Yoga strengthens, conditions, and stretches both the body and the mind. Though it’s a stand-alone practice, there’s no denying that adding some yoga into your routine can help with your performance as an athlete.
That’s because the beauty of yoga lies in its ability to calm both our overworked minds and bodies.
While running strengthens your heart, reduces the risk of cancer, builds muscle, and adds joy to your life, it can also add stress to your joints over time. Without proper stretching before and afterward, it can leave you stiff and sore.
This is why yoga is the perfect cross-training for your running schedule.
Here are 5 simple yoga moves that anyone can do to help add some flexibility to your day to day life.
1. Standing forward fold
This is going to stretch the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back of your legs. If you have particularly tight hamstrings make sure that you are breathing deeply, from your diaphragm, and give your knees a slight bend to keep from overstretching if you need to.
Begin by standing with your legs hip-width apart. With a straight back fold from your hips, not your waist. Once you reach a point of resistance stop and take a deep breath. Continue breathing deeply and allowing the back of your legs to stretch and relax deeper into the pose.
If you’d like to add a shoulder stretch, start from the standing position once again. Lace your hands behind your back, roll your shoulders back and down, and once again bend from your hips until you reach a point of resistance. Let your clasped hands move forward toward your head to their point of resistance.
2. Downward dog
This pose is going to stretch your back, arms, and legs! It’s a total body stretch that, when done with correct form, is actually very relaxing.
Begin by placing your hands on the ground. Next, step back and place your feet hip-width apart only about 4 or 5 feet from your hands. The space between your hands and feet should be shorter than you are. Spread your fingers and toes out on the ground as a steady base.
It’s totally fine if your feet don’t fully touch the ground, that comes with the practice.
Do try to put equal weight on your hands and feet, though. Make sure you’re not leaning forward or backward, but that your weight sits right in the middle.
Rotate your shoulders outwards and push up from the ground to elongate your spine, arms, and legs. Imagine your hips going up towards the ceiling and your legs reaching towards the back wall, all while your arms get longer and your back stretches out, maintaining its natural curves. Don’t be afraid to move around a bit in downward dog.
Feel free to bend and straighten your legs, rise up onto your tippy toes and back down, slightly swing your hips from left to right, lift a leg and circle the ankle, do what feels good. This is a resting pose so focus on your breath and relax into it.
3. Lizard pose
Lizard pose is the ultimate stretch for tight hips. This is going to be a deep stretch for your iliopsoas, the compound muscle in front of your hip joint. Running a few times a week can cause this integral part of our body to shorten or tighten up, so getting a good deep stretch here after each run will improve your stride as well as overall health.
This is a forward lunge with your knee on the ground. Please make sure that your bent knee is directly over your ankle, neither over your toes nor behind them. Your bent leg should be at a 90-degree angle, but if that’s not available to you just go as far as you can until you feel a healthy amount of resistance. Make sure your back knee is not directly on the ground, the top of the patella should be resting on the mat or floor. However, if this hurts your knee it is encouraged to place a blanket, towel, or pillow under this point of contact to support the stretch.
If you feel very comfortable in this position and would like to go deeper into the stretch, you may add a bent knee quad stretch. To do so you must first twist from the upper body, below your belly button, until you see your back leg. Bend the back leg, remember that the patella is not directly on the mat, and grab it with the same hand. The right hand will grab the right leg, the left hand will grab the left. This adds a spinal twist, which stretches your abdominals and back muscles, as well as a quadriceps stretch, an often overused and therefore tight muscle group.
4. Reclining pigeon
This is going to be a deep stretch of the gluteal muscles, which become tight from both running and sitting. Remembering to stretch this part of the body can prevent injuries in your lower back and legs.
To begin, lay on your back with your right leg straight on the ground and your left leg bent with your foot on the ground. Lift the right leg and cross it over your bent left leg, forming a figure 4. Grasp both hands behind your left leg pulling it towards you until you feel your point of healthy resistance. You should feel this specifically in your piriformis muscle, located underneath your gluteus maximus. Don’t forget to breathe deeply and slowly here as this can be a place where a lot of tension is held. Remind your body that it is safe to be in this position.
If you would like an added intensity, straighten your left leg and grasp your hands behind your calve. Do not hold your leg behind your knee as this could put unwanted pressure and tension on this sensitive area. Switch your legs when you feel satisfied with the stretch.
5. Legs up the wall
End your stretching session, maybe even your whole day, with this meditative position. It has tons of benefits to the body, thanks to the natural venous drainage. This increases circulation and soothes swollen feet and ankles, as well as back tension relief.
First you will need to find some free wall space in your house or gym. Start by sitting on the ground next to the wall with your shoulder and hip touching it. Next, lay down onto the ground trying to remain in contact with the wall. Slide your bottom closer to the wall if possible, it should be resting against it with your legs straight up towards the ceiling.
This is a position best held for 5 to 15 minutes at a time, so make sure you’re comfortable. Use a pillow for your neck and head or maybe a blanket to keep yourself warm while you lie in this supine relaxation position. Close your eyes and allow your body to relax.
Stretching prevents injuries and helps our bodies fight off early aging. Try to incorporate this short routine into your daily or weekly life to see increased health and performance. This is the only body you get, so treat it well!
Brett is the founder of Uplifted Yoga, an online yoga and meditation community empowering students to personalize their practice and ignite their best life – on and off the mat. She’s instructed at top studios, companies like Google and Pinterest, and leads the world’s most interactive Online Yoga Teacher Training program. She teaches to a social media following of over 350K people. Her content on Youtube is streamed for 3 million minutes each month. Learn more at BrettLarkin.com