As an athlete, stretching and yoga can be amazing allies. This article, highlighting recent Olympians who practice yoga, certainly attests to that! If you want to be an athlete on the top of your game, stretching and rest are all part of a successful training program.
These four yoga poses with props will soothe the biggest muscles in the lower body – try these postures as a warm-up or cool down before and/or after workouts. Remember to use the breath as you work into tighter areas of the body. From side to side and from day to day, these poses can feel very different. So, use this practice to check in and see how your muscles are feeling. Where do you hold tension? Yoga gives us the space to step back and be our own witness – in this way, your mat is like your very own laboratory. So grab a strap and a block and hit the mat.
- Psoas Stretch
The psoas is the biggest and strongest player in the group of muscles that make up your hip flexors; it’s a deep muscle that connects your lumbar vertebrae to the femur. The psoas affects posture and stabilizes the spine. When it is out of balance from rigorous athletic activity, it can lead to lower back and pelvic pain. In this variation of Lizard or low lunge pose, you will begin to isolate the psoas (and other hip flexor muscles). By using a block, you can control the depth and intensity of this stretch. Experiment with the positioning of the block and breathe into the tension for 4-8 Ujjayi breaths.
- Hip Flexor Stretch
Start on the lowest height of your block and adjust its placement so you feel comfortable. Begin by slowly extending one leg and then the other. Use your breath and be gentle with yourself in this posture – if there is too much sensation in the lower back, skip the pose altogether. The block should help you lengthen and release through the hip flexors but again, if this pose is too intense, honor your body and back off. Some athletes may need to try the more traditional version of bridge pose to stretch the hips more gently. Also, while in this pose, avoid moving the head from side to side in order to protect the neck.
- Hamstring Stretch
Straps offer a wonderful opportunity to stretch out the lower body in this version of supta padangusthasana, and are an essential yoga prop for the athlete. Place the strap below the ball of the foot and begin to raise your leg straight up. Make sure that both feet are engaged as if each one was pressing against the wall (or ceiling). Encourage your resting hip to stay on the ground by bringing a hand to the top of the joint. Breathe into the hamstring. As you are ready, let the leg “yawn” open. Again, check in with your opposite hip and make sure that it stays on the earth. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed down away from the ears. Take at least four breaths before coming out of this posture.
- IT Band Stretch
Athletes know a thing or two about tight IT bands! Again, both feet should be engaged in this pose. Begin in with the leg raised in your initial hamstring stretch. Gently allow your leg to cross the midline of your body – this may just be a few inches and that is okay – you do not want to roll onto your hip. Rather, both hips and shoulders should root down into the earth. Even with only a few inches of movement, you should feel this (rather intensely) through the outer line of your leg and perhaps even into the ankle. Stay here and take at least four breaths before bringing the leg back to center and carefully removing the strap.
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