Dear Katie —
Now that the weather is warming up, I have been increasing my outdoor running. I understand that after a winter spent mostly on a treadmill, transitioning back to asphalt can be challenging to the body, and I am feeling it in my knees and my feet. Are there any particular postures that can assist me in my move outdoors?
Barb C., Ann Arbor
Yes! The move from treadmill or indoor track back to the asphalt is a challenging one for all of us runners. As referenced in an article by Baron Baptiste and Kathleen Finn Mendola on the Yoga Journal website: “During the course of an average mile run, your foot will strike the ground 1,000 times. The force of the impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight.” This impact is challenging to the body but is something the body becomes used to over time. As seasoned runners and guides will tell you, increasing running should usually be done according to the “10 percent rule”: increasing your training by 10 percent in distance each week, and providing your body the chance to recover. [http://www.yogajournal.com/article/cross-training/yoga-runners/]
Yoga can aid in recovery and provide strength and suppleness for the muscles. There are many postures and practices that assist with a running body, and staying supple is important to recovery. One beautiful standing posture that is great for both strengthening and opening the knees and the feet is Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior II (pictured). To come into Warrior II, start by standing at the front of your mat, or a non-slip surface; line up the arch of your back foot with the front heel and step back at a comfortable distance. The front knee should be stacked over the front foot, or slightly behind (not falling in or pushing out). Press into the outside of the back of the back foot, lifting through the arch of that foot, both strengthening and releasing that arch. The muscles in the back leg also gently spiral upward, opening through the back leg and keeping the muscles that support the back knee open and strong. Keep the breath long and allow the body to open. Happy trails!
Dear Katie —
I have been interested in coming back to yoga for years. My friends go, and they rave about the practice and all that it does for them, and I admit I haven’t tried in years. Every time I have tried yoga, my mind is always racing, and I do not feel calm. Am I doing something wrong? I feel like I am missing out!
Lindsay H., Ann Arbor
Lindsay, this is a very common experience! There are many people who find this exact mental aspect of yoga far more challenging than moving through the physical portion of the practice. As outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the design, or origin, of the practice of yoga is not in fact to push the heels into the earth in Downward-Facing Dog, but rather to quiet the fluctuations of the mind. The Sanskrit reads “Yogas citta vritti nirodhah.” The Yoga Sutras mention asana practice in only a few spots, as a way to enhance our ability to quiet the motions of the mind, that ceaseless chatter. What we term “yoga,” is merely a means to prepare the body for meditation, a space to allow the mind to soften, without the distractions of the mind.
One way we do this in a yoga class is through that connection with the breath. As Sharon Salzberg outlines in Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, the ability to notice those moments when the mind has wandered and to gently guide it back to the breath and to the practice, is transformational. You will have some practices where this comes with ease, and others where you notice every breath is used to bring the mind back.
This is okay! This is all part of the journey, the experience of yoga. You may find that your journey back to the mat needs to be in a faster paced class, where the mind has less chance to wander, or through a mindfulness meditation session, aimed purely at the workings of the mind. I often say to those struggling with the idea of returning, or coming to yoga for the first time, you will arrive on the mat at the precise time you are meant to be there, and will be welcomed!
Dear Katie —
Lately I have been sitting in meetings all day at work. My back is starting to complain of staying in one place all day, and unfortunately, I cannot get up and do child’s pose on the floor to release my low back, which would be ideal! Are there any suggestions for things I can do in a chair, even in those few minutes of space between topics?
Mike F., Dexter
Being trapped in an office chair is so bad for your low back. Even the most ergonomic chairs place the body in a tough spot, and are not meant for that type of meeting environment. Seated Cat/Cows, with an extension and flexing of the spine can be a nice way to both engage and lengthen the muscles of the entire back body. On an inhale, keeping the spine long, lift through the front side of the heart, tipping up the chin only if that feels good for your neck. Exhale; engage the muscles of the core to allow the heart to lower, moving towards your lap, head coming down as much as works for the back of the neck (and is not too distracting). If you have the space, let the shoulder blades come together on the back on the inhale. Melting off the back on the exhale can be a nice addition, even allowing the elbows to move away from the body.
One last release for the low back is a seated Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose (pictured). In your chair, if space permits, cross one knee over the other, and on an inhale, take a deep breath lengthening the spine. On an exhale, hinge at the hips, keeping the spine long, moving forward until you feel the release through the low back, hips, glutes — wherever your body needs the release at that particular moment. Breathe deeply as long as you need and are able. Switch sides. As you are able to in your day, add some movement to keep circulation up throughout the body.
Katie Hoener is an RYT 500, receiving her 200 and 500 hour trainings at Sun Moon Yoga in Ann Arbor. She is also a Licensed Master Social Worker. She is a partner at Verapose Yoga in Dexter (www.veraposeyoga.com). Please send in your own yoga questions to Katie@veraposeyoga.com.