Exercise is important and so is stretching, it keeps us mobile and feeling energized for the next time we get out. We asked our ambassador Polly Clark of Mountain Yoga Breaks for some yoga stretching advice.
Getting outdoors and having adventures, either alone or with friends and family is a great way to boost energy levels, and keep healthy both in body and mind. Along with that, having some form of yoga practice can also be beneficial to our health and wellbeing. As well as helping to maintain and increase strength and flexibility, yoga is a form of deep self-care. In our busy modern lives where we too often compare ourselves to others, yoga can be an invaluable tool to help us avoid encroaching negative inner dialogue, anxiety and stress. The practice of yoga is a way to reconnect with ourselves. Through our practice, we get the chance to check in on how we are feeling physically, mentally and emotionally.
I am always telling people to stretch more after riding or running but I know it can be hard to make the time for it. If we give ourselves small aims such as a ten-minute practice we are much more likely to achieve it. So here are my six top poses for a post-ride or run stretch which can be done in around 10 – 15 minutes. Just remember when practising yoga that it is important to listen to your body, don’t push into sensations of pain. It’s less about how far you can go into a pose and more about how it makes you feel so pay attention to how the pose feels and how your body feels after each pose.
Why: I find that my body really wants to twist after a long ride. Twists are a great way to release tension in the spinal muscles, the upper back, neck and the outer hips. It’s also a very gentle pose that almost anyone can do. You can repeat it a few times and it always feels better the second time around.
How: Lay on your back with your knees bent. Feet can be either flat on the floor or you can bend the knees up over your chest depending on your range of motion. Take your arms out shoulder height palms face down. As you exhale drop your knees over to the right side and turn your head to look along your left arm. Allow the back of the shoulders to relax back down to the floor and let the lower legs completely drop and release. Stay here for up to 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
2. THREAD THE NEEDLE POSE
Why: This follows on nicely from the previous pose and is a really great release for the gluteal muscles and the outer hip as well as giving a little bit of hamstring stretch.
How: Still laying on your back, bend both knees, feet flat on the floor. Take your right ankle across your left knee. Flex your right foot and press your right knee away from you. This might be enough if you have lots of restriction in your hips but if you need more sensation then lift your left leg in towards you, hold around the back of your left thigh. Draw the left knee towards you whilst gently pushing your other knee away. Keep the shoulders relaxed. Stay here for up to 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
3. SPHINX AND COBRA
Why: We spend a lot of time in a forward bending position when on our bikes, so it’s really good to reverse this action and balance the body. Sphinx pose is a very mild backbend and a good place to start. If it feels good you can move on towards Cobra pose. Both of these poses work to strengthen the lower back as well as gently stretching out the front body.
Lay on your front and bring the forearms to the floor with the elbows at right angles. Lift the chest forwards and gently reach the legs away from you. Keep the shoulders relaxing down away from your ears.
To progress into Cobra pose press the hands into the floor and lift the elbows to start to straighten the arms. If that feels okay you can bring the hands closer in towards you to gain a stronger backbend. If you feel pinching in your lower back you have gone too far so release off slightly.
4. PIGEON POSE FOR THE SHOULDERS
Why: My shoulders and upper back always feel tight after a long ride and this is a really delicious way to find some release in that area. It takes a bit of fidgeting around to get it right but when you do it feels so good.
How: From Sphinx pose reach your left arm forwards, then slide your right arm under your left arm at a 90-degree angle to your mat, palm facing up so that your right shoulder ends up on the floor. You will notice that now your left shoulder is higher than your right. The aim is to level off the shoulders so lift your right shoulder while making the action of trying to pull the right arm out from underneath you, and simultaneously try and drop the left shoulder down so that the shoulders start to become more level. Let the head hang down, the forehead might reach the floor. Again stay for up to 10 breaths or more if it feels good, then come out and repeat on the other side.
5. DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Why: This pose is a good all-rounder. It energizes and rejuvenates the whole body as well as being a good stretch for the hamstrings, calves, feet, spine, shoulders…you get the idea!
How: Come onto all fours with the hands shoulder-width apart. Tuck the toes under and push into the hands to lift the hips up towards the ceiling. Keep the knees bent to begin with, push through the arms to lift the hips as high as you can. Then start to reach the heels towards the floor. You can pedal out the legs for a while to ease into the calf muscles. The heels might not make it to the floor but rather keep lengthening the spine and reaching the hips up and back. Release back onto all fours and repeat a few times.
6 Low Lunge
Why: This pose is ideal for releasing tightness in the hip flexors after a long day in the saddle. Repeat it a few times. You will feel the difference second time around.
How: Step your right foot forward and release your back knee to the floor (feel free to place some padding under the back knee). Try and have your front knee in line with the ankle and then sink the hips forwards. From there plant your right hand onto your right thigh and stretch your left arm up. You should be able to feel this all along the left side of your body.
Note: If you have any injuries or are suffering from any form of illness please consult your doctor or medical professional before trying any of these poses.
Words and photos supplied by Polly Clark of Mountain Yoga breaks, a yoga and mountain bike instructor based in Mid Wales. Polly runs mountain bike and yoga weekends throughout the year.
Polly wears the FINDRA Route merino T-shirt in Peacock