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! 🙂

Race Week Training Update!

We are now 68 days away from the A1A Half Marathon and I couldn’t feel better about that! Last week was great! I ran my long run (7 miles) with the Fleet Feet Trail Runners, which was awesome and the rest of my runs went pretty well, too. I did my long run on trail in a local county park to prepare me a little for my trail race next Saturday. This next week brings more snow and a busy schedule as the semester ends, so I’ll be squeezing my runs between tons of work.

The trail running group from this morning. We all had an awesome time!
The trail running group from this morning. We all had an awesome time! Photo was taken by one of the other runners named Erin.

In the past, I have had a considerable amount of trouble with my race day routine. My stomach will start to bother me, I don’t sleep well the night before or I feel compelled to drink way too much water (as if aid stations don’t exist). My goals for this race are to nail down a good morning race routine and to (hopefully) break one hour. My plan is to eat a piece of bread, an Luna energy bar, some coffee and some cliff gummies for breakfast. I’ll have to remind myself not to fill up too much on liquids.

Training this week:

Monday: 4 miles (nice and slow)

Tuesday: Yoga

Wednesday: Yoga + 5 miles (3 miles at half marathon pace)

Thursday: Yoga + 4 miles

Friday: Lots and lots of rest!!

Saturday: 6.2 Race!

Sunday: 2-3 mile slow recovery run

Total: 21 miles

So there you have it, another week in the books. Hopefully my training next week goes as well as this past week. Wish me luck on my race saturday, and as always, feel free to give any advice for race day nutrition. I’ll post an update after the race to let you know how I did!

Break it down: Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose: A great posture to undo some of the harm from being seated often and to build hip and core strength
Bridge Pose: A great posture to undo some of the harm from being seated often and to build hip and core strength

Bridge is a great posture to work your hip strength and to release tension in your back muscles. Since most of us spend a significant amount of time on the computer or in seated positions, our backs are usually rounded, causing tightness in our shoulders, back and chest. Here, I will give you some tips for working into bridge along with some fun variations to strengthen your hips, core and to restore your spine.

Sitting like this is terrible, no matter how much you run! Use bridge pose to help undo some of the harm caused from sitting!
Sitting like this is terrible, no matter how much you run! Use bridge pose to help undo some of the harm caused by sitting!

If you have a ponytail, remove it so the back of your head can be flat on the floor. Start laying on your spine with you knees up and your arms down by your sides with your palms down. Your fingers should be able to just barely touch your heels. Keep your feet hip width apart and your knees stacked above the ankles. Consciously make sure your knees do not splay out to the sides. Press into your feet elevating your pelvis off the ground. Now, let go through your glute muscles and allow your knees to remain above the ankles. This is low bridge.

Low Bridge: my feet are hip width apart and I am pressing down into my feet. Lift the pelvis up from the ground and use your core and hip strength to keep you lifted.
Low Bridge: my feet are hip width apart and I am pressing down into my feet. Lift the pelvis up from the ground and use your core and hip strength to keep you lifted.

If you would like to go a little deeper, wiggle your shoulders under you and clasp your hands. This will cause you to lift more through the chest and to intensify the backbend. Again, make sure that you are not tensing in your glute muscles in order to keep your knees in line.

Full Bridge: bring your shoulders underneath you a little and interlace the fingers. The higher you go up, the deeper the backbend you will be in.
Full Bridge: bring your shoulders underneath you a little and interlace the fingers. The higher you go up, the deeper the backbend you will be in.

For a little more core challenge, you can shift your weight over to one leg and lift the opposite. Draw the lifted leg close into your chest with the knee bent and then lift the leg and straighten it into the air. Hold for a few breaths (should get hard pretty quick) and then switch sides.

One Legged Bridge: for some fun, lift one leg into the air by bringing the leg into chest and then straightening it out.
One Legged Bridge: for some fun, lift one leg into the air by bringing the leg into chest and then straightening it out.

For a more restorative version of the posture, grab a block or a stack of books (higher the stack, the greater the backbend will be, so be careful). Place the block close so you can grab it while in the posture. Set yourself up the same way you did before with the knees in the air, feet hip width and your hands by your sides. Lift the pelvis up and grab the block. Slowly, slide it under your sacrum (this should be comfortable, if it is not, move the block around. It should NOT be on your spine). You’ll notice immediately that you can let go of your muscles a bit more and just enjoy the backbend. Have fun with this! Maybe lift one leg at a time, or be super adventurous and lift both!

Supported Bridge: Use your block under your sacrum for a more restorative version of the posture. Remember, the higher you place the block, the deeper you will get into your backbend.
Supported Bridge: Use your block under your sacrum for a more restorative version of the posture. Remember, the higher you place the block, the deeper you will get into your backbend.

When you are done, come back down to the ground and straighten out your legs so you are laying flat for a few breaths. Once you feel ready, draw your knees into chest and hug them in. You can sway side to side to massage the spine. This is a great posture to do before or after your run. Try it out! 🙂 Namaste!!!

Happy Late Thanksgiving!!!

How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was AWESOME! For the first time in my life, I did a rather untraditional Thanksgiving Day. Instead of eating tons of Turkey (I’m vegetarian, so tofurkey in my case), I spent my day hiking through the backcountry of Great Smokey Mountains National Park with my husband and favorite hiking partner. In total for the holiday weekend, we hiked over 50 miles through rolling hills and difficult terrain. I’m pretty sure my legs were ready to fall off, but you know, that comes with the territory. Our animal count was a live turkey (on Thanksgiving Day), a bobcat, a wolf (we also heard them too while we were hiking back to our car) and an armadillo. Pretty good for late fall.

My view on Thanksgiving Day. Jealous much? :)
My view on Thanksgiving Day. Jealous much? 🙂

So now that I’m back to town, it is back to my training. I am 76 days from the A1A Half Marathon! It sounds like a lot, but that time is going to fly by. I also have a 10k trail run in 2 weeks and I am looking for a 5k in Florida to run when I am home for Christmas.

Training for the week:

Monday: 5 miles slow and easy – yoga afterwards

Tuesday: Yoga

Wednesday: 4 miles with running group + yoga

Thursday: 4 miles + yoga

Friday: REST!

Saturday: 7 mile long run pace (try strawberry cliff energy gel + race day breakfast)

Sunday: yoga

Total: 20 miles

These next few weeks I am going to be trying out my race nutrition strategies. I have a rather sensitive stomach, so I am a little worried about what will happen during my half marathon. I usually have to be careful about what I eat before I run and I am new to energy gels. Honestly, I haven’t really decided if I want to use them for my race. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear what works for you.

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 🙂

Training Update

Training has been going well this week. I made sure to take a good rest on Monday after the Yoga Journal Conference. With all of that deep stretching and hard work, my muscles were feeling very overworked, which for me, is a precursor to injury. I followed up my rest day with two pretty easy runs to get myself back to my normal intensity. I still have some speed work to do friday (10 min warm up and cool down along with 30 min of intervals). I’ll finish up my week with my long run or 7 miles. Hopefully it’ll be warmer than 12 F (that’s what it was for my Tuesday run).

Monday: REST!!

Tuesday: 4 miles at 9:47 pace

Wednesday: 4 miles with running group at 9:21

Thursday: Yoga

Friday: 10 min warm up – 30 min speed work – 10 min cool down

Saturday: Hiking & Yoga

Sunday: 7 miles at long run pace & yoga

Total: 20 miles!

Freezing temperatures don't stop me!
Freezing temperatures don’t stop me!

I have been very slowly bringing up my milage to the milage I held prior to my IT band troubles. The first 20 mile week is a real milestone. I really attribute my good health to lots of stretching and strengthening though yoga. Hopefully next week goes just as well. I am going to be in the Smokey Mountains National Park on a backpacking trip with my husband where we’ll be covering tons of miles! It’ll be a chill week for running though, but I’ll get some in. 😉

My Comeback and Intention

As a runner, I often forget how useful my knowledge of yoga and anatomy can be to prevent injury. This became a big problem when I found myself sidelined for two weeks from IT band syndrome. I had been training hard for a trail race in Southern Indiana, but after the race I became enamored with running two half marathons a few weeks later. Instead of backing off and recovering from a very hilly trail race, I instead upped my training immediately, and injured myself in the process. Needless to say, the half marathons were off the table. I was barely able to bend my knee (so I was walking pretty funny). I gotta say though, everything I’ve ever learned in any yoga class should have helped me prevent this. You hear in classes about listening to your body (I didn’t) and not letting the ego get the best of you (oh, that so happened).  I learned a valuable lesson. Yoga is found both on the mat, off the mat, and in your training plan. Now I don’t mean yoga, like let’s touch our toes (although that helps too). I mean yoga, like set an intention to listen, be mindful and don’t let your ego dictate what your body does. Luckily, my lesson only required a two week hiatus from running. It could have been so much worse. So, during my current training cycle, my intention is non-harming. I listen to my body and make sure that I am doing what is best for it, regardless of what my ego may want.

Namaste 🙂

An intention of non-harming will get you to your goals, even if they are to climb mountains!
An intention of non-harming will get you to your goals, even if the goal is to climb mountains!