In this last installment of The Fast & the Flexible series, we have reached the part of the body that brings the majority of people to yoga class, the hips and low back. We will address the glutes as well, but I rarely get a new client who openly complains that their butt hurts, at least not right away.
Low back pain,three words everyone can appreciate. It is the common thread which binds all people from world-class athletes to 70-year-old grandmas, we can all relate. This pain can have a variety of causes, sitting too long, picking up stuff, wearing high heels, and commonly, the repetitive pounding of running.
Depending on the actual problem causing the pain, medical intervention may be necessary and if you suffer unrelenting back pain, seek medical advice. But, as with the hamstring, low back issues are easier to prevent than they are to heal so read on.
Much low back pain can be avoided or alleviated by keeping the hips loose. The hip joint is the most stable in the body because it is surrounded by muscles on all sides, if any of them tighten up it can affect the function of the joint. The joint itself is a deep-set ball and socket, and may take a little more work to open than a shallow joint like the shoulder.
If I could only use one yoga pose it would be Pigeon. This pose is like medicine for all issues related to the low back and hip area. I use it in every class, for every athlete regardless of their sport, it is truly the universal solvent. The following poses are all great for establishing and maintaining flexibility in the low back, glutes and hips.
FIRST POSE- Pigeon three ways.
The prone version of pigeon is the most effective, but I find a lot of athletes think it is an enhanced interrogation technique, therefore, I am going to offer three versions, choose the one that suits you.
For prone pigeon, start in downward facing dog, extend and lift your left leg behind you to level out the hips. From this cleverly named, “three-legged dog” position, bend the knee towards the chest and place it down behind your left wrist. Reach back with the right foot and drop the right knee cap onto the ground. Untuck the right foot and press the top of the foot into the ground.
The closer your front knee is to a right angle, the more intense this will be, so bring the foot more under you the first time. Lift onto your fingertips and look at the ceiling, envision a long, straight spine. If you are tipped to either side, correct this before you proceed. Lower down onto your forearms, and maybe stack your fists or forearms and lower your forehead down so you can rest. You are going to be here a while so get comfortable (comfort being a relative term, of course).
Hold this pose for 1-5 minutes, then repeat on the other side. Yes you read that right, 5 minutes. Close the eyes, focus on your exhales and allow your self to sink in, it will get easier after about 30-45 seconds, so stay with it. I cannot overstate the value of this pose for any athlete. If this version seems impossible because your hips are welded shut, then try the reclined version of this pose.
Lie on your back with bent knees, feet on the ground. Place one ankle on the top of the other knee, similar to how you sit in a chair with loosely crossed legs. Raise the foot on the floor, maintaining a right angle in the leg. Reach through the triangle that is created by the legs and grasp the back of the thigh and draw the leg towards the chest. Hold this pose for 1 to 5 minutes on each side.
Another nice option is to plant the bottom foot on a wall as shown above. Reclined pigeon fantastic pose to gently release the low back, hip, glutes and, to a lesser degree, the hip flexors and hamstrings.
SECOND POSE- Dead Bug.
Ahh Dead Bug, how I love you, your weird name is a guaranteed laugh every time. It is great pose to release the low back and stretch the hips. Lie on your back and draw your knees toward the chest. Reach the hands inside the knees and either grab the outside edge of the foot or the big toe with your peace fingers. Draw the knees down as you aim the soles of your feet at the sky.
To get maximum benefits from this pose remember to keep your low back firmly pressed on the ground. You can rock gently from side to side if that feels good. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes.
If you are stiff and sore and only have 10 minutes to stretch, please do these poses, they will give you the most bang for your buck. I know as a teacher you are not supposed to have favorites, but let’s just say I am very fond of these poses and leave it at that. I hope you have found this series helpful, if you would like more information about how to use yoga to take your running to the next level please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Kestner is a registered yoga teacher in Sylvania, Ohio and owner of Next Level Yoga, Ltd. She specializes in designing programs which help athlete’s improve their performance, prevent injuries, and promote recovery.