know, beautiful cue, but it’s necessary). Draw your left leg in so your foot makes contact with your right leg and the left knee flops out to the side. If the left knee is uncomfortable, take a pillow or blanket and place it under the knee. Flex your right foot, reach your arms into the air and inhale. On your exhale, hinge forward at the hips reaching your arms to your toes. If your hands can’t make it to the toes, grab your strap or towel, wrap it around the ball of your right foot (keep it flexed) and hinge forward at the hips. Avoid any rounding of the back by trying to bring your chest up. Breath here, keep your right foot flexed and when you are ready, switch sides.

Seated Head to Knee Pose: The key to making this posture good for plantar faciitis prevention is to really flex your extended foot. Keep your back long and try to draw the chest forward.
Seated Head to Knee Pose: The key to making this posture good for plantar faciitis prevention is to really flex your extended foot. Keep your back long and try to draw the chest forward.

When treating and dealing with plantar faciitis, be careful of the foot tissue and don’t do any yanking or extreme stretches of the foot so you don’t tear the fragile tissue. There are more extreme stretches that target the feet, but these five postures are a good starting place. Have fun and keep running! Namaste! 🙂

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. 🙂

Bring some balance to your day

A little over a year ago, I tore the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) in my ankle. This is the most commonly torn ligament in the body and is the main place people have injuries from an ankle sprain. One of the major problems associated with this kind of injury is balance instability. I went to physical therapy and it was to my therapist’s surprise that even with my full tear to the ATFL, I was still able to balance on the injured foot with relative ease. She attributed this to my history of a vigorous yoga practice, and I think she was right. Yoga is great for building muscles around joints, so that when you do get injured, you have a backup system to rely on. Although my ankle still had a great deal of pain, I could balance without trouble, which helped me heal from my injury even quicker.

The ankle has many ligaments and tendons that can be stretched or torn when you roll the foot a little too far. Practice with balance can help strengthen your stabilizing muscles and potentially prevent injuries to this area of the body.
The ankle has many ligaments and tendons that can be stretched or torn when you roll the foot a little too far. Practice with balance can help strengthen your stabilizing muscles and potentially prevent injuries to this area of the body.

This week I’m going to touch on three cool (and helpful!) balance postures. There are 26 bones in the foot and ankle alone, making this a very complex area of the body, especially for injury prevention. Because of this, we always need to keep ankles (and knees) healthy, and one way to do that is by building the stabilizing muscles in your legs. Balance doesn’t have to be restricted to that, though. We can also stretch and open our bodies while we build the muscles necessary to keep us healthy while we run.

Tree Pose

Tree pose is often considered one of the classic yoga asanas. In almost any class you attend, you will be doing this posture, or some variation on it. But tree pose is not solely a balance posture. It is also a hip opener. To harness it’s hip opening powers, remember to draw the knee of the lifted leg back and down. You should feel a stretch in the inner thigh and outer hip.

Come into this posture by shifting your weight to one side and lifting the opposite leg. You can test the waters a little by keeping the toes on the ground and the heal of your lifted foot on your ankle. If you would like to go deeper, place the lifted foot on your calf or draw it all the way up above the knee. The only rule to tree pose is to make sure your lifted foot is not on the knee. We don’t need any extra pressure there.

Tree Pose: Place the lifted foot on the standing leg. Make sure that the foot stays above or below the knee.
Tree Pose: Place the lifted foot on the standing leg. Make sure that the foot stays above or below the knee.

Standing Pigeon Pose

Standing pigeon pose is a staple among runners. Before almost any race I go to, I see at least one person in this posture. Standing pigeon has a lot of fun variations including a forward fold, a few twists and an arm balance. Today I’ll be going over two of these variations. I’ll hit on this posture a little more in depth another time.

Start by shifting your weight on to one foot and lift the opposite leg while keeping the lifted leg’s knee bent. Begin to bend your standing leg and take the ankle of the lifted leg on to the knee of the standing leg. You’ll notice that as you bend your standing leg deeper, the hip opening of the stretch becomes deeper.

Standing pigeon: Take the ankle of the lifted leg on to the knee of the standing leg. Bend the standing leg. The deeper you bend the standing leg, the deeper you will be in the pose.
Standing pigeon: Take the ankle of the lifted leg on to the knee of the standing leg. Bend the standing leg. The deeper you bend the standing leg, the deeper you will be in the pose.

From here, begin to fold forward over your legs. If you know your hips are tight, have a block or some stacked books in front of your standing leg. As you fold forward, the stretch will become more intense. Place your fingers on the ground or on your block for stability.

Standing Pigeon variation: Bend over until your fingers touch the ground or a block. This will get nice and deep into your IT band and outer hip.
Standing Pigeon variation: Bend over until your fingers touch the ground or a block. This will get nice and deep into your IT band and outer hip.

Eagle Pose

Eagle is one of my favorite balance postures. It is great for stretching the outer hip, shoulders and upper back. I am often surprised how often this posture gets overlooked, since it manages to hit almost every part of the body. I almost always do eagle in my yoga classes. This is a very complex posture, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time.

To start, bring your arms out to a “T” and then wrap the right arm over the left so that your hands touch opposite shoulders. If your shoulders are tight, stop here. To go deeper, lift your hands off your shoulders and see if you can wrap your arms around each again other so that your palms eventually are together. Make sure both of your feet are together and then bend your knees coming into chair pose (a squat with the feet together). Then, lift up your left leg, so you are balancing on your right and place your left leg over your right (the toes of the left leg can come down for stability if needed). See if you wrap your left foot around the back of your right leg so that your arms and legs mirror each other. Continue to draw the shoulders down your back and the elbows against your chest.

Eagle Pose: wrap the right arm over the left and see if you can bring the palms together. Then, bend the knees and wrap the left leg over the right.
Eagle Pose: Wrap the right arm over the left and see if you can bring the palms together. Then, bend the knees and wrap the left leg over the right.

Be sure to even these postures out on both sides. If you know that instability is a problem, use a wall or a chair to help you with balance. Balance can be fun, but it is also humbling. Everyone falls, and that is OK! The strength and flexibility you will build with these postures will not only help you with your running, but also with your daily life. Enjoy some balance!

Namaste! 🙂