Running and yoga are by far the two most popular forms of exercise here at Peaceful Dumpling. I love both. Running around Central Park in all seasons has been my primary form of exercise over the last five years. I mark the seasons by the cherry blossoms around Jackie Onassis Reservoir, and fallen leaves around the Great Hill. (Sorry for waxing poetic, spring does that to a person!) On the other hand, all that running puts a lot of strain on my joints. And if I don’t stretch out through yoga, my leg muscles tend to get sore and tense. Because I’m naturally very flexible, it’s even more important for me to consciously do deep stretches so that I keep muscles strong, supple, and lean.
Yoga is of course good for so many things, but it’s also a great discipline for cross training. For runners and for anyone who needs to roll out their muscles, yoga is the perfect choice. These are intense yoga stretches that lengthen all the deep muscles in your quads, hamstrings, groin, and hips. Even if you are not a runner, try these yoga stretches for longer and leaner legs.
1. Standing forward fold: Start from tadasana (mountain pose). Put your right foot on the outside of your left foot so that the outer edges of your feet are touching. Fold forward. Your right leg (front leg) should be bent, your left leg straight–you should feel a deep stretch all along your left leg. Reach your arms to the right side, and peek under your left arm, for deeper stretch all along your side. Switch sides.
2. Parighasana (Gate pose): Start on your knees. Keeping your right shin behind you, reach your left leg straight to the side. Inhale and raise your arms to a T, then exhale and bend to your left. Your left forearm may rest on your left leg. Reach with your right arm. This stretches your entire pelvic region as well as your core.
3. Parighasana balancing variation: From 2, reach down and place your left hand firmly on the floor. Inhale, and reach over your right hand and grab the outside of your left foot. Exhale, as you lift the foot so that your left leg is raised parallel to the floor.
4. Paschimottanasa (seated forward fold): Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, and remove any flesh from underneath you. Exhale and grab your big toes. Inhale and flatten out your spine. Exhale and bend forward, keeping your spine as straight as possible. Rest in this position, breathing normally.
5. Marichyasana (bound seated forward bend): With your left leg stretched out in front of you, place your right foot as close to your seat as possible, parallel to your left leg. Your right knee should be pointing straight up to the ceiling. Inhale, and wrap your right arm around the outside of your right knee. Exhale, and bend forward. Stay in this pose, breathing normally, and switch sides.
6. Upavistha Konasana (Seated angle): Sit and spread your legs as wide as possible without rolling out. Inhale, straighten out your spine, grab your big toes, and gaze up toward the ceiling. Exhale, and bend forward with a straight spine. Extend your head so that your chin is resting on the floor. Breathe normally in this position for about 30 seconds.
7. Side Angle Bind: Flow through your vinyasa and rest in warrior II, with your right leg in front of you. Rest your right palm on the floor, just inside of your right foot. Reach straight above you with your left hand. From here, exhale and thread your right arm underneath your right thigh, reaching back with your left arm. Hook your fingers behind your back, breathing deeply into your pelvis and inner and outer thighs.
8. Bird of Paradise: Start from standing, with your feet about 3′ apart. Bend over and thread your right arm under your right thigh (just like in side angle bind). Shift the weight gently to your left leg; exhale and lightly lift your right leg, straightening it out.
Note: These yoga shoots are a total hoot for me because I’m the photographer, model, art director– you get the idea. I rest the camera on the dresser, press the self-timer, and run to the wall and strike a pose while it goes off. It’s seriously so intense because you have only so many seconds before camera goes, BANG BANG BANG! Today I fell on my butt while trying to do a parighasana balance, so I have about a dozen of most unladylike photos, legs akimbo–but falling and laughing while doing yoga is totally allowed. It’s not about perfection. 🙂
Also see: Floor Exercises for a Sexy Lower Body
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling