Releasing Tight Muscles: 5 Simple Yoga Stretches (Vasconcellos)
Stretching is probably one of the best things you can do for your body. Stiff muscles can eventually turn into injured ligaments, bones, back pain, shoulder pain, etc. I think it’s just one of those things we normally leave out of our regular exercise routine. We think after we have a great workout that we’ll just go home after the gym or run and do some stretches when we get home, but by the time we get there, we forget about it. Well, I am here to tell you that there are some great simple yoga stretches that can really help complement any type of exercise regime you might have quite well, so that you don’t feel tight after, say a long run or hitting the weights.
As a yoga teacher, I’ve often heard new students complain of bad backs and knees, tight hamstrings and hips. Over the years, I have seen students with joint pain, back problems, muscle pulls, tendinitis, strains, and sprains come to class and increase their range of motion, agility, flexibility, lung capacity, endurance, strength and general body practice. Yoga has the ability to help all of us build strength and flexibility and eliminate pain from tight muscles.
I have put together some simple stretches to help bring flexibility into your life. These stretches aren’t just for the athlete but also for those that need to combat those tight muscles (most all of us). Please remember, if any of the suggested poses don’t feel right or hurt, come out of the pose.
Downdog (adho mukha svanasana)
Builds strength in the upper arms, opens the back, neck, chest, hips, hamstrings, and shoulders. If you let your heels sink nicely to the floor, you stretch the calves as well.
From a position of all fours, hands directly below your shoulders, lift the buttocks up toward the ceiling.
Elongate the spine, and straighten the knees, and push the heels toward the floor as much as you can without forcing, rotate the thighs inward, keep the tail high and sink your heels towards the floor.
Spread your fingers wide and push the palms of your hands into the earth.
Move the abdominal muscles in and keep them firm; drop your head toward the floor and let it hang loosely. Take some deep long breaths.
Stretches the entire back, hips, thighs and ankles gently; helps alleviate back pain.
From a position of all fours, bring your toes together and now push your hips back to your heels.
Your belly will rest on or between your thighs, and your forehead will reach towards the floor. (Place a towel under your forehead if it won’t reach the floor).
Stretch the arms out in front of you to feel a stretch up the length of the back.
Stretch the arms alongside the body, with the fingertips facing the toes, to stretch between the shoulder blades. Breathe.
Ankle-Over the Knee Pose
Stretches the outside of the hips and the inner thighs.
Lie on your back on the mat.
Bring your knees in towards the chest, at a 90-degree angle.
Place your right ankle on your left thigh, interlace your fingers and place them behind your left thigh, and pull your left thigh towards your chest.
Hold for at least 5 deep breaths.
Repeat on the other side.
TIP: Be sure to flex your feet to deepen the stretch and protect your knees from injury. Press your elbow against that bent knee to feel an inner thigh stretch. If you have knee problems, adjust the angle of the knee so you feel comfortable, if it hurts your knee don’t do this pose.
Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangustasna):
Helps to open the hips and hamstrings and reduce low back pain.
Using a yoga strap, belt or a towel, lie on your back with your legs extended and arms resting at your sides, bend your right knee and hug your thigh to your chest. Keep your left leg extended along the floor.
Wrap the strap around the ball of your right foot and grasp one end of the strap in each hand.
Keep your grip soft, but not loose, reach through your heel to straighten your knee, extending your heel to the ceiling. Keep your right foot flexed and your buttocks equally balanced on the floor.
Feel your lower back press into the ground (if your lower back is not touching the ground, bend your left knee and bring your left foot on the floor). Lengthen the back of your neck. Relax the muscles of your buttocks on the floor and breathe.
Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani):
Stretches the hamstrings gently, allows blood that has accumulated in the feet and legs to re-circulate in the body, offers a gentle release to the low back.
Sit next to a wall and lie on your back, bring your knees into your chest.
Straighten your legs and place them on the wall while wiggling your bottom closer to the wall.
Allow your heels to rest gently on the wall.
Extend the arms overhead for an added stretch.
TIP: This pose is great for anyone who works on their feet. Spend a few minutes in this pose (you can even do this in bed) each night to give your legs a break
Do you have any questions about certain yoga poses? If there’s a certain area of the body you’d like to stretch, or would like further instruction please let me know, I’d be happy to help and will continue to add on to this list of stretches for the body. Your comments are valuable.