Yin Yoga for Runners

Well, I’ve been back from my meditation retreat for a few days, and I’m still re-learning how to do this “every day life” thing.  It was a wonderful experience, and it’s still with me.  I’ll write a reflection or two about the retreat soon.

In the meantime, my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Erika Hall, recently asked me to write something for her newsletter about how Yin Yoga can benefit runners.  She specializes in yoga for these athletic types, so I put together five of my favorite yin poses for runners to try.  Here it is!

Erika: Boy have I been loving Yin Yoga lately. With the intensity of my daily training, Yin Yoga offers a perfect gentle balance while increasing my flexibility and stretching my tight muscles.  I know  A LOT about yoga, but even the teacher needs to take a class. When I do, I seek out Addie deHilster of TheraYoga. It is my pleasure to introduce you to my first guest contributor ever, Addie deHilster, my go-to Yin Yoga Guru. Addie happily agreed to compile her list of Top 5 Yin Yoga Poses for Runners and share it with us.  I’ll let Addie tell you more about it…

Addie: Runners are used to moving fast, so it may be a little counter-intuitive that you can benefit so much from a decidedly slow practice like Yin Yoga.  It might sound like a paradox, but spending a little extra time relaxing in a few Yin poses can often increase your flexibility more quickly than doing lots of active poses.

Yin Yoga is a soft and mellow approach to yoga.  In this practice, we hold most poses for 3-5 minutes at a time, gradually and thoroughly stretching the body.  Science has shown that it takes at least 90 seconds to begin to stretch the connective tissue, known as fascia, that surrounds our muscles.  If you have tight fascia surrounding your muscles, you’ll be limited in how much you can improve your flexibility.

The following are five of my favorite Yin Yoga poses for runners.  I recommend practicing Yin postures on your off days from running, or after a run for some wonderful recovery time.  Slow down for a while and enjoy these, and your muscles and fascia will thank you!

cattail3, cropped1) Cat Tail Pose: This is a great stretch for the quadriceps and hip flexors. Lie on your right side and rest your head on your arm, or a blanket place on top of your arm. Take your top leg and extend it out placing the foot on the floor in front of you to stabilize the body. Then, bend your bottom knee and reach back to hold the foot in your hand.  Gently pull your heel toward your seat with a steady, but relaxed, pressure.  Stay here for 3 minutes.

cattail4, croppedBefore going on to the second side, you can take this into a delicious twist.  Loosen your grip on the bottom foot, then roll your top shoulder back toward the floor.  Let the body shift back and settle into the twist for another 2-3 minutes.  Repeat on the other side.

banana12.) Bananasana: This pose stretches out the entire side of the body, including the infamous IT Band!  Lying on your back, walk your straight legs together over to the right. Keep the pelvis level. Then use your elbows to walk your torso over to the right, forming a C-shape “banana” curve. You can take the arms overhead and clasp opposite elbows, or just place one hand on the belly, one hand on the chest. Rest here and breathe into the gradual stretch for 3-4 minutes, then change sides.

rack13. Hammock Pose (aka “The Rack”): The biceps are an overlooked tight spot for most runners – while you’re running, you’re holding the biceps in a flexed position for an extended amount of time!  To practice the Hammock, start sitting with your knees bend and feet on the ground, taking your hands behind you and pointing your fingers toward your seat.  Lift your hips as if going up into a tabletop position, then shift your hips forward toward your heels and sit back down again.  Keep the elbows bent and pointing behind you.  Breathe calmly here for up to 2 minutes.

eyeofneedle44) Eye of the Needle Pose: This is an excellent stretch for the outer hip, especially the Piriformis.  Another fun variation of this pose is to practice it with the foot on the wall, rather than held by your hands.  To come into Eye of the Needle, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.  Turn your right leg out as you bring it towards your chest, crossing the right ankle over the left thigh.  Bring both legs in towards the torso, and reach your right hand between the “window” of the legs.  Hold onto the back of the thigh, still keeping your shoulders, neck, and head relaxed.  Be here for 3-4 minutes on each side.

suptapad15) Supta Padangusthasana with Strap: This pose will give you a nice release along the entire back of the leg, from calves to hamstrings.  Loop up a long yoga strap and place it around your torso at the upper ribs, right under the arms.  Bend your right knee to slip your foot into the strap, then straighten your leg.  The leg may be at less than 90 degrees to the torso, which is fine.  Having the strap around your torso creates a “hands free” version of this pose, which is more relaxing for your upper body.  Take 3 minutes with the leg in this position, then you can keep your foot in the strap and tilt the leg out to the right.  Let the strap help hold your leg in place, stretching the inside of the leg for about 2 minutes.  Lastly, bring the leg back up through the center and across the body a few inches until you feel a stretch along the outer leg, hip, and IT Band.  Spend another 2 minutes here.  Then change sides.

You will need a 10-foot yoga strap for practicing this pose with the strap around your torso, but just in case you only have shorter straps around (or say, the belt of your bathrobe), you can simply loop the strap onto your foot and hold it in your hands.  The great thing about stretching your legs from a reclining position is that it helps recirculate blood and fluids from your feet and lower legs.

Bonus – Legs Up the Wall Pose: If you have time and wall space, resting with your legs up the wall is fantastic for refreshing those tired feet!  Five minutes here will help you recover from miles of pounding the pavement.

And then, Erika kindly mentioned my upcoming Yin-related events (in case you’re in the LA area!):

  • Weekly Yin Yoga class – 6pm Friday evenings, TheraYoga (Montrose, CA)
  • Yin Yoga Workshop: “Slow is the New Fast” – Sunday, Feb 9, 2:00-4:30, TheraYoga.  Learn how slowing down your practice can give you a more thorough stretch and improve your flexibility faster!  More info.
  • Yin Yoga Weekend Immersion & Teacher Training – March 14-16 at TheraYoga.  Open to current and aspiring yoga teachers, as well as enthusiastic students who wish to spend the weekend immersed in all things Yin!  More info.

Here’s the link to the original article on Erika’s site.  Enjoy!


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