Over the last 12 days, I’ve broken down my Daily Dozen Yoga Poses for Post-Athletic Recovery. If you’ve been following along with the daily poses, it’s now time to string them together. The whole sequence should take you between 20-25 minutes, holding each pose for 10 deep breaths. If you can work these stretches into your routine three to five days a week, you’ll be well on your way to a more flexible, strong and injury-free body.
Pair this preventative and repairing sequence with my tips for pre- and post-workout fueling to keep injuries and fatigue at bay. With proper post-athletic stretching and nutrition you’re bound to stay at the top of your game, ready to tackle the next test of your endurance and strength.
Lay flat on your back, legs long with head resting heavy on the mat.
Draw your knees in toward your chest, bent, and cross your right leg over left. Reach for your ankles or feet with each hand (right hand grabs left foot, left hand grabs right foot). Gently pull the feet toward your hips as you lower the legs – still stacked in this pretzel-like set up – to the mat.
Holding the left foot with your right hand just outside the right hip, rotate your pelvis toward the left side, coming to rest on the left hip. Your left hand is still gripping the right foot as you twist. Keep your shoulders glued to the mat and turn your head to the right.
Stay here, or deepen the pose by extending the right leg. Kicking your right foot into the left hand and working to straighten out that right knee will bring an intense IT band stretch into this contralateral twist.
Hold for 10 deep breaths, then slowly come back to center and hug your knees into your chest. Plant your feet on the mat, hips width apart. Windshield wiper the knees from side to side.
Repeat steps 1 through 5, this time crossing left leg over right, twisting to the right as you look to the left.
How It Will Heal You:
Hip Pain – The best way to prevent and treat hip pain is to increase your ROM (range of motion) in all directions. If you play a sport like soccer, which involves a lot of explosive movement and running, you are particularly susceptible to hip pain. As you work into this hip-helping posture, chances are high that you’ll notice that one hip will be tighter than the other. To bring balance to the body, be sure to hold postures for 10 extra deep breaths on the side that’s talking to you. Use your breath to calm your nervous system and let the body open.
Hamstring Pulls – The vast majority of the time, hamstring pulls are a direct result of inflexible hamstrings. This big muscle group requires patience and daily attention to open up and can be really frustrating in their resistance to change. You are not going to go from barely touching your toes to Jordyn Wieber overnight. Commit to working on this posture every day and slowly but surely you’ll get the results you want and your body needs.
Knee Injuries – We all know someone that has torn their meniscus, had a knee replacement, or had some sort of debilitating knee injury. Our knees take a serious beating from all of the physical stuff we do day in and day out—not to mention the high heels some of us ladies rock to look lovely but brutalize our bodies from the tippy toes on up. The best way to prevent pain and avoid trouble is to keep the hips, IT band and hamstrings strong and flexible. Hips, IT band and hamstring mobility keeps the work in your bigger muscle groups (hamstrings and quadriceps) rather than the body’s default of looking to the place of least resistance–which is almost always the knee joint–for speed, power and agility. If you give the body freedom to move using your large muscle groups and stabilizers it will learn not to rely upon vulnerable and complex joints.
Lower Back Pain – How many of you have experienced lower back pain? I’d venture to say that anyone who sits in a chair all day has suffered through their fair share. This is also a big one for athletes. Why is that? Most often, lower back pain in athletes stems from tight hamstrings. For my fellow anatomy nerds out there, the hamstrings originate on the sitz bone–aka those little nobs deep in the flesh of your booty that us yogis balance on when doing boat core work (my favorite!). , If your hamstrings are tight they will pull down on the pelvis from the insertion point (the sitz bone) tilting it out of proper alignment and forcing your body to compensate using your lower back to remain upright. Another common reason for low back pain is underdeveloped abdominal muscles. I’m not talking just the six-pack abs (rectus abdominis) but also the deeper corset abs (transverse abdominis) that are critical for balance and stability. The simply solution to preventing and treating lower back pain is to stretch out your hammies and workout your core every day.
Foot and Ankle Issues – I can’t tell you have many times I wrenched my ankle playing soccer and field hockey as a kid, or more recently while hiking and running. Ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis are three very common foot and ankle injuries. These injuries are no fun because let’s face it, when our foundation is out of whack everything else is thrown off and dysfunctional. The answer to avoiding these frustrating beasts of burden is to strengthen the ankle, increase the flexibility of the ankle and toes and work on your balance. Not only does this require concerted effort to increase the openness in these areas but it also means more core work. Core is your key to stability, meaning you’ll be less likely to get thrown off balance and tweak something if your abdominal and back muscles are strong.
Most of us in the West practice yoga to get long and lean, in addition to all of the mental and emotional benefits. This style of yoga–the kind that focuses on our muscles–is Yang Yoga. Yang Yoga is an important part of yoga and helps us get strong and healthy. There is, however, an important counterpart to Yang which has been dropped from most of our practices: Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga works the deeper tissues including our ligaments, joints, and fascia. In order to keep a balanced practice of strength and length, it’s important that we “cross-train” with Yin and Yang Yoga.
Yin Yoga is all about fewer postures with longer holds (think 5-7 solid minutes in pigeon). In a one hour flow, you might only get through 6 asanas with an opening meditation and closing shavasana. These long static holds combined with Ujjayi breathing (oceanic breath) allow you to slowly work into the deeper tissues of the body that get so tight from our day to day activities. At first the poses can be really intense, and you should listen closely to any messages your body might be sending to ease off, but you’ll be amazed where a steady, Ujjayi breathing pattern can take you. As the Yoga Sutra says, all asanas should be sthira and sukham, or practiced with steadiness and ease. This is certainly the case with Yin yoga. My personal mantras while practicing Yin are “Slow and Steady” or “Easy Goes It.” They help me find that sweet spot many of us yoga teachers refer to as your ‘edge’.
The best part about Yin Yoga is that it is incredibly portable and pragmatic. All you need is space to roll out your mat. No handstand kicks or side crows here. Many Yin asanas can be done while you’re chilling, reading a book or watching TV. Here’s a sample one-hour total body flow that you can do at home or (if you’re a jetsetter) in a hotel room:
(3 min) Meditation: Sit in a comfortable seated position, long spine. Close your eyes and bring your palms to rest lightly on the knees. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose, beginning to cultivate your Ujjayi breath. Try counting to 4 on the inhale, holding for 1 count, breathing out for 4 counts, and holding for 1 on empty before restarting the cycle.
(5 min) Sphinx: Lie on your stomach. Bring hands beside shoulders. Press into your palms, forearms parallel, lifting your chest up off the mat. Look down to make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders. If this is too intense on the lower back walk your hands slightly forward. Keep your legs firmly planted and neck long.
(1 min) Full Swan (right knee forward): Also known as Pigeon in Yang Yoga. From Down Dog or Tabletop bring your right knee to your right wrist. Flex the right foot and move it as close to the left wrist as possible without discomfort. Distribute your weight equally between your hips and sit upright. Your hands can either press lightly into your right knee and ankle, fingertips to floor slightly in front of your hips, or on two blocks.
(3 min) Sleeping Swan: From Full Swan, walk your hands forward letting the torso and neck hang heavy. As gravity pulls you toward the floor try coming onto your forearms and eventually resting the chest on your right leg, forehead to mat.
(5 min) Shoelace (left knee on top): From Swan, walk your hands back to your hips and sit up tall. Swing your left leg around, bend the leg, and place it on top of your right leg, knees stacked toes pointing back. Slowly let your torso fold forward with every breath, draping over your legs.
Counter-pose: Lie on your back and windshield wiper your legs (30 sec-1 min), releasing the lower back.
(1 min) Full Swan (left knee forward): Also known as Pigeon in Yang Yoga. From Down Dog or Tabletop bring your left knee to your right wrist. Flex the left foot and move it as close to the right wrist as possible without discomfort. Distribute your weight equally between your hips and sit upright. Your hands can either press lightly into your right knee and ankle, fingertips to floor slightly in front of your hips, or on two blocks.
(3 min) Sleeping Swan: From Full Swan, walk your hands forward letting the torso and neck hang heavy. As gravity pulls you toward the floor try coming onto your forearms and eventually resting the chest on your left leg, forehead to mat.
(5 min) Shoelace (right knee on top): From Swan, walk your hands back to your hips and sit up tall. Swing your right leg around, bend the leg, and place it on top of your left leg, knees stacked toes pointing back. Slowly let your torso fold forward with every breath, draping over your legs.
Counter-pose: Lie on your back and windshield wiper your legs (30 sec-1 min), releasing the lower back.
(3 min) Straddle (folding forward, centered): Sit facing the long edge of your mat and spread your legs as wide as they’ll go. Flex your feet strongly and hinge forward from the hips, maintaining a flat back. If you can’t keep a long spine while folding forward keep your torso upright and breath into your hips, tilting them forward inch by inch with every breath. If you can fold forward no problem, work to bring the forearms and eventually chest to the floor.
(3 min) Straddle (folding over right leg):Sit up tall, legs spread wide. Inhale to lengthen the spine then exhale, twisting toward the right leg. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale fold over the right leg, reaching chin to shin and working to center the sternum over the knee cap. Reach for the toes, foot or ankle and use your arm strength to fold deeper.
(3 min) Straddle (folding over left leg): Sit up tall, legs spread wide. Inhale to lengthen the spine then exhale, twisting toward the left leg. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale fold over the left leg, reaching chin to shin and working to center the sternum over the knee cap. Reach for the toes, foot or ankle and use your arm strength to fold deeper.
(3 min) Bananasana (to the right): Lay flat on your back with legs together. Reach arms overhead and clasp hands or elbows. Ground into the mat with your booty and pull belly button to spine. Inch your feet and upper body to the right, arching like a banana. You should feel a nice side body stretch on the left side. If not, move your feet and clasped arms further to the right until you do.
(3 min) Bananasana (to the left): Lay flat on your back with legs together. Reach arms overhead and clasp hands or elbows. Ground into the mat with your booty and pull belly button to spine. Inch your feet and upper body to the left, arching like a banana. You should feel a nice side body stretch on the right side. If not, move your feet and clasped arms further to the left until you do.
(2 min) Reclining Twist w/ Eagle Legs (right side): Lay flat on your back and draw your knees in toward your chest. Wrap right leg over left, hooking your right foot inside the left ankle if possible. Open your your arms wide and keeping your shoulders grounded, let your legs sink to the left. Breathe into the right side body, middle back, and right hip. Come back to center and unwind the legs to switch sides.
(2 min) Reclining Twist w/ Eagle Legs (left side): Lay flat on your back and draw your knees in toward your chest. Wrap left leg over right, hooking your left foot inside the right ankle if possible. Open your your arms wide and keeping your shoulders grounded, let your legs sink to the right. Breathe into the left side body, middle back, and left hip. Come back to center and unwind the legs to switch sides.
(5-10 min) Shavasana: Lay flat on your back, legs straight and slightly apart or in reclining butterfly. Arms are by your side, a few inches separating them from the body. Close your eyes and melt into the floor. Let everything go, including your Ujjayi breath.
(Flow adapted from “The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga” by Bernie Clark)
Yin will change your practice for the better when practiced consistently. I highly recommend doing 30 min to an hour of Yin before you go to bed. It can be tough in the morning because we all wake up pretty stiff and need some time for the “fuzz” to loosen up.