After the Indian summer we had last at PABW headquarters, waking up to 30 degree temperatures reminds me that winter is fast approaching. Which, for many of us, means that a summer’s worth of running, biking, basketball (for me, anyway) and frolicking on beaches is over, and our bodies start to feel the cold a little more viscerally. As we move into colder weather, which isn’t as forgiving to tight muscles as July is, it’s even more important to get to the yoga mat, especially after more traditional exercise. Here’s one place to start.
This series is designed for runners, rowers, and anyone else who moves a lot. Of course so much of yoga is so useful as a counter to traditional athletics, and to preventing the injuries that come along with it. And if you are at least a casual yogi, you probably know the usual suspects- pyramids, warrior lunges, pigeons, rag dolls, and the like. All of these are critical and so necessary, but today I wanted to give you a flow that gets to some of the places that many classes don’t go for whatever reason, but places that are critical to open up, especially after you move- feet, calves, and IT band.
You’ll need a mat, one yoga block, and possibly a blanket or thick towel. Pregnant women should skip the foot sequence, but rest of the series should be fine.
Big feet sexy series. (because really, what could be sexier than big feet? I’m not joking.) Begin is sei-za, or toes pose. Sit on your knees with your toes curled under, and then sit on your heels, padding your knees as needed. Breathe into this position for as long as you can uncomfortably, or ten breaths, whichever comes first.
Bring your left hand down to the floor or the block outside your left foot, and reach your right arm to the sky, side bending. Hold for five breaths, and repeat on the other side.
Turn your toes over so your toenails are on the mat, perhaps tapping them out on the floor to resuscitate them. Then place the top of your left foot across the sole of your right foot, and sit back on your left heel. Again, ten breaths or until nausea sets in. (here I’m only half-joking)
Repeat with the top of the right foot over the left heel.
(Optional heel stretch- pressing the tops of your feet into the mat, lift your knees of the mat to whatever degree is manageable- I hesitate to say comfortable. Folks with knee or ankle issues, skip this step.)
Calf dog- Come into a comfortable downward facing dog. Take five breaths, adjusting your dog for comfort and stability. Then inhale your right leg to the height of your hip. Land your right toes on the left side of your mat, outside and behind your left foot. For less intensity, or if the foot doesn’t reach the floor, bend your knees. To increase the stretch, peel all ten toe-tips towards the ceiling.
Reverse high-heel- Walk your hands back to your feet, and roll up to standing. Place your block just in front of your right foot, and place the mounds of your toes on the block. (It’s sort of a reverse high heel). Make sure you can put weight in the right heel- that might require putting a blanket under your right foot.
(Side note- I see runners stretching like this all the time on a curb, with the heel in the air. This is. I think, a much less effective approach. There needs to be weight in the heel.)
If you want more stretch, start to walk your left foot in line with your right foot- work to whatever degree makes sense- any of the photos, or maybe none of them, could be the right stretch for you. The deepest variation would be to fold forward in a modified pyramid pose. Stay for ten or more breaths.
Fallen Warrior- Come out of the calf stretch, and shake your right leg out. Fold forward, with the option to take a vinyasa (high push up, low push up, cobra/up dog, down dog. If you have no idea what that is, click here)
Inhale your right leg all the way up to the sky, and on an exhale draw your knee in to touch your nose. Or at least try. Look to the right, and step your right leg out to the left, extending your right leg as far out to the left as you can. Land your right hip on the floor, or if that doesn’t work put a block under your right hip. Let your upper body soften towards the floor, as it would in pigeon.
If this is too intense a stretch, bend your right knee. If you don’t feel anything, start to walk your right leg towards your head.
After ten-plus breaths, come back to downward dog and shake your right leg out. Repeat this series on the left side from Calf-Dog on.
Any suggestions for future flows, or poses to explain? Leave a comment, or shoot me a note!
Credits- The queen of this kind of work is Jill Miller, founder of Yoga Tune-Up. Her Youtube page has a ton of usueful video shorts on everything from angry calves to TMJ, and I can’t recommend any of Jill’s work highly enough, including her DVDs. Many thanks also to David Vendetti, Todd Skoglund and Ana Forrest, whose work is liberally represented here.
Thanks so much to Tracy Rodriguez for taking all the photographs- (all comments about my inability to keep my eyes open while being photographed should be directed to me.)