Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Balancing Crouching Twist

Welcome to "Crouching Tiger, Balancing Twist." Oh, wait. This is going to the the yoga list, not the Chinese martial arts list. My bad.

THE POSE: 1. With your feet together raise your arms overhead and rise on the the balls of your feet.

2. Keep your heels off the floor and drop to a low squat, twisting to the right and hooking your left elbow onto the outside of your right thigh. Turn your head to the right.

3. Take five deep slow breaths and see if you can lengthen your upper spine without losing your balance (you're still on the balls of the feet).

4. Rise back to standing, keep the heels off the floor, and repeat on the other side.

BENEFITS: Good stretch to the Achilles, often the ability to reset your spine very nicely with the twist and inherent instability of the pose, and good, challenging balance position.

AVOID IF: If your feet cramp with this position, be sure to drink far more water in the course of the day (for everyone, a gallon of water a day is a good rule of thumb - that's 8 sixteen-ounce glasses). If the tendency to cramp persists on other days, discontinue. If your knees hurt, please discontinue immediately and avoid this position altogether.

OTHER THOUGHTS: Another benefit this position offers is the ability to check out whoever is practicing yoga beside you. Just kidding.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The rock-climber twist

This is a great, simple, easy spinal twist that gets just about every part of your spine. But if you’re actually rock-climbing right now, while reading this, you should wait to try it after you’re back on level ground. I’m just sayin’, you know?

Here’s how it goes:

1. Lie face-down on your mat.

2. Extend your right arm up beside your head (so the right side of your body is a straight line between your right leg, your trunk, and your right arm).

3. Bend your left knee and bring it out to the left, so your inner left thigh presses against the floor. This is where you look like a rock-climber, hugging the face of a treacherous mountain wall. Stay a moment and feel the stretch through your pillar-like right arm, trunk and leg).

4. Press down with your left knee, lift your left arm, and move it back as far as you can, lifting the left hip off the floor and revolving your spine, your neck and your head. Stay for ten to thirty seconds; repeat on the other side.

BENEFITS: Gentle, easy way to get range of motion in the shoulder joint, the spine and the neck: gravity does the work for you and you only twist as far as your body’s natural range.

AVOID IF: If you cannot relax in the position because the arm that’s lifting above you doesn’t significantly tilt in the opposite direction, you might want to either curtail it to a few seconds. If any of this hurts, especially on your shoulder or spine, see if you can back off till it doesn’t hurt anymore; or skip it completely.

OTHER THOUGHTS: If you can get into it comfortably, this thing is like WD-40 for your spine. (If you only have a vague notion of what WD-40 is, don’t worry: I just said this to help guys get more comfortable with yoga. ;-) )

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

King of the Hamstring Stretch

I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen non-yoga people do what I'm sure they think is a good stretch. They grab their foot and stand there for five seconds and no doubt feel that they've paid their due to the "stretch after working out" rule (see the inset picture).

If you want a real stretch, though, this one's better. You still grab the foot like before, but then you bring your other hand to the floor or to a yoga block. Or to a stack of books if you don't have a block. Or, if you're of the generation who doesn't know what a book is, stack ten of your most recent mobile phones, and that should do the trick. :-)

BENEFITS: The hamstring on the standing leg is definitely stretched. Ditto for the quadriceps on the leg whose foot you're holding. AVOID IF: Your bent knee hurts (avoid completely) or you IT band or sciatic nerve on the standing leg hurt (back off the intensity of the stretch till you don't feel discomfort.