The Iyengar method has a strong emphasis on precision and correct alignment. It has numerous therapeutic applications, and is easily adapted to a wide range of bodies, ages and personalities. The following poses form a sequence of Iyengar yoga poses that have been chosen specifically for the benefit of runners. Using a more in-depth and structured approach to muscle release after jogging can help you to feel more balanced. This sequence will also help to introduce you to some of the basic principles and defining characteristics of Iyengar yoga.
This post is a companion to the video Iyengar Yoga For Runners – Weekly Intermediate Class 68 on yogaselection.com.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles at the back of each thigh. This region is a great starting point when thinking about yoga poses to benefit runners. Stretching the hamstrings is not only beneficial for the leg muscles themselves, but can also help to improve the overall health of your spine.
This version of uttanasana places your hands against a wall so that your spine can be kept as straight as possible. For more flexible people you can place your hands to the wall at hip height. If you are working with a stiffer body it may be necessary to position your hands higher up the wall. Find a height that helps you to make as straight a line as possible from your wrists to your pelvis.
- Start by stepping close to the wall so that you can position your hands to the wall at hip height. (Higher for stiffer bodies).
- Place your hands against the wall with a shoulder width distance between them.
- Spread your fingers wide apart, and press your hands evenly against the wall.
- Step your feet back so that your body resembles a right angle when seen from the side.
- Have your feet apart hip width.
- Keep your feet straight, so that the inner edges of your feet are parallel with one another.
- As you press your hands against the wall, straighten and lift your elbows.
- Contain your upper back, move it towards the floor.
- As your chest opens move it towards the wall.
- Press your heels down and lift your kneecaps up.
- Keep your inner thighs rolling back so that the backs of your thighs spread open from the inner leg towards the outer leg.
A ledge to support your heel is helpful but not compulsory for this pose. The top of a yoga chair is used in this image, but any stable ledge or convenient item of furniture will suffice. A towel can be used instead of a yoga belt if one is not available.
- Stand facing the wall or support.
- Bend your right knee and place your heel up onto the support. Now straighten your leg.
- Ensure that your standing leg is perpendicular to the floor. Check that your ankle is directly under your hip.
- Place the belt under the ball of your right foot, and hold the belt with both hands, keeping your shoulders directly over your hips.
- Adjust the left foot so that it faces forwards. Left unchecked it will tend to turn to the left side.
- Ensure that you are able to completely straighten your standing leg. If the knee is bending this will indicate that the ledge is too high.
- Keep your hips level. The right hip tends to lift up. Adjust it so that it stays down, level to the left hip.
- Turn your chest, and the front of your pelvis to face straight ahead.
- Pull with the belt against your foot and lift your spine and chest upwards.
The adductors are a group of muscles situated in the inner thigh region of the legs. In Iyengar yoga classes this region will often be referred to as the “groins”. it is a relatively common area for injuries in runners. For most people the ledge height from the previous pose will also suit this pose.
- Bring your right leg straight out to the side, and place your heel onto the ledge.
- Position the belt under the ball of your right foot, and hold the belt in your right hand.
- Place your left hand onto your hip.
- Turn the whole length of your right leg so that your toes, kneecap and front thigh face directly upwards.
- Observe how the right hip tends to push up towards the ribcage. Instead, keep the right hip down so that it sits level to the left hip.
- Keeping your right hip down, lift the right side of your chest upwards, and turn the right side of your chest forwards.
- Simultaneously lift and turn your chest.
Here we are adapting the simple standing pose tadasana into a calf stretching pose. The amount of height needed under the balls of the feet will vary from person to person in this pose. A rolled blanket or towel is ideal for this purpose as it can be incrementally adjusted to the optimal height. You will have the correct amount of height when your heels are able to just reach the floor. You will ideally be able to comfortably hold the pose for at least a minute.
- Position your rolled blanket close enough to the wall so that your hands can reach the wall without your body leaning forwards.
- Begin by standing with the ball of each foot on the rolled blanket, and your heels raised off floor.
- Slowly start to lower your heels back and downwards to the floor.
- As your heels reach back ensure that your big toe bases stay pressing firmly down.
- Once your heels make contact with the floor, press your outer heels firmly down.
- Press your shins back into your calf muscles.
This pose will compliment the previous one. Parsvottanasana naturally challenges the hamstring of the front leg, but in this supported version of the pose the calf muscle of the back leg can be lengthened.
- Enter the poses from ardha uttanasana. Position your hands to the wall at hip height and step your feet back so that your body makes a right angle shape.
- Ensure that your feet are together with your big toes and inner heels touching.
- Now step your right foot closer to the wall. Your toes will be roughly 40cm away from the wall.
- Keeping your right foot in this position, step your left foot back a legs length distance.
- Turn your left foot deeply in.
- Keeping the big toe base of your left foot anchored, press the outer edge of your left foot firmly down.
- Press your outer heel firmly down.
- Press the left shin bone back.
- Turn the left calf from the inner leg towards the outer leg as it lengthens.
PSOAS AND QUADRICEPS
(In this pose the right leg is referred to as the “front” leg and the left leg is the “back’ leg).
Ideally the focus of this pose will be felt in the psoas region around the front of your left hip. This will not be possible if you allow your lower back to over arch. Care needs to be taken to keep the front of your pelvis lifting, as your front leg lunges.
- Stand with your fingertips to the wall at chest height.
- Position your right foot so that your toes lightly touch the wall.
- Step your left foot back so that the distance between your feet is a little over the length of one of your legs.
- For the moment keep both legs straight, and turn your pelvis so that the front of your pelvis directly to the front.
- Move your left buttock in, and lift the front of your pelvis up.
- Maintaining the lift at the front of your pelvis, start to bend your right leg towards 90°.
- Turn your left buttock away from your right buttock, and move your left buttock in and down.
- Tuck your left sitting bone under so that it points more directly down to the floor.
- Ensure that your left leg remains straight at the knee.
- Lift the front of your left hip up.
- Allow the navel to sit back towards the spine.
- Lift your chest upwards.
This pose builds on the previous one and begins to challenge the quadriceps in addition to the psoas. As in the previous pose, care needs to be taken not to tilt the pelvis forwards. This ensures that the focus of the pose is felt at the front of the hip and thigh, and not in the lower back.
- Start from an upright kneeling position with both knees together.
- Leaving your right knee where it is, step your left foot forwards so that your left ankle sits directly under your left knee. Your left shin will now be perpendicular to the floor.
- Check that your right knee has remained directly under your right hip.
- Now increase the distance between your left foot and right knee a little. Step the left foot a little further forwards. Increase the distance by roughly half the length of your own foot.
- Position the chair to the inside of your left foot, and place your hands to the chair.
- Now lunge your pelvis forwards and downwards.
- Lunge forwards so that your left knee sits above your left toes. Your shin will now be angled forward.
- Support your body weight by pressing your hands into the seat of the chair. This will allow you to relax your left inner groin, and release your pelvis closer to the floor.
- Move your right buttock in.
- Turn your right outer hip forwards.
- Lift the front of your pelvis upwards.
- Allow the navel to sit back towards the spine.
This adapted version of eka pada rajakapotasana develops the previous pose and gives you greater access to the quadriceps region. Some people will need padding under the back knee in this position. A flat blanket can be used for this purpose.
- Start from an upright kneeling position.
- Position yourself so that your toes touch the wall behind you.
- Hold blocks in both hands.
- Lean forwards placing the blocks on the floor in front of you. The blocks help you to support your bodyweight using your arms.
- Now slide your left knee back along the floor until your knee touches the wall. Your shin will now be flat to the wall with your toes pointing up the wall.
- Step your right foot forwards and place the sole of your foot flat to the floor. Your shin will be angled forwards. your knee will be positioned directly over your toes.
- Relax your right inner groin and let your hips release forwards and downwards.
- Keeping your hips forwards and downwards, start to walk the blocks back towards the wall. This will bring your shoulders back over your hips and position your torso in a more upright position.
- Roll your shoulders back, move your thoracic spine in and lift your chest upwards.
This pose starts to target the gluteals. If some tightness is present in these muscles it may be necessary to elevate your pelvis by sitting on a folded blanket.
- Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Bend your knees towards your torso so that the soles of your feet can come flat to the floor.
- With your right hand, reach underneath your legs and take hold of your left ankle.
- Slide your left foot around so that your heel sits beside your right hip. Your left toes will now be pointing out to the side.
- Now cross the right leg over the top of the left leg. Manually slide the right foot further back and out to the side.
- Check that both sets of toes are pointing out to opposite sides.
- Ensure that your right sitting bone has remained in contact with the floor. If it has lifted up place the folded blanket underneath both sitting bones. This should help to bring the sitting bone down. If it is still raised then add more height. Do not proceed with the next step until both sitting bones are supported.
- Rest both hands on top of the right knee.
- To take the pose further, place your hands to the floor, and walk them away from the pelvis.
- As the hands move away, keep your right sitting bone back and down.
This pose is an adaptation of the backbend eka pada rajakapotasana. In this sequence we are isolating its potential for releasing the gluteal muscles.
- Begin in downward facing dog pose.
- Lunge your right knee forwards and place it to the inside of your right hand.
- Move your right hand out of the way so that your knee can now come a little wider. It will sit wider than the right hip, not directly in front of it.
- Check the your right shin bone is 45 degrees relative to the end of your mat. Your right ankle will be slightly forwards of the left hip and not directly underneath it.
- Now lower your right sitting bone down without your left hip slanting upwards. If your right sitting bone does not reach the floor then place a folded blanket underneath it.
- Ensure that the front of your left leg is in contact with the floor.
- Extend your left leg and left foot straight back.
- Walk your hands back so that they are adjacent to your hips.
- Turn your left buttock away from your right buttock.
- Deepen your right thigh crease back into your body.
- Roll your shoulders back and lift your chest up.
In addition to stretching the gluteal muscles, this pose also starts to release the lower back. Some abdominal strength is required to keep the head and chest raised up.
- Start by lying on your back.
- Bend your left knee towards your chest.
- Keeping your left leg in this position, bend your right knee out to the side and place your right ankle against your left knee.
- Check that your outer ankle rests in the region where the front thigh and knee join.
- Use your abdominal strength to raise your head and chest, so that you can reach with both hands around the head of the left shin.
- Interlock your fingers as you grip the shinbone.
- Hug your left knee closer to your chest. This will in turn bring your right ankle closer to your face.
- Partially bend your right elbow and press the elbow against the right inner knee. Use this action to resist the knee further away from your shoulders.
- Lengthen your right heel away from the calf muscle so that the achilles tendon is as long as possible.
- Ensure that your right leg remains straight.
- Press the back of your right thigh towards the floor.
HAMSTRINGS – LOWER BACK RELEASES
This reclining approach to stretching hamstrings will be well suited to less flexible people. It will allow you to lengthen your hamstrings without putting strain on your back. A towel can be used if you are without a yoga belt. This pose will work best if you are able to press one foot against a wall.
- Lie on your back, with the soles of both feet pressing firmly into a wall.
- Have your feet together.
- Bend your right knee up towards your chest, and place a belt underneath the ball of your right foot.
- Holding the belt in both hands, straighten your right leg towards an upright position. Prioritise your leg being straight at the knee. Stiffer bodies will need to angle the leg away from the torso further to keep the knee straight. Ensure that you are receiving a sustainable stretch through the back of your thigh.
- Hold the belt with your hands apart shoulder width.
- Keep your elbows slightly bent.
- Keep your right hip in line with your left hip. Left unchecked it may slant towards your rib cage.
- Keep the big toe base and inner heel of your top foot extending upwards.
- Press the front of your left thigh down.
- Press the big toe base of your left foot into the wall.
- Press the backs of your shoulders down to the floor.
This pose follows directly from the previous one. An effective stretch can potentially be found without needing to bring your leg very far across.
- After following the instructions for the previous pose, transfer the belt into your left hand, and place your right hand onto your right hip.
- Position your right thumb in the thigh crease of the right leg, and firmly resist the right side of your pelvis away from your torso.
- Whilst pressing the right hip away, bring your right leg partially across to the left side.
- The foot will come roughly 30 cm across to the left.
- Keep the back of your right hip in contact with the floor.
- Keep your left toes and kneecap facing directly up towards the ceiling.
- Use the belt to guide your right foot away from the wall, whilst using your hand to resist your right hip towards the wall.
It is not uncommon to feel tightness or discomfort in the lower back after running. This pose can be helpful for releasing the lumbar region.
- Lie flat on your back with your legs together.
- Bend both knees up and into your chest.
- With both hands hug your knees firmly into your chest.
- Using your abdominal strength, raise your head and chest so that your face comes between your knees.
- Keep the back of your pelvis towards the floor.
This pose continues to release the lower back whilst introducing a controlled twisting movement. The use of a wall is helpful here as it gives incremental control as you come into the pose.
- Lie with your legs up the wall.
- Attempt to get your sitting bones as close to the wall as possible.
- Ensure that the back of your pelvis remains in contact with the floor. If you are working with tighter hamstrings it may be necessary for you to leave a small gap between your sitting bones and the wall.
- Place your arms directly out to the sides with your palms facing upwards. Your hands will be level to your shoulders.
- Bend your knees and slide the soles of your feet down the wall. Your heels will be close to your buttocks.
- Begin to shuffle your feet out and down to the right side.
- Stay compact keeping your feet as close as possible to your pelvis.
- Your right knee will potentially come all the way to the floor, but keep your feet a little bit off the floor.
- Move both thigh creases towards the wall.
- As your feet come down and out to the side, allow the back of your left hip to lift up, but ensure that the back of your left shoulder remains anchored to the floor.
- Turn your left waist towards the floor.
- Turn the right side of your chest upwards.
Use this final position to rest and relax. It can follow directly from the previous pose.
- Follow the instructions for the previous pose.
- Straighten your knees and place both legs directly up the wall.
- Ensure that your sitting bones are as close as possible to the wall, without the back of your pelvis lifting off the floor.
- Keep your legs together so that your big toe bases and inner heels touch.
- Keep the four corners of your feet lifting.
- Use just enough muscular effort in you legs to keep your knees straight. The overall quality of the pose should be that of relaxation.
- Position your arms comfortably out to your sides.
- Shut your eyes.
- Breathe evenly in and out through your nose.
Iyengar yoga can be highly effective for stretching muscles associated with running. It offers a methodical and systematic approach to stretching that can be easily adapted to different body types. The Iyengar emphasis on precision and alignment is well suited to isolating particular muscles and safely stretching them. This simple sequence of yoga poses will help you to feel more balanced and combat stiffness. Hopefully it is a useful addition to the end of your jogging routine.
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