While many of us who love to run experience moments of pure meditative joy, there’s no doubt that our muscles and joints sometimes feel less than blissful after a session. I’ve designed a sweet, simple recovery sequence to help strengthen the core and ease tension in overworked areas.
1. MOUNTAIN POSE
Ease your way into your practice by finding a balanced, neutral standing posture. Have your feet parallel to each other and press them evenly into the ground. Slide your tailbone down to the floor and at the same time roll the shoulders down and slightly back to lift your heart. Keep your chin parallel to the floor and your neck long. Experiment with closing your eyes as you breathe here.
From mountain, bend your knees and plant your hands on the floor before stepping back into a strong plank. Keep your hands under your shoulders and parallel to each other. Use the strength in your belly and in those runner’s legs to keep your hips from sagging. Hold this pose for 5 breaths to build strength.
3. DOWNWARD DOG
From plank, just shift your hips up and back, so that your body looks like an upside down V. This pose is a great way to lengthen your hamstrings, the hardworking muscles in the back of your thighs that are responsible for bending your knees and kicking your feet back behind you when you run. Give them a break and be kind: if you feel that your hamstrings are on the verge of snapping in downward dog, or that your back is rounding, bend your knees and smooth the roundness out of your back. Then press your hands into the floor and reach your hips up and away from your hands to get that satisfying length in your spine AND legs. Take 5-8 long inhales and exhales. You are welcome to shift forward into plank then back into down dog for 3-4 more times, or you can go straight to the next pose.
4. LOW LUNGE WITH VARIATIONS
From down dog, step one foot forward and land the other knee down. If your knees are tender, kneel on a blanket or bolster. To get true opening in the hip flexors, engage your belly muscles to lift the front of the hips up and away from your front thigh. This will drop your tailbone down towards the floor and keep your lower back long. As your hips start to open, play with pressing the hips forward.
Experiment with side- and back-bends to find that deep opening in your front-body. Repeat on the other side. Hold each pose for 5-10 deep breaths.
5. LIZARD WITH A VARIATION
From low lunge, you can either loop back to plank and down dog, then step one foot outside your hands; or simply move your foot a few inches to the side and plant both hands down inside your foot. Try wiggling the back knee a few more inches behind you so that you are resting more on the top of the thigh than the kneecap. Let your hips be heavy without forcing them down.
If there’s no pain in the knees, bend the back leg, and take hold of your foot with the opposite hand. If the foot is so far away that you end up hunched in the spine, use a towel or straps to reach the foot and re-open the chest.
6. SUPINE HAND TO BIG TOE HOLD 1 AND 2
Lie down on your back and straighten one leg down on the floor, lifting the other leg up in the air. Reach for the big toes of your lifted leg with your fingers, and try to straighten the leg without lifting your shoulders off the floor or rounding your back. Explore using straps or a towel to hook your lifted foot so that you can keep your spine from rounding and your shoulders, neck and jaw soft.
Hold for 10 breaths before gently lowering the lifted leg off to the side for hand to big toe hold #2. It doesn’t have to reach the floor; just breathe some length into your inner thighs and your body will thank you. Here’s a core-strengthening tip: engage your abs to keep the opposite butt cheek from lifting off the floor. Repeat on the other side.
7. SUPINE PIGEON
Cross one ankle (foot flexed) over the opposite thigh and gently hug that thigh closer to your body. If hugging the leg causes pain in your knees, hips or lower back, use a towel or straps to draw the leg closer. Keep your back and shoulders relaxed on your mat . Repeat on the other side, holding for 8-10 breaths on each side
8. SUPINE COW FACE POSE
This pose is great for getting into the back and outer part of the hips. Cross one thigh fully on top of the other. Gently draw the legs closer to your belly; you may hold on to your feet but if that brings you pain or causes your back to round, then hug your thighs instead or do supine pigeon again.
9. SUPPORTED BRIDGE
Words cannot express how much I love this pose. Lift your hips and slide a block, a thick book, a pillow, or a rolled-up blanket underneath your sacrum, the flat bony part just above your bum. Roll your shoulders gently back and enjoy how this pose releases the tension in your chest, belly and front hips. Hold for at least 2 minutes.
10. LEGS UP THE WALL
Thank your strong legs and hips by taking the weight off of them for a change! Swing your legs up a wall, keeping your hips as close to the wall as possible. If your hamstrings are tight, keep your knees bent and rest your lower legs on a chair instead of the wall. Spend at least 5 minutes in this pose. Resting will keep chronic fatigue from setting in and will help keep you in physical and mental shape for your future runs.
Mel Torre is a yoga teacher, Barre 3 instructor, seasoned marathon runner and part of an awesome all-female trio band, Baihana. She teaches vinyasa flow (for all levels) and Stress Free Gentle Flow classes at Urban Ashram Yoga. Her soothing voice will surely help restore your mind, body and soul.