Intermediate Yoga Sequences

11 Calf and Forearm Openers for AcroYoga, Climbing + More

NASA rocket scientist/yoga teacher Scott Lewicki balances a highly technical day job with creativity on the mat. Use this innovative practice to find new space in often forgotten muscles.

NASA rocket scientist/yoga teacher Scott Lewicki balances a highly technical day job with creativity on the mat. Use this innovative sequence to find new space in the often forgotten muscles of the calves and forearms.

Yoga, a complex ancient system of knowledge continually expanded upon and advanced, is often called a “science.” But let’s face it, it’s not rocket science—or anything close. Still popular Los Angeles yoga teacher Scott Lewicki’s NASA day job seems to somehow inform his smart sequencing and thorough integration of the body’s mechanics and component parts.

A lifelong athlete with a scientific mind, Scott doesn’t plan a sequence thinking about one or two muscles, but instead thinking of larger parts of the body working in conjunction with each other. Take the calves and forearms, for example. When did you last dedicate time to opening them? The following sequence looks like a calf-opening sequence, and it is. But after practicing it, you’ll notice forward folds might feel more accessible through the ripple effect of opening not just the calves but also the hamstrings and hips and extending the spine.

See also Q&A with Yogi-Rocket Scientist Scott Lewicki

The calf and forearm muscles are frequently used and frequently forgotten. This sequence is beneficial practiced in a number of ways:

  • On its own to counteract tightness from daily life
  • As an opening sequence for further asana practice
  • As preparation for L-basing in AcroYoga to strengthen and stretch the ankles and open the hips
  • As a warm-up for rock climbing, especially with the additional shoulder stretches

See also 6 Poses for Rock Climbers: Build Core + Back Strength

Calf- and Forearm-Opening Sequence

Calf Mashing

Scott-Lewicki-Calf-mashing-vajrasana

Vajrasana, Modification

The pressure of the blanket roll provides a deep tissue massage to the calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus. This can be referred to as “calf mashing.” To try it, sit with shins on the floor and place a tightly-rolled blanket behind knees. Sit back toward heels.

See also DIY Bodywork: Release Tension with Foam Rollers + More Props

Add a Shoulder Stretch

Lift right elbow and hold it with left hand providing a shoulder stretch. After 5 breaths, give the blanket roll a quarter turn toward the heels to apply pressure to a different part of the calf muscles. Stretch the other shoulder.

See also Open Hips and Shoulders for Pigeon Pose

Plantar Stretch

Vajrasana, Modification

Remove blanket roll. Sit on heels while with toes, curling all of your toes under including the little toes. Lift both arms overhead. Interlace fingers and flip palms up to face the ceiling. After 5 breaths, change the interlace of the fingers and repeat the shoulder stretch.

See also Kathryn Budig’s UFC-Inspired Shoulder Opener

Ankle Extension

Vajrasana, Modification

With feet pointed, sit on heels. Place fingertips on the floor on either side of legs. Lift knees a couple of inches to stretch the front of the ankle/shin and the top of the foot. Now lift the knees even higher to stretch the top of the foot and the pointing toes.

See also Yoga Poses for Ankle Strength and Flexibility

Standing Forward Bend, Modification

Dynamic Uttanasana

Using the same blanket roll, take a standing forward fold with the heels on the floor and the base of toes (metatarsals) on the blanket roll. If you can’t touch the floor, use a chair or table for balance. Hold in a passive stretch. After 5 breaths, using your hands on the floor (or a chair) to keep balance, lift your heels higher than your toes. With the heels lifted, press down through your metatarsals to engage the calf muscles. Keeping the engagement of the calf muscles, reach the heels back down to the floor. Remove the blanket and take a regular Uttanasana. The pose might feel more open and free.

See also 5 Steps to Master Standing Forward Bend

Squat with Forearm Mashing

Malasana, Modification

With the feet flat on the floor, bend the knees, sitting toward the heels and keeping the torso vertical. If you can’t keep your heels on the floor in the squat, place the blanket roll under your heels. You can also take a “forearm mashing” variation to give a deep tissue massage to the forearm (and again to the calf). To take it, thread your forearms between your calves and hamstrings and holding your hands. This is especially beneficial for people who type or use smartphones a lot during the day to give the forearm muscles and wrists some relief.

See also How Yogis Do Squat: Malasana

Lunge with Forearm Mashing

From the squat, step the left foot back. Using the left hand on the floor for balance, put the right forearm behind the forward knee and then bend the knee around the forearm. Repeat on the second side.

See also Beyond the Foam Roller: 4 Self-Myofascial Release Practices

Calf Stretch

Come to all fours. Curl the right toes under, and keeping the toes caught on the floor, straighten the right leg by pushing back through the heel. Keep shoulders and hips level. Repeat on the second side.

See also Loosen Up Your Calves

Calf Stretch Plus Core

Starting like above. On all fours, curl the right toes under, and keeping the toes caught on the floor, straighten the right leg by pushing back through the heel. Then keeping the back flat, lift the left knee toward the chest and lift and point the left foot. Reach back equally through the inner right heel and forward through the inner left knee. Repeat on the second side.

See also 4 Prep Poses to Fire Up Your Core for Side Plank

Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Come into Downward-Facing Dog. Notice how open the back of the legs (hamstring and calf muscles) and hips and low back feel.

See also 3 Ways to Make Downward-Facing Dog Feel Better

Child’s Pose

Balasana

From Downward-Facing Dog, bring your knees to the floor and rest your hips on your heels in Child’s Pose.

See also Do Less With More Awareness: Child’s Pose

About Our Experts

Scott-Lewicki-headshot

Scott Lewicki, full-time NASA rocket scientist and part-time yoga teacher, completed a teacher training in the late 1990s at the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles (now YogaWorks). He’s since studied with many senior teachers, and he became a Certified Anusara Teacher in 2004. His own style of yoga now borrows from all of these experiences, while incorporating a deep knowledge of anatomy, therapeutics, and yogic philosophy. Most recently Scott has added elements of AcroYoga and partner acrobatics to add fun as well as a different way to cross-train and prepare the body for other activities, like rock climbing and running. He teaches a weekly 2-hour-plus workshop style class at Yogamazé in LA and frequently plans pop-up yoga classes in parks.

Laura Riley is a 500-Hour certified yoga instructor and practicing social justice attorney.