By Stepfanie Romine, Certified Yoga Teacher, for SparkPeople
In January of last year, I started teaching a new yoga class. Many of my students are athletes, particularly runners and cyclists. My boyfriend, who co-founded a local competitive cycling team, is also a yoga teacher, and the two of us firmly believe that athletes should integrate yoga into their fitness routine. When I teach yoga classes for runners, I like to focus on the hips and hamstrings, which tend to be tight for runners. We also work on building strength. For cyclists, who spend a great deal of time leaning over the handlebars, we also focus on opening the chest and shoulders, undoing all those hours of being hunched over. Both groups of athletes rely on their feet and ankles to perform, but these areas of the body are often overlooked when it comes to stretching. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite stretches for the feet and ankles. Add these to your post-workout repertoire. These stretches can feel quite intense at first, and that's normal. Take your time, use props when needed, and remember to BREATHE! Before you begin, remember these precautions:
- Do not start a yoga routine or any other workout without clearance from your doctor.
- These poses are not suitable for pregnant women.
- Each pose should be done in a slow and controlled manner, without bouncing or forcing, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of "mild discomfort." If you are stretching to the point of pain, you have stretched too far. Learn to "respect your edge"--never go beyond it.
- A breath is one full inhalation and one full exhalation through the nose.
- If you have knee problems, do not do these poses. They can be quite intense and should be entered and exited gently and slowly.
- Warm up with 10 minutes of cardio or a few sun salutations, then move on to these stretches. Hold each one for five breaths to start, then slowly transition to the next one. Work your way up to holding these stretches for 30 seconds each.
Before I do these poses, I like to spend a few minutes lying on my back warming up the toes, feet, and ankles. Lie on a mat, knees slightly bent, arms by your sides. Some ideas to loosen up the ankles and feet. Flex the heels and point the toes, scrunch and spread the toes, shake out the legs, circle the ankles in both directions, write the alphabet with your toes. I also like to give my feet a quick massage. They work hard and deserve a break!
Balasana (child's pose)
Kneel on the floor, touch the big toes together and sit back onto the heels. Spread the knees hip-width apart.
Exhale and bring your torso to the tops of your thighs, forehead resting on the floor or a block.
Let your arms rest next to the legs, fingers extended toward the toes.
Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Come to hands and knees as you inhale.
Exhale and tuck the toes under and press into the hands as you lift the hips high.
Hands should be as wide as the shoulders; feet as wide as the hips.
Spread fingers wide and stretch your heels downward.
Pull the bellybutton toward the spine.
Tuck the chin and gaze toward the belly.
Inhale and look toward your hands; walk your feet in between your hands, so that toes touch and heels are slightly apart. Bring hands to your shins, lift halfway (so you're parallel with the floor) and gaze straight ahead. Exhale fold all the way, tucking the chin.
Inhale, press into the feet as you rise up, bringing the palms together overhead as you stand tall. Exhale, relax your arms by your sides.
Noose variation (Pasasana)
From Inhale as you step the feet hip-width apart.
Exhale and fold forward, bringing the palms to the floor on either side of the feet, which should be hip-width apart. Bend the knees if need be.
Place a block just behind your feet. Bend your knees into a full squat, sitting on your heels (below) or the block (above). Keep your hands on the floor in front of you for support, or to test your balance, clasp hands in front of you, arms straight.
Click here for more poses and pictures!
10 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Stretch
13 Yoga Poses for Runners
12 Hamstring Stretches for Greater Flexibility
SparkRecipes.com editor Stepfanie Romine is a certified yoga teacher and co-author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A vegetarian and runner, she has lived and cooked on three continents.