Yoga for Endurance Athletes
As triathletes, we all know the importance of recovery, mobility work, and strength work. But when getting into the longer distance races of the Ironman 70.3, 140.6, or Ultra Running variety, let's be honest...who has time to hit a yoga studio?! Or even get in a regular practice? As a yoga practitioner of 17 years, and a teacher of the practice for seven, I have become increasingly embarrassed at how minimal/dismal my practice had become.
But I was exhausted, training 15 plus hours a week and working as a full-time time massage therapist. I had essentially cut out teaching and by the peak of my Ironman Lake Placid training, I squeezed in two hours of yoga for the entire month. But even those two hours, I personally believe made a massive difference. Our bodies need that time to renew/recover, even simply for our nervous systems to have those precious moments of moving back into a rest and digest state. So for all you badass, busy Ironman triathletes or ultrarunners here are a few key poses that can be done when you just don't have the time to get that full hour in but want to bring more balance and harmony in your training program.
Sukhasana (Seated Pose)
This is a fabulous pose to center yourself and begin to wake up the core muscles to help with your posture. Roll the shoulders back and down, and bring the bellybutton to your spine bringing engagement to the abdomen. Closing the eyes visualize as though there is a string coming out of the top of your head that is being pulled bringing length to the spine. Offer yourself a few moments breathing in and out of the nostrils deep from the belly. This naturally allows the nervous system to relax. Take 5-50 breaths here depending on time and need. If you have low back tension, or tight hips sit on a yoga block or pillow to ease pressure.
Parsva Sukhasana (Seated Side Stretch)
Taking either the hand or the forearm, begin to lean laterally opening up the side waist allowing the intercostal muscles between the ribs to release providing more space for the diaphragm. Focus on the opposite glute muscle/sit bone keeping it firmly grounded on the earth. Take deep full breaths visualizing length from hip to fingertip. Keep your bicep by the ear, and focus on your heart opening. You can do this by noticing whether your chest is facing the ground and slowly work on rolling it up towards the sky. Spend 5-20 breaths on each side.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Ankle/Cobblers Pose)
Drawing the soles of the feet together, allow the peace fingers of both hands to grab onto the big toes. Energetically focus on drawing the knees to the earth. Roll the shoulders back and down and bring length to the spine. Close the eyes and spend a few breaths here. As you feel the hips start to soften slowly allow the spine to round drawing the forehead towards the ground. I invite you to turn this into a yin pose, spending up to five minutes here giving the connective tissue around the hips/ low back to relax. Take at least 10 breaths folded forward.
Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A)
Now that you have spent five delicious minutes easing open the hips, let's flush and activate the lymphatic/circulatory system and bring some strength to the body. Coming to a standing position, allow the feet to draw shoulder-width distance apart. Inhale and lift all ten toes up and as you exhale feel them root down. Gently rock forwards and backwards, side to side feeling the full spectrum of the soles of the feet until you find centeredness. Roll the shoulders back, allowing the collarbones to broaden. Allow the palms to face forward and take a deep breath in.
Inhale the arms up over the head. Exhale fold forward. Depending on the tension in the hamstrings, calves, and back bend the knees accordingly. Inhale, bring the hands on the shins or the thighs and lengthen into a halfway lift. Exhale fold forward. Inhale and step back into plank pose. Normally one would spend a breath here, but for our practice, I invite you to take five breaths bringing strength to your practice. If need be, lower your knees to the ground and after the fifth breath exhale to the ground. Inhale lifting up the chest. Exhale into downward dog. Once again, normally this would be one breath, but try spending 5-20 breaths here marinating and opening up the muscles. Inhale step forward, feet in between the hands. Exhale fully. Inhale halfway lift. Exhale and fold. Inhale, root to rise arms rising from the side. Exhale hands into the heart. Pause and breathe. Depending on your time do this from one to three times.
Supta Kapotasana (Finger Four Pose)
Coming onto your back, first spend a moment drawing the knees into the chest releasing the low back. Firmly plant the feet hip-width distance apart on the earth. Taking one foot, bend the knee and draw it across placing it on the opposite thigh. Spend a few breaths here allowing the tissue to soften. Flex the foot resting on the thigh and press the knee away from your body. If available lift up the planted foot to deepen the stretch and wrap your hands either on the back of the thigh or weave upwards grabbing the shin. Take at least ten breaths here, but if available spend three to five minutes on each leg.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
For endurance athletes, I believe that this is extremely important. We are so go-go-go. A big issue for very motivated individuals is adrenal burnout and fatigue syndrome. By giving yourself a prolonged active rest pose you are giving back to your body, centering your mind, and bringing deep healing to your body. Let your breath be free and natural. I know we are often told to think of nothing and clear your mind. If that serves you, then wonderful! That is what this pose is for. But if you are feeling restless I invite you to take this time in Savasana to visualize your perfect Ironman or Ultra Marathon. Feel how you would feel crossing the finish line. See what you would see. Hear the loud cheers of victory, taste the salty effort on your lips. Execute the race while you relax deeply and then rise up motivated and ready to take on the world! Spend as much time as you need here.
Deep peace and happy training darlings.