This week we're taking a short break from our usual format for a guest post from Sarah O'Neill. Roving yoga fan Sarah investigated the (non-Bikram) studio yogahaven - and came back with some new, alternative moves for you to add to your yoga routine.
As regular followers of this blog will know, yoga is a valuable training tool for runners in the fight against injury.
It provides a counterpoint to the shortening, tightening and weight-bearing practice of running, increasing the elasticity of the muscles and the range of movement around the joints, training runners to use the body as one unit, teaching alignment and restoring balance.
Hot yoga, of course, takes this one step further. The use of a hot room (typically up to 40˚C) increases blood flow to the muscles which enables a deeper level of stretching. Working in these temperatures also increases stamina and strengthens the cardiovascular system.
But despite all this I was a bit sceptical before I went along to a new studio in Clapham, London called yogahaven (they also have Birmingham and Brighton studios). My previous experience of hot yoga several years ago had been of a dingy basement room where a few faintly whiffy old blokes in grey Y-fronts perved at the class's younger, more flexible females.
Thankfully, it looks like yoga's moved on. The class I attended was fresh, well lit, and had an almost equal split of men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. And no baggy Y-fronts in sight.
Allie Hill, founder of yogahaven is confident that her studio has a lot to offer runners, 'Running is quite aggressive on the joints and many runners have tight, incompliant muscles through years of pounding along pavements. Yoga helps to increase suppleness of runners, and the heat enables a deeper level of stretching,' says Allie. 'Hot yoga in particular also appeals to the personalities of runners, who typically need more stimulation and variety than is provided by more sedate yoga disciplines, and the hot flow yoga asanas [poses] we perform during our classes are different to Bikram - where you perform the same 26 in the same order. Our classes are frequently changed and the poses differ each time.'
We asked Allie to provide six poses for runners:
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana / Pigeon Pose
(for step-by-step images, http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/863)
Muscles worked: Hip flexors, glutes.
How to do it:
1. Begin on all fours, with knees beneath hips and hands under shoulders.
2. Bring the right knee towards the back of the right wrist, and the right heel just in front of your left hip, aiming to bring the foot parallel to knee. The outside of your right shin should be resting on the floor.
3. Use your arms for stability and slowly slide the left leg back, straightening the knee, bringing the thigh to the floor and ensuring the top of the foot and all five toes are pressing down. The left leg should be travelling straight back from the hip and not angled off to the left. Sliding the leg further back increases the intensity of this stretch.
4. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor and try to 'level out' the hips.
5. When you are comfortable, exhale and lower the torso towards the floor, resting on the right into thigh with arms stretched forward. If this is too painful, maintain your upright posture.
Baddha Konasana / Cobblers Pose
Muscles worked: Hip flexors, quads, adductors, lower back.
How to do it:
1. Begin with your legs stretched out in front of you. You can use a yoga block or sit on a folded towel or blanket if your hips and groins are very tight. Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels in to your pelvis and dropping your knees out wide to the side. Press the soles of the feet together.
2. Draw the heels as close to the pelvis as possible, and grasp your big toes between thumb and first two fingers. If this is uncomfortable hold ankles or shins. Keep outside edges of the feet pressed firmly down.
3. Sit tall, lengthening the spine and thinking of drawing your shoulder blades into your back pockets. It is important not to round the spine.
4. You can remain in this pose for between 1-5 minutes. As you exhale focus on releasing the tops of the thigh bones towards the floor, and as you do so the knees will lower too. Be mindful never to manually force the knees down. In-breath to lengthen the spine, out-breath to release the hips.
Paschimottanasana / Seated forward bend
Muscles worked: Hamstrings and lower back.
How to do it:
1. Sit on the floor with legs extended in front of you, with buttocks supported on a block, blanket or towel if you have limited flexibility. Rock onto left buttock and then right, while manually lifting the alternate butt cheek towards the side to ensure you are sitting right on the sit bones.
2. Press the tops of the thighs into the floor. Inhale and fold from your hip joints (not waist) keeping your chest lifted. Take hold of the sides of your feet with your hands, bringing thumbs to sole of foot. If this is not possible, use a towel or belt round the soles of feet and hold firmly, with elbows straight.
3. It is important to make sure lower belly touches thighs first, then upper belly, ribs and finally head, to ensure that the bend is from the hips and there is no unhelpful rounding of the back.
4. Inhale to lift and lengthen front torso, exhale to release more fully into the forward bend - use your breath to work deeper into the hamstrings.
5. Remain in this position for 1-3 minutes.
Prasarita Padottanasana / Wide legged forward bend
Muscles worked: Hamstrings, lower back, adductors and abductors (inner thighs)
How to do it:
1. Step your feet wide to about 4 feet apart keeping the inside of the feet parallel to each other. Place hands on hips.
2. Inhale and lift your chest, lengthening the front of the body. As you exhale maintain the length of your torso as you bend forward from your hips. Think 'chest proud' to avoid rounding the top of the back.
3. Bring torso parallel to the floor and touch down with fingertips directly beneath shoulders. Focus on keeping your sternum lifted and create a slightly concave back position from tailbone to base of skull.
4. Focus on pressing back with the tops of your thighs to keep the torso long and take a few nourishing breaths in this position. Then maintain a concave back and lifted chest as you walk your fingertips between your feet. Take a few breaths and then bend your elbows and lower torso towards floor, resting the crown of your head on the floor if flexibility permits. Remain in this position for 30 seconds to a minute focusing on your breath.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
Muscles worked: All the way along the back of the body from top of spine down to ankles.
How to do it:
1. Lie flat on the floor with arms out-stretched by your sides.
2. Bend knees and bring your heels as close to your bottom as possible.
3. Exhale and press the inside soles of your feet and arms actively into the floor, while pushing your tailbone upwards, lifting the buttocks off the floor, so you are balancing on feet and shoulder blades.
4. Clasp your hands and focus on drawing them down the back, helping to maintain strength through the shoulder blades.
5. Keep lifting buttocks until thighs are parallel to the floor. Take care that knees remain directly over heels, but push them away from hips, lengthening the tailbone towards the back of the knees.
6. Focus on lifting chin away from sternum, while also pressing top of sternum to chin, thus opening out the chest.
7. Remain here for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Exhale to release, rolling gently down the spine. Bring knees into chest and rock gently side-to-side to massage the lower back if you find this comfortable.
See www.yogahaven.co.uk/ for more information about their studios in Birmingham, Brighton and London.
For more core strength and flexibility moves, watch Sarah's bite-sized workout videos at www.sarahoneill.co.uk