In the last Yoga for Runners post we touched upon the concept of reciprocal inhibition. This is the process that our body uses to promote movement: one set of muscles contracts while the opposing set relaxes to create smoothness of movement.
This is a reflexive action that we do not control, but we as runners certainly get hit hard by its effects. Since most of us spend the majority of our days sitting down, this leads to tight hip flexors (specifically, iliopsoas muscles). These in turn inhibit the optimal recruitment of the glutes, leaving the synergists, the hamstrings, to pick up the slack. And how many of us wind up with tight and sore hammies? Everything is connected!
Yoga for runners needs to take into account not just the muscles that promote the movement but also the reciprocal muscle groups, in order to maintain a balance in the body. So if you spend time stretching your hamstrings after your run, be sure to balance that with a quadriceps/hip flexor stretch.
- Start on all fours, step the right foot through between your hands, and come up with hands on hips.
- Keep the lunge very short: 90 degree angle between the thigh and shin of either leg. This way you can create a productive sensation without overstretching the muscles in the front of the left leg.
- Tuck the pelvis under (“Michael Jackson” the hips) until you feel a stretch through the front of the left leg, either the hip flexor or the quad. You’ll feel whatever is tighter first.
- Depending on the hip flexor tightness you may notice that the right hip comes up to reduce the sensation on the left side. Pull the “sassy” right hip in line with the left and square the hips.
- Keep the right hand on the right hip and lift the left hand up overhead. Think of this as “yawning” the armpit up, rather than reaching with the fingertips, in order to keep the left shoulder blade relaxed and away from the ear.
- Find the connection between the left knee, hip, and armpit, and give yourself a nice side body stretch before switching sides.
- Widen the lunge by either shimmying the right foot forward or the left knee back. On the inhale, elongate the spine, lift the belly off the right thigh, and soften the shoulder blades down your back.
- On the exhale, keep the spine long, send the hips back by straightening the right leg. The hips should wind up in line with the left knee not behind it.
- Keep the hips squared. Depending on the hamstring tightness you may notice that the right hip comes up to reduce the sensation. Pull the “sassy” right hip in line with the left.
- On each inhale extend your spine and on exhale think about pulling your heart forward, as if to place it on the mat in front of your leg (NOT head to shin).
- You may need to walk your hands back or rest them on some blocks to avoid hunching forward.
- Engage the quadriceps to feel facilitated stretching (reciprocal inhibition is working for you this time). This may intensify the sensation in the hamstring so try not folding forward as deeply.
- Use deep, unforced yogic breath to relax and soften into the stretch. This helps prevent pushing past your limit and resulting in microtears in the muscles being stretched.
- Keep your spine long, your heart lifted, and your shoulders soft in both postures. This may not seem as impressive since you feel farther from the leg in Half Split, but it is and should feel more effective.
- Keep the knee soft in Half Split if the sensation in the hamstring becomes painful: you want productive discomfort but not pain.
- If you feel a spasm in the opposite muscle group, this is due to the extra flexion work the reciprocal muscle has to go in order to stretch out a tight muscle group. If this occurs, gently back out of the stretch for a few seconds before returning to it.