8 yoga moves to loosen up tight muscles

A simple yoga routine loosens tight spots, strengthens weak spots and makes you less prone to injury



by Katie Neitz

For Rebecca Pacheco, yoga and running have always been intertwined. ‘I started running when I was 14 and doing yoga when I was 16, so I really don’t know one without the other,’ says the yoga instructor and two-time marathoner. Recognising the benefits the ancient practice can have on both the runner’s body (improved flexibility, range of motion, muscular strength) and mind (more focus, less stress), Pacheco developed Om Athlete, a class she teaches in Boston, US to help runners improve performance and prevent injury. ‘Yoga is the perfect recovery activity for runners,’ she says. ‘It relieves soreness and tension in your hardworking muscles and restores range of motion so you can run better the next time you hit the road.’

Pacheco recommends doing these moves following a run and/or on a rest day. She cautions that they might feel a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you are new to yoga and have been running with tight muscles for a long time. Ease into each position and never push to the point of pain. As you continue to do this routine, you’ll notice improvement – on and off the mat.


1/ Downward dog

Why: Stretches hamstrings and calves; strengthens shoulders.

How: Begin on your hands and knees. Align your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Spread your fingers and press into your palms. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor. Try to straighten your legs and raise your hips into an inverted V. Breathe deeply for 10 breaths. As your muscles loosen, try to straighten your legs more and sink your heels toward your mat.


2/ Low lunge

Why: Stretches hip flexors; strengthens hamstrings and quads.

How: From Downward Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Lower your left knee and, keeping the right knee in place, slide the left one back. Turn the top of your left foot to the floor and lift your torso upright. Then sweep your arms out to the sides and overhead. Drop your tailbone toward the floor and look up. Hold for10 breaths, release and repeat on the other side.


3/ Toes pose

Why: Helps prevent plantar fasciitis by stretching the shins and arches of the feet.

How: Kneel on your mat, toes curled under. Sit back on your heels (you can place a yoga block or pillow between your heels and glutes). Breathe deeply for 10 counts. Then, point your toes, place your hands on the mat behind you, and lean back as you try to lift your knees off the mat. It’s fine if your knees don’t come far up; you’ll still feel a stretch in your shins and arches.


4/ Reclining hand to big toe

Why: Stretches hamstrings.

How: Lie on your back, both legs extended. Bend your right knee, loop a yoga strap (or towel) around the arch of your right foot and hold both ends of the strap with your right hand. Try to straighten your right knee. As your hamstring loosens, try to gently pull it further back. You should feel a good stretch down the back of the thigh. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on the other leg.


5/ Reclining pigeon

Why: Eases hip tension.

How: Lie on your back, knees bent and thighs parallel and hip-distance apart. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Reach your left arm through the space between your thighs and your right arm around the outside of your right thigh. Clasp your hands below your right knee and flex your left foot. If your head comes off your mat, place a pillow behind your head. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on the other leg.


6/ Reclining cow face

Why: Improves range of motion in the hips; loosens tight glutes and hamstrings.

How: Lie on your back and cross your knees, sending your feet out to your sides. Hold onto your right foot with your left hand and your left foot with your right hand. Or, if it’s more comfortable, hold your shins. Pull your heels in toward your body, then out to the sides and slightly up. Hold for 10 breaths, then reverse leg position and repeat.


7/ Reclining spinal twist

Why: Relaxes the lower back and gently stretches the glutes.

How: From the Reclining Cow Face position, lower your legs and twist to your left while keeping your legs intertwined. Next, extend both arms out to your sides. Turn your head to the left and relax for 10 breaths. You should feel this deep in your lower back. Switch sides and repeat the move.


8/ Legs up the wall

Why: Relieves tension in the legs, feet, and back; stretches hamstrings and glutes.

How: Slide up beside an open wall space, with your hips as close to the base of the wall as is comfortable. Swing your legs up the wall and lie back. Rest here anywhere from 10 breaths to 10 minutes. Some people even nod off – sleep, after all, is the most essential recovery pose.


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