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Yoga for runners: 4 full-body stretches to mellow you out

Try these easy-to-modify moves to ease tight muscles and relax your racing mind

woman and yoga mat Photo by: Unsplash/BlendJet

Juggling a regular running schedule (alongside whatever life commitments keep you busy) can feel overwhelming, and it is easy to let life and body stress build up, both physically and mentally. These simple stretches will give you a mind-mellowing release from the day-to-day frenzy, and can be done individually or melded together, with one following another, into a feel-good flow.

Downward dog

We’ve all heard of downward dog pose, right? There’s a reason for that—it gives a great stretch to calves, hamstrings and lower legs, while strengthening shoulders and arms—and it’s easily modified to different levels of experience and mobility. It also improves overall flexibility and helps relieve tension in the legs and back.

  1. Begin on your mat on your hands and knees, with knees directly under your hips.
  2. Spread your fingers and push into your palms as you lift your tailbone to the ceiling, working to straighten your legs. Here, you can pedal your feet to work deeper into your calf muscles or move your hips and shoulders.
  3. Do what feels good in your body, finding the stretch that works for you.

Pigeon pose 

This pose stretches the hip flexors, outer hips and glutes, and eases tightness and discomfort in the hip muscles, making it a particularly useful stretch for runners with overactive hip flexors. It also gives your spine a gentle massage, if you add some very gentle slight side-to-side movement once you’re in the stretch. Feel free to modify this one as shown in the video below, or try a more intense version, like this one.

  1. Begin in a tabletop position, hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist, with your right foot closer to your left wrist.
  3. Extend your left leg straight back, keeping the top of your left foot on the ground.
  4. Square your hips as much as possible and work on moving them toward a level position. It’s OK if this feels challenging–simply move until you feel a deep stretch.
  5. Stay upright on your hands, or fold forward over your right leg, keeping your spine long.
  6. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, breathing deeply, before slowly coming out of the pose and switching to the other side.

Reclining spinal twist

This relaxing pose gives a gentle (or intense, depending on how deep you want to go) stretch to the spine and back muscles, and eases tight hips. It also gives a soothing massage to the abdominal organs and helps release tension. Pay attention to how your gentle breathing ebbs and flows as you hold this pose.

  1. Lie on your back with your legs extended.
  2. Draw your right knee towards your chest and extend your right arm out to the side, palm facing up.
  3. Use your left hand to guide your right knee across your body to the left, twisting your spine.
  4. Keep both shoulders grounded on the mat and turn your head to look towards your right hand.
  5. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then return to centre and switch sides.

Extended child’s pose (bonus: thread the needle)

This combination stretches the hips, thighs and ankles, opens the shoulders and relieves tension in the back. It’s particularly beneficial for runners as it promotes overall flexibility and helps in muscle recovery.

Extended Child’s Pose (Balasana)

  1. Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Bring your big toes together and spread your knees wide apart.
  3. Sit your hips back onto your heels.
  4. Reach your arms forward on the mat, stretching them out in front of you.
  5. Lower your chest towards the mat, allowing your forehead to rest on the floor.
  6. Hold for 5-10 breaths, feeling the stretch in your hips, thighs and back.

Thread the Needle (Urdhva Mukha Pasasana)

  1. Lift your head slightly and thread your right arm under your left arm, palm facing up.
  2.  Lower your right shoulder and right side of your head to the mat.
  3. Keep your left arm extended or bring it over your head for a deeper stretch.
  4. Stay in this position for 5-10 breaths, feeling the stretch in your shoulders and upper back.
  5. Gently come out of the pose and repeat on the other side by threading your left arm under your right arm.

If yoga or mobility exercises are new to you, make sure you gently ease into each pose. Consistency is key in yoga, and if you make mobility a regular practice, even for a few minutes a week, you’ll see improvements and benefits.

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