I find the end of the year to be both very fast paced and slow paced. There is the bustle of the holidays and the thrill of a new year and new intentions to set. However, at least where I live, it’s frequently cold and the sun sets before 4 pm every day. And while it’s important to spend time with loved ones around this time, I also like to emphasize self-care. For me this includes paying more attention to my body and what it needs, whether that be an intense vinyasa practice or a quick 10 minute guided meditation. One of my favorite ways to practice self-care and check in with my body is stretching because it often alerts me to any tension that my body may be holding
I have collected a few of my favorite poses for stretching and releasing tension in the muscles. I tend to incorporate these into my personal practice or cycle through the poses individually after a run. As with any stretching, I recommend performing these after exercise or when your body is sufficiently warmed up. These stretches are all stagnant stretches, meaning they are meant to be held for some time and eased into, as the muscles relax and lengthen with breath.
Pigeon pose is one of the best stretches for releasing any tension in the hips. Pigeon is one of my personal favorites because I can often just hang out in the stretch for a bit and focus on my breathing. I also really like Pigeon because it offers a number of variations for leg placement, depending on which muscles I want to focus on.
Getting into the pose: Begin in a table position. Slide the right knee towards the right elbow and rotate right heel under the left thigh. Stretch the left leg behind, keeping the hips even and level. Hands can come under the shoulders for balance and support or walk the hands forward and fold the upper body over the right thigh. For more of a hamstring stretch, slide the ankle more forward towards the opposite wrist. Hold for about minute, breathe deeply and then repeat on the other side.
- Half Split Pose
I am a frequent runner and weight lifter so it feels like my hamstrings are almost always tight. This pose is one of my favorites for stretching my hamstrings and overall releasing any tension that is being held in my legs. Feel free to use blocks or similar props to support your torso in the fold.
Getting into the pose: Start in a kneeling lunge. Shift the hips back slightly, lengthen the front leg, and flex the toes towards the ceiling. Hands find the mat or blocks and frame the front leg. Gently fold over the front leg until you feel a stretch in the hamstring. Keep length in the spine and a soft bend in the front knee. Hold for about a minute then switch legs.
- Supine twist
This is another great pose to just hang out in and focus on your breath. It feels great on the hips and spine and it’s easy to modify to fit any body. With supine pose, I find it best to focus on my spine and the gentle twist, rather than focusing on getting my knee down to the mat. It is important to keep both shoulders touching and even on the mat to prevent spinal strain.
Getting into the pose: Begin by lying on your back, arms stretched out to a “T”, legs long. Bend the right knee and press through the sole of the right foot to lift the hips and shift them a few inches to the right. Hug the right knee to the chest and then fold over the left side of the mat, knee touching the floor. Feel free to use a prop or blanket to support the knee. Gaze can come over the right shoulder and left hand can rest on the right knee. Keep both shoulders grounded into the mat and hold for about a minute, then switch sides.
- Frog pose / child variation
My hip flexors tend to hold a lot of tension and cramp really easily if I am not consistent with stretching. Enter frog pose, my favorite and least favorite hip stretcher. I have a love/hate relationship with frog pose, mainly because it allows me to deeply stretch my hips but can also be rather intense. As with all of these poses, frog is best to ease into, beginning in an easy stretch and then breathing into your muscles to help lengthen and slowly ease them into a more intense stretch.
Getting into the pose: Begin in table top position, hands stacked under shoulders and knees stacked under hips. Begin to walk the knees wide and, without straining, keeping them bent at about a 90 degree angle with heels flexed. Carefully lower onto your elbows to stack under the shoulders, keeping length in the spine and neck. Hips press up and back. If you are on hardwood, it is helpful to place two towels under the knees to prevent any pain. Hold for about a minute or as long as feels comfortable.
If frog pose is not for you, knees-wide child’s pose is another one of my favorite hip stretchers.
Getting into the pose: Begin in a seated position, knees tucked and hips sitting back on the heels. Begin to walk the knees wide, until you start to feel a stretch in the hip flexors. Walk the hands forward and fold over the thighs, resting forehead or cheek on the mat.
- Supported Bridge Pose
Bridge pose tends to be a muscle activation pose, used to stretched the back line of the body and the core and strengthen the muscles in the glutes. I used to keep bridge pose out of my personal practice because of the pressure it puts on my lower back until one of my teachers suggested I try the pose with a block under my hips. The block helps support the pelvis and lower back, therefore lessening the muscle activation and focusing more on opening the hips and lengthening the spine. I use a block in this pose but any solid square shaped item (such as a thick book) can be substituted.
Getting into the pose: Begin by lying on your back, knees bent and about hip width distance from each other, palms down and resting at the sides. Press evenly through the soles of the feet and lift the pelvis towards the ceiling. Slide a block or prop of choice under the glutes and rest the pelvis on the prop. Keep the spine long, reaching through the crown of the head and the pelvis. Hold the pose for 1 minute or as long as feels comfortable and focus on breathing into the lower spine.