February 18, 2011

Recovery Yoga (Part 1)

Wow! I just realize I haven't blogged since Monday! Sorry folks... it's been an insane week. But now I'm back so here goes....

I'm never really sure if I want to post my yoga practice on Daily Mile. Some days, my yoga is about working out, strengthening my body and stretching my sore muscles. But on other days, it's much of a meditation practice, a way for me to work on myself in a more private way. It's personal and internal. I came to the conclusion that I'm going to take it day by day and post as I feel. And today, I feel like discussing what I like to call Recovery Yoga.

Please note that I am not a licensed yoga instructor. I am just a woman who has been practicing for many years and wants to share her experiences with you. Just last week, a Daily Mile friend contacted me for some advice about his yoga practice. He wanted to love it but was struggling with his practice and wanted some advice. I asked him about his teacher and he replied that he didn't have one, he was practicing on his own. I loved that he was taking the initiative to learn on his own but suggested that as a beginner, he should really consider some classes to learn proper alignment to not only help his practice, but to prevent injury. So on that note, please do not consider my posts a substitute for proper yoga instruction!

A few weeks ago, I was trying classes at a new studio, and was having a particularly difficult time. I used to be the girl who could bend herself into a pretzel and do splits in mid air. All of a sudden, bending to touch my toes caused sharp pains to pierce my hamstrings and glutes. My once steady legs were shaking in deep lung positions and my ankles hurt and felt weak. I took a few moments after class to introduce myself to the teacher and told her how frustrated I was and my running routine came up. The teacher suggested that my running routine was to blame for my yoga frustration; she felt that a runner couldn't be a "successful yogi", whatever the heck that means, and that I would just have to accept the fact that if I were to continue running, my yoga practice would suffer. I left the studio upset but couldn't ignore what the teacher had said. And the more I thought about it, the more I accepted the fact that running had changed my body and the way it moved, stretched, bent and felt in general. But I refused to even acknowledge that there is such a thing as "successful yoga" since I've always believed that your practice is what you make of it. Some people can lift their legs to their head while others can lift them knee high but each person's practice is their own and as long as they move in a way that benefits their body and forwards their practice, they are successful. That's one of the reasons I've always loved yoga!

So instead of giving up, I decided to change my practice and the next day, I took a restorative yoga class. It was just what my body needed. The poses were as challenging as my body needed them to be and I felt my muscles stretching and opening each time I moved deeper into a pose. The class was packed with both men and women of all ages and weights and everyone moved into the poses as best as they could. It was great! And of course, I was excited to write about it because as you might already realize from my earlier posts, I believe that anyone can do anything as long as they try. It bothers me when people find yoga intimidating because I know how much it can benefit all of us, especially us runners with tight muscles. I learned several modified poses in class that I'm excited to share with you because those of you who are new to yoga, or those who aren't but could use some restorative poses on days when your muscles are too tight to move into deeper poses, might find them useful.

Here's the first of several poses I'll be posting in the coming weeks. Hope they help you as much as they've helped me!

  1. Stand facing a study chair, feet hip width apart, shoulders relaxed and with a natural curve in your lower back
  2. Keeping your shoulders down & relaxed, slowly lift your arms overhead, breathing in
  3. Step back with your right leg
  4. Keeping your hips square and even, twist your body to your left (facing in the direction opposite your back leg), moving from your waist. This movement may be as small or as large as your body allows so don't push it.
  5. Maintaining the twist in your waist and keeping your hips square, bend from your waist and rest your right elbow on the chair. 
  6. Bring you left hand to your hip and open your hips, aiming your left hip to the ceiling. You can stay in this position if you prefer, breathing deeply and feeling a great stretch in your left hip and IT band. You may also feel a slight stretch in your lower back.
  7. If you'd like to go deeper into the pose, stretch your left arm up to the sky, rotating your waist and opening your hips further. To keep your shoulders down and relaxed, roll your left shoulder slightly into your back.
  8. For a more advanced pose, roll your left shoulder back, open your chest and wrap your left arm around your back waist.
Hold this pose for several breaths and then repeat on the opposite side.

I'm happy to report that even though I'm back in training for my next half marathon, my yoga practice is still going strong. I just pay particular attention to certain muscles and modify poses as necessary. Using these restorative poses as recovery yoga on days after challenging runs has helped, and now I'm able to add my pre-running practice back to my schedule on other days. Yes, maybe my yoga practice is different now that I'm a runner but I can honestly say that I'm not sure I'd still be a runner if it weren't for my yoga practice.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on running and yoga. Do you run? Do you practice yoga? Do you feel like they compliment or contradict each other? And if you don't practice yoga... would you?

Happy Friday! I hope you have a beautiful weekend.

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