Supta Matsyendrasana or Supine/Reclining Spinal Twist has to be another of my favorite Yoga poses, and I add some variation of it to every Yoga or Pilates class I teach. I find it to be the most delicious release for the spine. Take the twist as far as you feel comfortable without pushing yourself. You can make it more of a gentle twist by not bringing the knees up to the chest as much, or by placing blocks under the knees. If you have an neck problems, keep the gaze moving up towards the ceiling, and not looking over the opposite shoulder.
This is the last pose in this series, but I will continue featuring a “Yoga Pose of the Week” post once a week moving forward. They seem to be rather well liked posts.
Pose #7 Supta Matsyendrasana or Supine/Reclining Spinal Twist
- stretches spine, chest and shoulders
- releases tension and stiffness in the lower back
- massages internal organs
- Lay on your back and hug your knees into your chest.
- Extend your arms out to a T, keeping your shoulders grounded into the mat.
- Lower your legs and knees all the way over the right and onto the floor or blocks.
- Let your gaze travel over your left shoulder and into your outreached arm and hand.
- Let go of holding onto anything, let yourself go and fully release into the pose and find ease.
- Keep your shoulders from popping off of the mat.
- Breathe deeply into the lower back for 10 breaths.
- Inhale the knees through center, and exhale lowering them to the other side.
In my opinion PIgeon or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is one Yoga pose that everyone should practice. It is one of my favorite poses, and I always do some variation of this pose in all the classes I teach. Pigeon is also a pose that I do after every run or bike ride. This pose helps to stretch a difficult area for most people, the IT Band, as well as allow some space and openness to be created in the hips. As a society today we spend so much time sitting, that practically everyone has some tightness in the hips. Now add all the exercise we do and our poor hips are just screaming for release. Pigeon allows that release.
Emotionally speaking, in Yoga we say that the hips are our emotional junk drawer. It’s where we hide away all those feelings we don’t want to deal with at the moment. So Pigeon allows not only a physical release but an emotional one as well. I’ve seen people begin to really let go in Pigeon in more ways than one, and some people have even cried in this pose, as they allow themselves to let go everything they are holding in.
One more note on Pigeon: you will either love or hate this pose. Some people, like me, really love the feeling of this pose. For some people it’s too much, and they can not sit still enough to allow that release. Just stay in the pose, focus on your breath, and begin to just let go both physically and emotionally. You will eventually come to love this pose as much as I do.
Yoga Pose #6 Pigeon/Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
- stretches inner and outer thighs
- eases tightness in the groin and hips
- stretches and releases psoas
- opens shoulders and chest
- stretches and lengthens spine
- You can come into Pigeon from a few ways, I’m going to walk you through coming into it from all fours/tabletop.
- Come into a tabletop position.
- Step your right foot between your hands.
- Walk you right foot over to the left side of the mat, and drop your right knee towards your right wrist.
- You want your front leg laying flat on the mat, and your shin parallel to the front of your mat.
- If you are super tight you can tuck the right/front foot more towards your left hip, basically do not force the leg to be as straight or as parallel to the front of the mat.
- Square your hips off towards the front of your mat.
- Extend the left leg long behind you, keeping the foot in line with the hip, and not letting the hips or the back leg roll out to one side.
- Bring your hands in front of the front leg, and lengthen the spine on the inhale.
- Exhale and fold over the front leg, walking your hands out in front of you.
- You can rest your head on your hands or a block, and if needed, you can slide a block under the right hip.
- Stay here for about 10-20 breaths (I like to hold Pigeon for a long time, so I usually hold for 20 breaths).
- Slowly walk your upper body back up and step back into tabletop.
- Now take Pigeon on the other side.
Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday so I decided to do a Halloween themed playlist for my Spin class today. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and even more fun teaching class to these songs. Some are classics, some are classics redone, and some are just new, fun songs. Add these to your workout playlist for this week and jam out in the Halloween Sprit.
After you have rested for a few breaths in Balasana/Child’s Pose walk your self up to a standing position anywhere on your mat. I add this next pose in to every yoga, Pilates and spin class I teach! It’s a Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold/Bend) variation known as “ragdoll”. This is such a great pose to release the back, stretch the backs of the legs, and you can do it anywhere in your sequence, or anywhere you feel you need to just take a minute to let go (such as post race).
Pose #5 Uttanasana/Ragdoll/Standing Forward Fold
- stretches hamstrings, calves and hips
- releases tension in the spine, back and neck
- relieves headaches
- stimulates and improves digestion
- eases fatigue
- From standing take a deep breath in.
- As you exhale hinge forward from the hips and fold forward touching the floor in front of your toes.
- Now grab opposite hand to opposite elbow; making a box/window with your arms.
- Let the weight of the upper body and your hands pull the upper body down.
- Let the head hang heavy from the spine, releasing the neck fully.
- Check that you are evenly distributing your weight in your feet, you may need to roll forward slightly bringing some of the weight into the balls of your feet. Most people have a tendency to rock back bringing all of the weight in to their heels.
- Let your hips rest right over your ankles. If you are super tight in the hamstrings bring a little bend into the knee and allow your upper body to rest on your thighs.
- With each inhale try to lengthen the spine and with each exhale allow yourself to become heavier and fold forward deeper.
- Work on straightening the legs to get deeper into the stretch in the back of the leg.
- Stay here for about 5-10 breaths, then place your hands on your hips and slowly roll up, stacking one vertebrae at a time, and bringing your head up last.
Gomukhasana or Cow Face Pose (not sure why it’s called Cow Face, but anyways) is one of my favorite stretches to do post run/bike. The full pose involves bringing the hands behind the back and interlacing them. I do a variation without the bind on the hands (as shown in the picture). Any athletic person will find this pose a bit uncomfortable to get into, but once you do the pose, and come out you will feel amazing. The important thing here is to not force yourself into the pose. If you cant come into this with the legs stacked as shown, then come to an easy cross legged pose, and start there.
Pose #3 Gomukhasana or Cow Face Pose
- great hip opener
- stretches hips, thighs, ankles
- stretches the IT Band, an area that seldom gets stretches
- Start in a seated position
- Tuck your left foot over to your right hip
- Take your right leg and stack the knee on top of the left knee (as shown)
- make sure you are sitting on both sit bones between the feet
- lengthen the spin by reaching the crown of the head up and grounding down into the sit bones
- Take a deep inhale
- As you exhale pull the belly in and start to fold over the knees
- If you can allow the head/chin to rest on the knees
- Breathe into the pose for 5 – 10 breaths
- You should feel the stretch where your back pocket would be if you were wearing jeans
- Switch legs/sides
Being both a runner and cyclist, I know the beating your body can take from both of these activities. Aches and pains in the knees, feet and ankles, tight hips and hamstrings, and stiffness in the back and quads. Whew! Why do we do this to ourselves again?
Both Yoga and Pilates have really allowed me to recover faster from all the aches, tightness and stiffness from running and biking. More and more athletes (professional ball players included) are taking notice of the benefits of incorporating a Yoga or Pilates practice as part of cross training. These can offer you not only increased strength and flexibility, but can actually help you perform better on the road or bike. Pilates and Yoga help to improve core strength, posture, balance and flexibility in the back, hips and hamstrings giving you more efficiency in the legs for running and biking.
When I decided to do a post on Yoga poses for Runners/Cyclists, I thought of the poses that I love to do after each run or ride. I narrowed it down to the 8 best poses for you. Originally I thought this would just be one HUGE ass post full of Yoga poses, but then I thought “Eh, probably better to not overwhelm anyone. Let’s just ease into this!” So this is the first in a series of “7 Yoga Poses for Runners and Cyclists”!
Each Friday there will be another pose featured. I thought this way you could have one pose to really focus on, and given that most of us do our long runs/rides on the weekends, you can benefit from having each pose before the weekend even starts. This also gives you a whole week to really get to know this pose, make friends with it, take it out for coffee, introduce it to your other friends. The more time you spend on the pose, the easier it gets, the more familiar you get with it and the better you get at it. They don’t call it a “Yoga Practice” for nothing.
Now enroll that mat, and let’s get to work!
Pose #1: Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose
- improves circulation
- stretches hips, thighs and inner groin
- releases lower back and spine
- come to sit in a comfortable position on the floor
- sit up nice and tall on the sit bones
- bring the soles of the feet together and open knees out to the side like a book
- ground the sit bones down into the earth and lengthen the spine all the way up
- sit here for a few breaths or take it deeper by folding forward and bringing the heart towards your feet
- you can use props like pillows, a rolled up blanket, or yoga blocks under the knees for support
Don’t forget to check back next Friday for Pose #2!
I’m working on creating a “Pilates for Athletes” workshop for fall. So many athletes today from Tiger Woods to David Beckham, and a few NFL players use Pilates to improve their performance. I just did an interview and video segment for Fusion Fitness Online yesterday (I’ll post a link to the video once it’s up on their site) and I focused mainly on how Pilates can help cyclists. I am currently training to complete my first century ride (100 miles) this year, and have found that both Yoga and Pilates have helped me to perform better and have more endurance on the bike.
Pilates is great for cyclists because it helps to improve core strength, posture, balance, and spinal flexibility. As any cyclist will tell you, the main problem with long rides is lower back pain. By strengthening the core, and the muscles of the lower back you can reduce lower back pain, allowing you to ride longer and with more power through your legs.
With the stronger core that Pilates will create for you, the push and pull of the legs through your pedal stroke becomes more efficient, there by increasing your endurance. Pilates will also increase flexibility in the back, hips and hamstrings, which will allow you to have an easier ride with more stability.
One of my favorite exercises to improve cycling power is the one pictured above: Single Leg Gluteal Lift. This move will strengthen abdominal muscles, the quads, glutes and hamstrings, while lengthening and strengthening the back. Start on the floor with a neutral spin, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg up into the air 90 degrees from the hips. If you have super tight hip flexors or hamstrings, then have a slight bend in the knee of the leg in the air. Push down into the foot that is on the floor and lift the hips off of the floor, lengthening out the back. Hold for a breath or two, and then slowly release down one vertebrae at a time. Try to get full articulation of the spine as you come down, so release slowly to the floor. Do this about 5 – 10 times on each leg.
Keep an eye out here for the video to see what other exercises I recommend for cyclists.