Runners don’t often think of how their daily life habits tax their bodies: we recognize the aches and pains of our training and may seek to alleviate tension and tightness that goes along with it. But we take it for granted that we can still get out an run after a long work day spent sitting in front of the computer screen or after a long drive or flight for a location race. However, our mainly sedentarylifestyles contract our hips and round our shoulders, causing potential imbalances and affecting our running form.
The two areas of tightness: hips and shoulders, often go together. While sitting we slump our shoulders down which causes our low back to round and hips to tighten. And in reverse, all the sitting and reclining back causes us to tuck our pelvis under, and to balance that curve in the spine our shoulders end up hunching down.
Yoga for runners can help tackle these imbalances by both strengthening the core and creating openness in the chest/shoulders and the hips. The result is that the pelvis, hips, and lower back are better aligned, and promote the right muscle groups to fire when you run, reducing risk of injury and improving performance.
Melting Heart Pose (Anahatasana) and Seated Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) are complementary in that they allow for the stretching of the front body chest and abdominal muscles and the back muscles responsible for scapular movement (such as trapezius) as well as the muscles of the outer hip(such as tensor fasciae latae, piriformis, and the gluteal muscles), and thus addressing and balancing all of the core.
MELTING HEART POSE:
- Start on all fours on your mat with your shoulders above the wrists and hips above the knees. Walk your hands towards the front of the mat while keeping your hips over your knees and thighs perpendicular to the floor.
- Engage the core slightly to help lift your tail up and back away from the mat.
- Press the hands into the mat, activate and stretch through the arms, and wrap the triceps down the arm bones. Extend your arms and don’t let your elbows rest on the mat.
- Drop your forehead to the floor or to a block and let your neck and the tops of the shoulders relax.
- If you have more space in your shoulders and upper back, try resting your chin on the mat. But only do this if you are comfortable and able to relax in this space.
- Keeping the hands pressing, arms extending, and hips actively moving up and back will let you stretch and decompress the back.
- Breathe into your back, feeling the spine lengthen in both directions. When you are ready to come out of the pose, release your tail onto your heels into Child’s Pose.
SEATED TWIST POSE:
- Start sitting in Staff Pose: legs extended in front of you, sitting bones planted into the mat, with a long tall spine extending upwards.
- Bend the right knee and place the right foot onto the floor on the outside of the left hip, as close to the left sitting bone as possible. Step the right foot onto the mat and point the right knee directly up.
- If the right hip or the inside of the right foot is lifting off the mat, inch the right foot away from the left hip and towards the toes slightly to give yourself some extra space in the hips.
- Bring the right hand onto the floor either outside of the right hip or behind you. Hug the right knee to your chest with your left hand.
- On inhale, extend the spine and reach the crown of the head upwards. On exhale, press the right hand and the right sitting bone into the mat and twist your torso to the right.
- Press the right foot energetically into the mat and lengthen the spine from the tailbone through the crown of your head. With each inhale lift a little more through the sternum. With each exhale twist a little deeper.
- You may choose to look over your right shoulder to continue the twist into the cervical spine or to look over your left shoulder to avoid hyperextending the neck.
- Repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time even though the sensation may not be the same.
- If you have a tendency to arch the lower back, you may feel most of the sensation in Melting Heart Pose through your lumbar spine. In order to avoid that and allow the upper back to find opening, keep the core slightly engaged the whole time.
- If the Seated Twist Pose puts too much tension in your hips, or if the hip or the foot are lifting off the mat, try sitting on a folded blanket, a pillow, or a block. This elevation will give you the space you need in the hips but still allow for an effective stretch.
- If you end up leaning too far back or feel too much tension in your wrist in Seated Twist Pose try placing your hand onto a block instead of the mat.
- In Seated Twist Pose soften both shoulder blades away from the ears and allow the twist to come from the hip opening and the mid back. If you notice tension in the shoulders, untwist a little, soften the scapulae, and twist again on exhale.
- If you would like to deepen the Seated Twist Pose and increase the sensation in the hips, try bending your left knee, laying the outside of the left leg onto the mat, and bringing the left foot to the right sitting bone. Notice if the right sitting bone or foot lift off the mat, and if they do, extend the left leg back out: the stretch is much more effective when the right sitting bone is firmly planted on the mat.