After a long run your muscles begin to contract and you can be left with that unpleasant tight feeling when your step shortens and the stairs become a major obstacle. If this is what happens to you, take it as a sign that your body is petitioning for a release – and the best way to relieve your body is to stretch straight after a run. Better yet, make these five great yoga poses, or asanas, an integral part of your training regime. They will not only alleviate that tightness in the leg muscles, but also strengthen them, because yoga is not just about stretching, but also strengthens the body. We asked yoga instructor Groschaan Emmanuel to give us a yoga/stretch routine to help runners develop a lengthened, more efficient running stride and recover faster from long runs (The asanas are ‘modelled’ by Anna Neale-Shutte and Wade Holland, who have different levels of flexibility, thus showing different ways of doing the asanas).
Start by removing your shoes and socks, then lie on your back, breathe in to prepare yourself, and breathe out as you stretch your arms overhead and lengthen the entire body, pointing the toes and fingers away from you and reaching as far back as possible. Breathe in, and then breathe out as you flex the feet by bringing the toes towards your face and pushing away from you through the heels whilst continuing the stretch. Do five of these stretches very slowly. Now you’re ready to begin. Remember, you cannot do yoga without breathing, so focus on breathing in through the nose when you are stationary, and out through the nose when moving. If you feel pain in your knees while doing any of these asanas, try raising yourself or supporting yourself with a cushion or foam block, but stop if the pain persists.
Asana 1: Paschimottanasana (Forward Bend)
Sit on your buttocks, legs stretched out in front of you, with legs and feet hip distance apart. Make sure you’re sitting evenly on both buttock bones. Your upper body should be vertical – if it isn’t, sit on the edge of a cushion or foam block. Contract your quads (front thigh muscles) to pull up your kneecaps, and flex your feet to bring the tops of your feet towards your face. Pivot in your hips to bring the upper body forward, trying to keep the spine as erect as possible – don’t drop your head or squash the back of your neck, and avoid rounding the spine or dropping the head.
Now clasp your hands around your flexed feet, preferably holding the sides of your feet. If you can’t reach your feet, use a belt, strap or towel around your feet and hold the ends as you maintain an erect spine. Keep your shoulders away from your ears by activating your lats (broad back muscles), but if this feels too intense, bend your knees a bit. Now push the back of the knees into the floor. Hold this for a minute, then relax forwards completely onto your legs – or as far as you can go – with your spine arching and arms loosely on either side of your legs. Do this for another minute.
Asana 2: Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose)
Sit in a forward bend position. Keep your left leg extended and bend your right leg. Place the sole of your right foot alongside the inner thigh of your left leg, with the heel as close as possible to your pubic region. The bent knee should extend down towards the floor, exposing the inner right thigh, but if your bent knee feels uncomfortable, slide your right foot further down your left thigh until the discomfort eases. Sit evenly on both buttock bones.
Your core muscles will work to keep you level, but if you can’t stay level, take the corner of a cushion or sponge and slot it underneath the buttock bone of the extended leg. Now pivot in the hips, leaning forward with an erect spine, keeping shoulders away from ears and reach towards your extended foot. Your navel should travel towards the outer knee of the extended leg. This provides a twisting action highly beneficial for the abdomen. Contract the quadricep of the left leg to pull up the kneecap. Flex the left foot as you hold it with your hands (if you can’t reach your foot, use a strap). The bent knee should feel as if it is moving behind you. Hold for one minute, breathing slowly, then repeat on the other side.
Asana 3: Marichyasana (Great Sage Pose)
Sit in a forward bend position with legs extended. Bend your right leg and place the right foot alongside the outer left thigh. Depending on your flexibility you can decide how far up or down the outer left leg to place the foot. Sit evenly on both buttock bones with spine extending upwards through the crown of the head. Pull up the left kneecap by contracting your quadricep and flexing your left foot. Then turn your upper body towards your inner right thigh, trying to maintain an erect spine. Cup your right knee into your inner left elbow and make sure you don’t collapse the right leg. Place your right hand behind you on the floor, but don’t rely on this hand to keep you erect – your core muscles should do that. Hold for a minute and repeat the sequence on the other side.
Asana 4: Baddha Konasana/Badrasana (Butterfly Pose/Cobbler Pose)
Sit evenly on buttocks with the soles of your feet touching each other, and your spine erect. Interlace your fingers and wrap your hands around your feet, (Position A) then place your outer elbows on your inner knees. Inhale and exhale as you gently push your knees down towards the floor. Repeat five times, inhaling as you prepare and exhaling on the exertion. This should take you a minute.
Then release your hands from your feet and extend them ahead of you, shoulder distance apart. Pivot in the hips as you extend your spine forward (Position B). Don’t let your spine arch excessively. With time and practice you will gradually descend all the way to the floor, but if you can’t get your head on the floor at first, place a support in front of you and rest your forehead on it. Hold for another minute, with slow breathing.
Asana 5: Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)
Kneel with your buttocks on your heels. Keep your spine erect, then raise your hips and part your feet and sit between your feet (Place a cushion under your buttocks if your knees protest). If comfortable, you are ready to proceed to the reclining stage. On exhalation, slowly begin to recline backwards onto your hands, then your elbows and then onto the floor. Your lower back will let you know how far you can go. If your lower back protests, do not proceed further. You can stack a cushion or two behind your back to provide support. If you can, lower yourself all the way to the floor and lie there for one minute, breathing in and out with arms relaxed on either side. To get out of the position, push yourself up onto your forearms and then your hands, lifting through your sternum and bringing your head up last. Do not rush to straighten your legs – this should be done very slowly, one leg at a time whilst on all fours.