Athletes around the world – think LeBron James, Novak Djokovic, the Australian Diamonds and our own Leisel Jones – are turning to yoga.
For runners or anyone who loves to play sports, the practice can help develop balance, flexibility, agility and performance. It’s also a go-to to stay injury-free.
A regular session on the mat can help quicken your recovery period and avoid common injuries like iliotibial band syndrome or plantar fasciitis. The benefits also include calming the mind, increasing focus and endurance, and even a deeper sleep.
Novak Djokovic, the number one ranked tennis player in the world, has said he practices to “help me align and find inner peace” and to work on breathing through movements to “improve my flexibility and better movement of the joints.”
So if you’re signed up for winter netball, union or league, give these five poses a try:
- Supta Baddha Konasana – Reclined Bound Angle
WHY: A classic restorative posture to stretch the inner thighs, groin and knees, and improve circulation. When held for a few minutes, Supta Baddha Konasana taps into the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest state) which calms the mind and resets the body.
HOW: Lie on your back and bring the soles of your feet together, taking the knees apart. Gently rest one hand on your belly and one on your heart, and close down the eyes. Stay here for at least two minutes and breathe deep.
- Viparita Karani – Legs-Up-The-Wall
WHY: Perhaps the best recovery pose out there. This simple asana offers a gentle stretch for the hamstrings, removes swelling and helps to relieve lower back pain.
HOW: Start seated beside a wall, with your feet on the floor in front of you and your left side touching. Slowly lower down to your back and pivot so the backs of your legs are pressing against the wall and your feet are facing up. Your sit bones should press up against the wall or just slightly further back, with your head and back resting on the mat – in a 90-degree angle. Stay here for five to 15 minutes. To release, gently roll to one side and stay there for a few moments before returning to seated.
- Adho Mukha Savasana – Downward Facing Dog
WHY: A gentle inversion that works to release tension in the hamstrings, Achilles tendons and calves. It also helps keep your spine aligned and will give you a boost of energy, and sense of well being post-run.
HOW: Begin on your hands and knees. Spread your fingers wide and pressing down through all ten knuckles, lift your tailbone towards the sky. Gently begin to straighten your legs, taking care not to lock the knees, until you reach an inverted V position and engage your quadriceps. Relax your head but don’t let it hang loose, and hold for at least five long breaths.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge
WHY: Backbends are amazing counterposes for running and hunching forward. Bridge pose opens the shoulders and the front of the body, and strengthens the back.
HOW: Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mat hip width apart. Rest your arms alongside your body with palms facing down and fingertips lightly touching the heels. Inhale and lift your hips up. Press down through your arms and shoulders to raise the chest, and engage your quads and gluts to lift the hips higher. Stay for ten deep breaths, and release.
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – Pigeon
WHY: One for your quads, hip flexors, external rotators and hamstrings. Pigeon is one of the best poses to stretch out your limbs and release any tension in your shoulders and neck, which can tighten when running or during game-time.
HOW: From Down Dog, slide your right leg forward, bringing your shin parallel to the front of the mat. Lengthen your back left leg and keep your hips squared as you walk your hands forward. You can gently lower your torso to the mat here, resting your forehead on your hands, or stay upright. Hold for 5-8 breaths, then switch sides.