If there was ever a pose to focus the mind of a runner, Tuladandasana (or balancing stick pose) is it. With four ten-second bursts of pulse-racing intensity, the pose often feels like 90 per cent mind : 10 per cent matter.
Like most yoga postures, this pose requires a strong core and an extraordinary amount of focus. Whether it's during a lung-busting 5K or a marathon, we've all had soul-searching, 'why am I doing this?' moments when running seems like a really silly idea.
The previous four poses will have raised your heart-rate and caused enough of a cardiovascular response to leave you breathing heavily. Tuladandasana is like sprinting the last 400m of a 5K race - you've got to dig deep, stay calm and breathe.
Tuladandasana: Step by Step
1. Stand with your feet together, heels and toes touching, arms by your side.
2. Interlace your fingers, releasing the index fingers (so you're almost doing a 'gun' hand gesture - backwards cap and baggy jeans not included), and keeping your arms locked, raise them above your head so your biceps are tucked behind your ears. Relax your shoulders to avoid them hunching.
3. Take a step forward with your right foot, keeping your toe pointed and your quad contracted to pull up the knee cap.
4. Inhale, tighten your stomach muscles and your glutes and slowly tip forward, exhaling as your left leg comes off the floor and extends out behind you. Keep rotating forward until you're balancing like a capital letter 'T', with your arms in front of you and left leg out behind you, both contracted.
5. To help your balance and open your chest, keep your gaze forward and avoid tucking your chin to your chest. Keep your hips level by slightly rotating your left hip in and down so it's level with your right hip. Your right leg should be locked the whole time.
6. As it's 'only' a ten second posture (repeated twice on each leg), it's tempting to hold your breath, but doing so will cause you to feel dizzy and possibly even nauseous, so keep your breathing steady and controlled. Exit the posture the same way you went in, and return to standing posture before repeating on the left leg.
Tuladandasana: The Benefits
'This posture sounds really easy,' says Olga Allon, Director of Hot Bikram Yoga in London, 'but don't be fooled. The forward tilt of your torso sends high-speed blood rushing towards the heart, which elevates your heart rate. It's not at all unusual to feel very out of breath after this pose.'
'The second set can be really challenging, and staying calm and breathing steadily is the only way to get through it. In running terms, it's like doing speedwork: If you concentrate on how hard the final set will be and how much your calves will burn afterwards, you won't be putting in 100 per cent. Stay calm and commit to the posture (remember it is only 10 seconds) and you'll develop a strength of mind that you can then use to improve your running.'
Bikram specialist Olga Allon teaches at London's Hot Bikram Yoga.