Whether you’ve been hiking up hills or shredding trails, swimming lengths or training for the next challenge, a short yoga practice after a workout is a soothing tonic for the muscles, reversing the negative effects that the repetitive stress and impact of many sports has on the body’s tissues.
Repetitive stress can compact and tighten our muscles as well as the connective tissue around them (called fascia). Therefore I recommend holding the following postures for a minute or more. Longer holds in stretches not only ease tension in the muscles but also work deep into the fascia, helping us develop greater overall flexibility in the body’s tissues and reducing the risk of injury.
So, here is my 10-pose sequence to practice after a work-out, or even to turn into a daily practice while training for your next big challenge! Enjoy :)
Garudasana - Eagle Pose
Come to stand at the front of the mat in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Feet together, kneecaps drawing up to engage the quads. Draw your navel inwards, creating a solid core. Relax the shoulders and broaden across the collarbone. Draw the crown of the head up towards the ceiling. Take a few deep inhales and exhales, connecting with the breath.
Shift the weight into the left foot, bend the left knee and cross the right leg over the left. Keep a tall, upright spine and tuck the tailbone. Keep the navel drawing in to protect the lower back. Sit deep down in the squat.
Cross the right arm over the left with the arms straight and the palms upright. Then close the upper arms together and clasp the right wrist with the left hand. Keep the upper arms and elbows raised up, try not to let them sink as I have here!
Keep sitting down deep in the squat. Feel the stretch through the achilles tendon. Keep the core strong. The breath has a tendency to become shallow and ragged here - become conscious of the breath and breathe smoothly through the discomfort for one minute or more!
Inhale and straighten the left leg. Uncross the legs. Stand in Mountain Pose.
Repeat the pose on the other side, crossing the left leg over the right and the left arm over the right.
Benefits: Opens the hips and IT band, increases circulation to the joints, improves balance and focus, strengthens the legs, knees and ankles, opens the shoulders
Uttanasana - Standing Forward Bend (modified)
On the next inhale, cross the right leg over the left again. Exhale and fold the upper body over the legs. Place the palms flat on the floor. The upper body should touch the thighs. If you have short or tight hamstrings (like I do!) the knees will be bent in this position. Un-shrug the shoulders.
Breathe smoothly and deeply here for 1 minute or more. Then, on an exhale, bring the hands to the waist. Inhale deeply, slowly come all the way back up to a standing position and un-cross the legs. Then repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings where they meet the IT band, keeps the spine strong and flexible, strengthens the thighs and knees, strengthens the abdominal muscles
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana - Upward-Facing Dog Pose
Lying down on your front, place your hands flat on the mat, close into the body. Your upper arms should be parallel with the mat, and the wrists should be underneath the elbows, so your upper and lower arms are at a right angle to one another.
Inhale, push decisively into the hands, straighten the arms, lift the chest and broaden across the collarbone. Let the shoulder blades glide down the back. Open the throat, throw the head back and up, but gaze softly down the nose. Breathe deeply into the chest.
Benefits: Creates space in the chest, lengthens the spine, strengthens arms and wrists
Uttitha Parsvakonasana - Side-Angle Pose
Stand at the front of the mat in Mountain Pose. Then, step or jump the feet out to the right hand side, with the legs approximately 1 1/2 leg length apart from one another. Turn the right foot to face the front of the mat and turn the left foot in slightly.
Bend the right knee and place the right elbow on the right knee. Lift the left arm overhead, creating a strong, straight line through the back leg and the arm, and look to the palm. If you would like to come further, you can bring the right hand flat onto the floor outside of the right foot.
Breathe strongly and feel the quiet strength of your whole body engaged fully in the posture. After 1 minute or so, on an inhale, release the arms and square off the feet to the side of the mat. Turn round on the feet so that the left foot faces the back of the mat, right foot turning in slightly. Repeat the posture on the left hand side.
Benefits: Stretches the groin, psoas and hamstrings, strengthens the legs, knees and ankles
Prasarita Padottanasana C - Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Variation C)
Remaining in a wide-legged position, square off the feet to the side of the mat. Clasp the hands behind the back, interlacing the fingers. Feel a firm foundation through the feet and draw up on the kneecaps.
Inhale and lift the face and chest to the sky. Exhale, slowly fold down with straight legs. Unlike a normal forward fold, you are not aiming to fold the body against the legs - the legs remain straight. Draw in the belly and let the crown of the head fall down towards the mat.
Have a wriggle to free up any space in the shoulders that might be there. Allow the arms and hands to fall down towards the mat. Often we have more space in this posture than we think, so don’t be afraid to push the edges of your comfort zone here, really pushing the arms and hands as far over the head as is possible.
Inhale, slowly come all the way up and release the hands to the hips.
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the hamstrings, upper legs and spine, creates space in the shoulders, calms the mind
Malasana - Garland Pose
From a wide-legged position, heel-toe the feet slightly closer together. Let the feet point out to the side. Exhale and squat deeply down, hooking the elbows inside of each knee. Bring the hands into prayer position (anjali mudra).
Be sure to distribute the weight evenly throughout the feet. Really press the hands together and let the elbows and knees act as resistance to one another. This will help cultivate flexibility in the hips and build strength in the legs and arms.
After a minute or so, steadily release the hands and slowly come up. Jump the feet back together.
Benefits: Calms the mind and grounds the body, opens the hips, strengthens and stretches the legs, ankles and achilles tendons, improves digestion
Vrksasana - Tree Pose
Stand in Mountain Pose. Feel the weight of the feet pressing solidly into the earth. Feel every contact point of the foot pressing down into the floor. Draw up on the kneecaps, ensuring the legs are really straight and solid.
First, bring the right heel to rest on top of the left foot, toes pointing outward. Find a point on the floor or in the room to rest your gaze. Connect to your deep, slow breath and allow the mind to quieten. When you feel still, bring the right foot to the inner left calf, pressing firmly onto it directly from the side. If you want to go further, take the right foot to the inner left thigh. Do not rest it on the inner knee - this will exert too much sideways pressure on the knee.
Stay focused on your gazing point, and breathe deeply. Inhale, stretching the arms overhead, either in prayer position or open as I have here. After a few breaths, exhale the foot back to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Stretches the thighs, groin, torso and shoulders, builds strength in the calves and ankles, tones the abdominal muscles, improves balance
Salabasana - Locust Pose
Lie down on your front. Point your toes and lay your chin on the floor, looking forwards. Lay your hands beside the body pointing back towards the back of the mat, palms upwards. Draw the kneecaps up and keep the core strong as in Mountain Pose.
Inhale, lift the legs up with toes pointed, sides of the feet pressing together. Lift the head and chest off the mat, looking forward. Lift the hands off the ground. Look forward and down over the nose.
Inhale, to find length in the spine, and exhale, to rise up a little further, breathing into the chest. Inhale and exhale for 30 seconds or more. If you like, repeat 3 times. You can also begin just by raising one leg at a time.
Benefits: Strengths the muscles of the spine, buttocks and backs of arms & legs, stretches the chest & shoulders, improves posture, relieves stress
Supta Virasana - Reclining Hero Pose
Unless you are extremely flexible in the hips and quads, you will need a bolster, cushion or rolled up blanket for this pose, to place under your back.
Begin in a seated position. Place the bolster lengthways with the end of it at the base of the spine. Bend both knees, tucking the feet back and close in to the body. Slowly, lie back onto the bolster. Lie the arms by your sides or overhead. Let the body melt down into the pose.
Don’t be afraid to pile up the cushions under your back to get as much height as you need. You might also benefit from a block under the sacrum or blocks under the knees, which can have a tendency to lift off the ground and feel like they’re hovering in mid-air. It is important to feel supported in this pose so you can stay in it for a while, so go as mad with props as you need to!
I recommend that you hold the pose for 2-3 minutes. This pose is so beneficial for relieving tight quads, that I would recommend spending some time in this pose several nights a week.
Benefits: Stretches the quadriceps and deep hip flexors (psoas muscles), relieves tired legs, improves digestion, helps relieve symptoms of menstrual pain
Savasana - Corpse Pose
Is this is a pose? The answer is yes, is it is probably the most important pose in this sequence! No yoga practice is complete without a few minutes of relaxation at the end. Physically, this allows the practice to sink into the body and lets our muscle memory develop itself. Mentally, it creates a window of stillness between this activity and the next, meaning that we can really soak up the calming benefits of working with our breath and being connected to our bodies.
Lie down on the back and let the feet flop out to the side. Allow the palms to turn up to the sky, and close down the eyes. Take a deep breath in through the nose, and release it out through the mouth. Ahhhhhh!
Let the breath return to normal, flowing gently in through the nose and out through the nose. You can then do a scan down the body in your mind if you wish, or simply stay with the breath for just a few minutes. Try and be as mindful as possible during the relaxation, noticing if you drift off into thought and gently coming back to the body and breath if you do. Take as long as you need in savasana. Then, start to bring in some gentle movements to the fingers and toes, before having a big, yummy stretch to wake up the body again.
Benefits: Relieves stress and fatigue, relaxes your whole body, calms the mind and improves mental health