Yoga is very advantageous to all athletes and should be incorporated into everyone’s weekly workout routine. To learn more about all of the great benefits of a consistent yoga practice, see my blog post Why Every Athlete Should do Yoga. The sequence below will help strengthen and stretch your under and over utilized muscles as well as increase your joint and muscular flexibility, mental focus and balance. Spend as much time in each posture taking as many breaks as needed. Its not about forcing your body into each pose. Ease into the stretch and back off when you start to feel any discomfort or pain.
Stretches: lower spine, hips, back and core
Benefits: opens chest, warms up the spine, relieves lower back pain and sciatica
How to: Start by kneeling on hands and knees. Align shoulders directly over the wrists and hips over the knees. As you inhale, lift your chest and tailbone to the ceiling while lowering your belly to the floor (cow pose). On your exhale, press your palms firmly into the floor as you round your spine drawing your navel in and taking your chin to your chest (cat pose). Repeat this back and forth motion between cat and cow pose as many times you would like and then return to a neutral spine.
Stretches: spine and shoulders
Benefits: opens chest, strengthens and stretches arms, hips and upper back, relieves symptoms of stress and insomnia
How to: From your hands and knees position, begin to walk your hands towards the front of your mat. Keep your hips stacked over your knees. Drop your forehead to the floor and place a blanket or block underneath for more support. Let your neck relax but keep the arms active by lifting elbows away from the floor. To feel a nice stretch in your spine, press your hands more firmly into the mat stretching through your arms while pulling your hips back toward your heels. Stay for about a minute or so and then walk your hands back towards your legs, lift your chest and rest sitting on your shins.
Stretches: Shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches
Benefits: strengthens arms, legs and core
How to: Start on hands and knees tucking toes and stepping feet to the back of your mat. Lower down to forearms one at a time. Press inner forearms and elbows firmly against the floor. Pull shoulder blades onto the back, plug shoulders into socket, pull your frontal ribs in and keep your neck long. Press your thighs toward the ceiling but resist tailbone toward the floor and press heels towards the back of your mat. Stay as long as you can, resting when you need to. To modify this pose, lower the knees to the mat. Stay for a few breaths and then lower shins onto the mat and rest your hips on your heels.
Standing Forward Fold
Stretches: hamstrings, calves, hips
Benefits: strengthens thighs and knees, calms the mind helping to relieve stress, reduces fatigue, and relieves headaches and insomnia
How to: From standing, as you exhale, bend forward from your hips keeping length in your spine and a soft bend in your knees. If possible, bring your fingertips to the ground or bend your elbows taking your hands to the opposite elbow. You can also use a water bottle, helmet or block to bring the ground a little closer to you. Stay for a minute or so and then bring your hands to your hips and lift your torso returning to a standing position.
Low Lunge with back knee down
Stretches: Psoas (hip flexor) in back leg, hips
Benefits: Strengthens quads and glutes
How to: From a standing forward fold, step your left foot back as far as it will go and lower the knee to the ground. Keeping the right ankle and knee in line with each other, slide the left knee back enough to where you feel a comfortable stretch in your thigh and groin on that leg. Bring your hands to your right thigh and lift your torso upright. Allow your shoulders to stay relaxed and slowly start to extend your arms overhead. If this feels like too much, bring your hands back to your thigh or take your palms together in front of your heart. Stay here for a few breaths and then slowly release the hands down framing the right foot, tuck back toes under and return to your standing forward fold.
Stretches: hamstrings, calves, hips, low back
Benefits: Strengthens hamstrings, relieves sciatica
How to: From the low lunge position, place on the ground on either side of the front foot. Begin to shift your hips towards the back heel. Flex the front foot so only the heel of the foot is on the ground. For a deeper stretch, walk hands forward and lift your chest. Modifications to this pose would be to take hands to your hips or blocks. Stay for a few breaths and then slowly switch sides.
Low lunge twist
Stretches: psoas (hip flexor) and hips
Benefits: strengthens quads and glutes, improves digestion and elimination, and relieves sciatica
How to: From the low lunge with left leg forward, place both hands on the ground between left foot. Press right hand into the ground and extend your left arm towards the ceiling opening your chest. You might stay here for a few breaths, then tuck your back toes and lift your knee taking this stretch a little deeper. Keep pressing the ground away with your right hand and draw your shoulder into socket with the right shoulder over the right wrist. Send your left hip back and lift your right thigh up. Breathe here for a few breaths and return to your standing forward fold.
Stretches: spine, lower back and hamstrings
Benefits: strengthens core muscles, improves digestions, stimulates kidneys and thyroid, and strengthens lower back muscles
How to: From sitting, place feet and knees together as you bend your knees. Hold the back of your things, lengthen spine and slowly start to lean back without collapsing into your abdomen. Slowly lift your feet a few inches from the floor while engaging your core and lifting your chest. You can start to work towards lifting your shins a little higher taking them parallel to the ground and extend your arms forward. Stay as long as you like and slowly lower feet back to the ground.
Stretches: Shoulders, hamstrings, spine and hips
Benefits: massages abdominal organs, relieves backache and hip pain and strengthens spine
How to: From sitting, extend legs in front of you. Start to bend left knee and walk your left foot towards as close to your left sitting bone as possible. Keep right leg engaged and active and flex your right foot, pointing your toes back towards your hips. With an exhalation, rotate to the left and wrap right arm around your right thigh. Press left hand into the floor next to your left hip and lift your torso, keeping spine long. With your inhalations see if you can sit up a little taller and as you exhale, take your twist deeper. Stay for 5-10 breaths and slowly unwind returning to center extending your left leg.
After you’ve completed all of the postures, spend some time lying on your back, quieting your mind and resting your body.