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Summer Sports Guide

Boost your performance and have more fun when you practice poses that complement your athletic pursuits.

By Catherine Guthrie

Cycling: Asana by Karen McCavitt

Cycling is a steady, low-impact sport that is easier on the joints than the explosive actions of tennis or golf. The most common complaint is muscle pain, says Karen McCavitt, an avid rider who teaches yoga at Darshana Yoga in Palo Alto, California. Cyclists' legs are in constant motion, so tension creeps into the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hips. When you adopt a proper cycling technique, the spine should stay in its natural curves. But many cyclists end up hunching their back, placing too much weight in their arms or on the seat, which can strain the back and shoulders. "On a long ride a cyclist's back can be in flexion for hours at a time, so it's important to restore the spine's natural curves," McCavitt says.

McCavitt's top pose picks address the upper and lower body and can be done at any time—before a ride, after a ride, or on a break during a ride. Ideally, cyclists should do all three daily, she says. For starters, a simple Tadasana to Urdhva Hastasana (Mountain Pose to Upward Salute) elongates the spine and releases stiffness in the shoulders and upper back. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) lengthens the hamstrings and opens the lower back and hips. And, last but not least, Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch) targets the hamstrings and the glutes, which can get tight from sitting on a postage stamp of a saddle.

Tadasana to Urdhva Hastasana (Mountain Pose to Upward Salute

"Cyclists understand the importance of alignment on the bike; the same is true in yoga," McCavitt says. "Tadasana introduces the concepts of alignment and body awareness, while the Upward Salute opens the shoulders and upper back." To start, stand with big toes touching and heels slightly apart. Let your arms relax by your sides. Distribute your weight evenly on the feet. Draw the kneecaps up to engage the quadriceps but don't grip too hard. Lightly tone the buttocks, lift the front pelvis up, and move the navel back toward the spine with every exhalation. Lengthen the tailbone toward the ground. Gently roll your shoulders up and back and draw the bottom tips of the shoulder blades toward each other. With a long neck and soft gaze, extend fingertips toward the floor. Slowly, reaching out to both sides, sweep the arms overhead, palms facing each other. Inhale and lift your sternum. Breathe normally. Keep your neck relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds.

Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch), at the wall

This pose stretches tight hamstrings, the outer hips, and the iliotibial bands that run along the outer legs. As you fold forward over the front leg, think of lengthening the spine from the hips to the crown of the head to counteract the compression that comes with riding.

Start in Tadasana about 2 to 3 feet in front of and facing a wall. (If you just stepped off your bike, you can prop it against a tree and use the frame.) Bring your hands to your hips and step your left foot back 3 1/2 to 4 feet. Turn the left foot out 30 degrees. Align your right heel with your left heel. Tone your thighs and align the right kneecap with the right ankle. Exhale and square your hips to the wall or bike. Exhaling, hinge at the hips, leaning your torso forward over the right leg. Expect a big stretch in the right hamstring and the left outer calf muscle, especially after a long ride. Bring your palms or fingertips to the wall or bike for support. With the arms steady, move the shoulder blades down the back. Be sure that the neck is in line with the spine, and then gaze at your front foot. Hold for up to a minute. To come out, return your hands to your hips or walk your fingertips up the wall or bike and raise your torso back to center. Repeat on the opposite side.

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

"If a cyclist does just this pose every day, it'll make a huge difference in hamstring and calf flexibility," McCavitt says. The pose also eases stiffness in the lower back. If you have tight hamstrings, use a strap. Lie on your back with legs extended, big toes touching, and heels slightly apart. Continue to reach through the left heel as you inhale and bend your right knee. Draw the thigh in toward your torso. Feel your lower back and right hip release toward the ground. Place a strap around the ball of the right foot. Now slowly lengthen the right leg while allowing the strap to slide through your hands until the leg is fully lengthened and the elbows fully extended. Relax the upper neck and shoulders until they are lightly pressing into the ground. Press the ball of your right foot into the strap while pulling the strap into the ball of the foot. Keep the back of your left thigh pressing into the ground and the left foot flexed. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Golf: Asana by Katherine Roberts

"The golf swing is an explosive movement that taxes every part of the body," says Katherine Roberts, a yoga instructor trained in Ashtanga Yoga and a golf expert in Scottsdale, Arizona. "Few sports require you to swing an object up to 100 miles per hour from a static, standing position." Considering that the average golfer takes 120 swings in a round, it's no wonder that the majority of golfers will suffer injuries. The most common complaint? Lower-back pain. That's because swinging a golf club requires the spine to move in three planes at once: side to side, front to back, and rotating from the centerline.

Roberts's favorite poses for golfers are twists and back-body strengtheners. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose) and a supine twisting variation of Garudasana (Eagle Pose) improve what golfers call the X-factor (the rotation of a golfer's hips in relation to the rotation of their shoulders). Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) tones the glutes while building strength in the lumbar and thoracic spine. "Just doing these three poses four days a week will help your golf game dramatically," she says. While all three can be done before or after a round, it's best to tailor your approach. Before playing, the goal is to prepare the body for explosive movement, so move in and out of each pose multiple times using the breath—in on the inhalation and out on the exhalation. After a round of golf, restorative, slow movements are best, so employ longer holds for deep stretching.

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

A strong back is vital for stamina during a long round of golf. Lie on your stomach. Stretch your legs straight back, with the tops of the feet pressing lightly into the floor. With fingertips underneath your shoulders, spread your fingers. Exhale and draw the navel in toward the spine, hug the legs toward each other, and press the pubic bone firmly into the floor. Inhale and then expand the spaces between the rib cage and the waist. On your next inhalation, press the palms down and lift the chest a few inches away from the ground. Draw the shoulder blades toward each other and move them down toward the waist. Focus on opening the chest and shoulders here. Staying low builds strength in the back and glutes, two weak spots for most golfers. Keep your gaze either forward or between the thumbs.

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose), variation

The position of the body in this pose mimics the hip and torso position of the golf swing, Roberts says. "The more you can turn your trunk, the farther you'll hit the ball." From Tadasana, exhale and step your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right and come to the ball of your left foot. Square your hips toward your front leg and come into a High Lunge by bending the right leg to 90 degrees. See that the knee lines up directly over the ankle. (For an easier variation, lower the left knee to the ground, placing a blanket under the knee.) Exhaling, engage the pelvic floor, draw the navel back to the spine, and lift the rib cage off the waist. With another exhalation, turn to the right until you can hook your left elbow to the outside of the right knee. Press the knee into the elbow and the elbow into the knee. Press the palms together in front of the heart. Repeat on the opposite side.

Garudasana (Eagle Pose), supine twisting variation

This pose stretches the external hip rotators as well as the glutes, both of which need to be flexible to generate power for the golf swing. Lie on your back with your legs extended. Inhale and bend your knees, bringing the soles of the feet to the floor. Walk the heels in toward the sitting bones. Reach the arms perpendicular to the body and turn the palms up. Pressing down into the feet, lift the hips and shift them slightly to the right. Cross the right leg over the left leg. Exhaling, slowly take both legs to the ground on the left side of the body. Again, this deep twisting motion helps you improve the all-important X-factor, Roberts says. (If the stretch is too intense, place a block or blanket under the knees.) Breathe deeply and allow gravity to take you deeper into the pose. Repeat on the other side.

Catherine Guthrie writes about health, yoga, and nutrition from her home in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Reader Comments

Scott

Great article. Thanks for sharing. For anyone interested, this site has helped me out also: http://yogaforsports.org/ Thanks, Scott

Kieranee

I've tried this sequence before my Taichi practice last week. It was a great help. I'm still recovering from my pulled muscle on my left thigh and this sequence just felt right when I did it. Thanks for sharing.

abbs

I agree with Laura! As a competitive horseback rider, I'd love to gain more insight on which poses would be most helpful. (I assume that's what you meant by riding...)

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