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Do you practice yoga regularly but still feel “stuck” in certain spots? Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Allison Candelaria created this muscle-and fascia-freeing flow to tune up the lateral sides of your body.
With much of the body’s natural movement being forward, the side body tends to get overlooked in our daily lives. We rarely bend to the left or to the right. As a result, the tissues of the side body can end up tight and/or weak from top to bottom. Poor postural habits don’t help. Slouching can create so much tension in the upper body that lifting the arms fully overhead becomes impossible and stretching from side to side causes discomfort.
Let’s take a look at how the individual muscles are affected. The triceps rarely get a good release and can sometimes be the limiting factor in yoga poses with arms overhead. The latissimus dorsi muscle, which plays the important role of connecting the lower body to the arms, tends to adhere to surrounding tissues. Melting tension in this very large muscle can free up more range of motion. The quadratus lumborum (QL), our lateral lumbar spine stabilizer, often tight from sitting or standing, can shorten and decrease the distance between the ribs and the pelvis. Creating a nice release in the QL can make us feel taller and more pliable.
Standing, sitting and repetitive forward movements have a huge impact on the lower body. The gluteus medius on the side of the hip, for example, is prone to becoming tight from all of our natural forward movement, which can interfere with our ability to stabilize the pelvis. We can use our yoga practice to stretch the front and back of the hip to reduce tension in the iliotibial band that runs down the side of the leg (think poses like Reclined Figure Four and Gomukasana with a Side Bend). But with myofascial release, the goal is to release it from the quadriceps muscles, allowing them to move independently of one another. Finally, the lower leg can hold a lot of tension from the stress of holding us upright. The extensors of the foot can get bound up with the flexors, including the calves, so these areas are also worthy of some relief.
By focusing on releasing the fascia, this flow will tackle these common areas of tension—one at a time—then retrain the muscles to lengthen, strengthen and fire more efficiently. Since the tissues are all connected via the fascial system, working on any part of this lateral line of muscles will affect the rest of the chain. Not only can this flow reduce pain and increase range of motion, but with a consistent practice we can teach our muscles how to move more efficiently. Post-myofascial release, we will test our range of motion to see the instant results of the work. I recommend using this sequence as needed (daily for more limitation or few times a week for less) and holding each trigger point area for 30–60 seconds.
12 Poses for the Fascia of Your Side Body
YOU WILL NEED Two tennis balls and one block to help target the deeper fascial tissues of the muscles on the side of the body.
KEEP IN MIND These tissues hold lots of nerve endings. It’s important to recognize a good kind of pain like a dull toothache sensation and to back off if there is an acute injury, sharp pain, shooting pain or numbness. Staying relaxed is helpful while working through the points in this flow. You can soften the insertion areas by placing a blanket or towel between body and balls if needed.
1. Triceps Release
Place one tennis ball on top of a block. Then lie on your side, positioning the tennis ball a few inches above the elbow and laying your head in your hand while the other hand presses into the mat to support you. Breathe into the tennis ball by compressing for a few seconds, while supporting yourself with your opposite hand begin to roll up and down as well as side to side along the entire surface of the triceps for 5–7 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
2. Lat Release
Place one tennis ball a few inches under the armpit on the side ribs and the other one just below it, as you come to lie on your side and relax into the insertion. Support your head in your hand while the other hand presses into the mat. Set your top foot flat on the mat in front of your bottom leg, so you can lean your weight forward to relax. Breathe into the tennis ball, holding and compressing for 5–7 breaths. Then begin to lean back on the tennis balls to target the area of the lats that crosses the bottom tip of the shoulder blade, hold and compress for 5–7 breaths. To intensify the release find a trigger point area, while compressing and using the support from your hands and legs, on the inhale begin to lift the elbow off of the floor an inch or so and exhale to slowly release it back down to the mat. Repeat for 3–5 times. Then switch sides.
3. Quadratus Lumborum Release
Lie on your back with feet set up under knees. Place one tennis ball in the low back halfway between the spine and your side waist. Lean over into the tennis ball by dropping the same side knee and lifting the opposite hip, compressing into the release. To intensify the release find a trigger point area and interlace your hands behind your head with elbows wide. While compressing and using the support of your legs, begin to lean the upper body over to the opposite side, exhale and return your torso to neutral. Repeat for 5–7 breaths. Then switch sides.
4. Side Plank
Step back into Plank Pose, placing hands shoulder-width apart and stacking shoulders over wrists. Draw in around the waist, keeping your hips in line with your shoulders, and activate the legs. Begin to pull the feet together to touch and shift your weight into one hand while you open your body to the side, stacking your shoulders and hips. Integrate the lower arm into the shoulder socket while pressing the floor away to draw the hips away from the floor. Stay for 3–5 breaths to re-integrate the effects of the release work in a more active posture.
5. Reverse Warrior
Align front heel with back arch, stacking front knee over ankle and front toes pointing straight forward. Open hips toward the side of the mat as the tailbone lengthens and the ribs knit back to stack the shoulders over the waist. On the inhale reach the front arm up and overhead, keeping the hips level. Stay for 3–5 breaths to re-integrate the effects of the Lat and QL releases in a more active posture. Repeat Side Plank and Reverse Warrior on the opposite side.
6. Gluteus Medius Release
Lie on your side, supporting yourself with your forearm and bend your top leg, placing it behind your bottom knee. Insert the tennis ball underneath the upper outer hip and lean back. As you press into the supporting foot, roll around the tennis ball releasing the soft tissue of your outer hip. Stop along any areas of tension and compress for 3–5 breaths. Repeat finding another area of tension and hold for 3–5 breaths. Repeat the entire release on the opposite side.
7. IT Band Release
Come onto your hip and bend your bottom leg to a 90-degree angle, bringing the thigh in front of your chest. Place the tennis ball about 5 inches below the hip on the lateral portion of the leg and lean forward into your hands to compress. As you lean into the hands and pick up the hip, begin to roll up and down the side of the leg stopping and compressing on any areas of tension along the way. Repeat, finding another area of tension and hold for 3–5 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
8. Lower Leg Release
Stay on your hip with your bottom leg bent to a 90-degree angle. Now bring the shin in front of your chest. Place the tennis ball a few inches below the knee on the lateral portion of the leg. As you lean over onto your hand, place the opposite hand on top of leg right above the tennis ball. Press firmly, kneading it side to side to allow the tennis ball to glide up and down the lateral portion of your leg. Stop and compress on any areas of tension along the way. Repeat finding another area of tension and hold for 3–5 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
See also A Sequence for the Side Body
9. Half Moon Variation
From Warrior II, draw your weight into the front leg and straighten to hover the back leg. Keeping the side waist long, stack the hips and shoulders while continuing to face the side of the mat. Try finding space by lifting the bottom hip off of the standing leg to activate the gluteus medius and hover the bottom hand off the floor to activate the QL. Stay for 3–5 breaths.
10. Crossed-Legged Forward Fold
From a Standing Forward Bend, place your hands on a block and step one foot back about 3 feet. Turn toward the long edge of your mat while crossing the inner thighs. Roll onto the pinky toe side of both feet. Use the block under the hands to lengthen the spine. Stay for 3–5 breaths stretching the lateral line of the legs as well as the outer hips. Repeat Half Moon Variation and Crossed Legged Forward Fold on the opposite side.
See also Space Odyssey to the Side Body
11. Bridge with Arms Lifted Overhead
Come onto your back and stack your feet under your knees. Press into your feet lifting your hips off of the floor while hugging in around the waist to create a long line from chest, hips and knees. On the inhale stretch your arms overhead and hold for 3–5 breaths.
From a supine position, keeping your legs long, draw both legs over to one side of your mat without lifting the hips off of the floor. Stack the ankle of the long side of your body on top of the other ankle to intensify. Inhale your arms overhead and stretch them both in the same direction as your legs, keeping your shoulders on the mat and creating a banana shape in the body. Hold for 7–10 breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
Psst: Yoga Medicine founder Tiffany Cruikshank will teach at Yoga Journal LIVE San Francisco, Jan. 13-16. Get your ticket today.
About Our Expert
Allison Candelaria is a senior Yoga Medicine teacher and the owner of Soul Yoga studio in Oklahoma City, where she resides with her husband and two children. For Allison, yoga was a perfect transition from her previous dancing career and complement to her professional work in the non-profit sector. Her vinyasa flow classes are anatomically informed by years of study and uniquely incorporate myofascial release techniques to balance the mind, body and breath. She is currently working on her 1000-hour certification with Yoga Medicine where she has also had the privilege to be personally mentored by Tiffany Cruikshank herself. You can find Allison leading 200-hour trainings, teaching workshops, classes and privates in the midwest. Learn more on allisoncandelaria.com and soulyogaokc.com.