Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yoga For Triathletes - Pose Of The Week - Kapotasana

This fall I'm going to start teaching Yoga. The class I'm envisioning will cater primarily to athletes -- triathletes, runners, and cyclists. Since it will be starting in the off season, it will probably focus on recovery and integration at first, then build into strength and balance as the season approaches. I don't have all of the details worked out just yet but I want to start thinking more about the poses I'll primarily incorporate into my classes.

I think all told I've been doing Yoga for about 5 years now. The first 3 were just to some DVD's I inherited. I remember the first time I did a 30 minute yoga session on one of those discs and thought "Man, this is pretty tough." But I kept at it because I liked the way I felt when I was done. In the beginning I didn't think I'd ever go to a yoga studio to take a class largely because I'm pretty highly self motivated when it comes to athletic stuff and don't really mind doing it by myself. Fortunately I have a pesky friend named K who kept at me to take a REAL yoga class. Because of K's persistence I finally gave REAL yoga a try. And I got hooked on that too. I now can honestly say for the most part they take it easy on you in those DVD's. For one thing, most of the classes in studios are an hour to an hour and a half long. For another, there are more challenging poses, more of them and the poses all seem to be held forever.

What I will point out is that Yoga is not necessarily the same as static stretching which typically involves isolating and lengthening muscles. Yoga poses are as a general rule more dynamic in nature calling for stretching, relaxing, balancing and coordinating muscle groups to achieve a desired result. Because of Yoga I've been able to find and access muscles I didn't realize I had. This has been most noticeable in my core. Enough said.

Anyway, the pose I'm studying today is called Eka Pada Kapotasana or One Legged Pigeon. Technically the pose I'll describe here is a more common variation of the pose that is more effective for the typical issues faced by endurance athletes. I've found this pose to be really helpful for accessing and releasing a notoriously tight muscle in many of the runners and cyclists I know, the piriformis. This asana is also beneficial because the piriformis crosses over the sciatic nerve. The lengthening in this area can create a great deal of relief if you are experiencing some issues with the area. Working with this asana can also be beneficial if you have lower back pain that is isolated to one side of the body just above the hips which can be sourced to a tight piriformis.

Starting in a low lunge with both hands on the floor the right foot is in between the hands, the thigh and the shin are at a right angle. Press into the floor and lift the right foot and rotate it over toward the left hand. Gently lower down on the bent right leg, using your arms for support. You may find as you lower onto the right leg you need to allow the foot to move in toward the left hip. The more open your hips are, the closer you can get your right leg to a 90 degree angle. Your left leg should shoot straight back from your left hip. The top of your left foot will be on the floor. In the this pose you don't want to just collapse. You want to keep isometric tension from both legs and radiate it up through your torso. At this point if it is available to your body you can begin to lower the torso forward over the front leg. For some simply bending forward slightly and keeping the support of the arms will be enough to engage and begin the release the piriformis. As you work with the pose you may eventually get to the point where the torso can come to rest over the front leg.

After you've found your body's point of expression in the pose, you will hold that position for about 60 seconds. To come out of the pose, you can simply plant the palms into the floor, lean forward, tuck under the toes and move back into a lunge over the right leg. You will then repeat the same sequence with the left leg.

You can find a picture and additional notes/instructions for entering the pose here.


BreeWee said...

I confess, I used to really get bored with yoga, but my sister has me hooked! Good on ya for starting to be a yogi teacher :) your class sounds fun!!

My sister does a lot of yoga teaching to triathletes/athletes, i can connect you to her if you need some ideas, she is super!

All the best to you!

ace said...

I'd really like that. Your sister sounds pretty cool from the blog you did recently.

I think I was pretty lucky with the first few yoga classes I got to do. They were really active and athletic, more like dance or martial arts. I've travelled some and found other yoga classes a little slow for my tastes so, I think I can relate to being bored in some classes. But hey, that's why we get good and make up our own right!?

Jen said...

Thanks for this great post! I found your blog while searching for Felt bike reviews and was immediately taken in by your writing and and interest in yoga and vegetarian nutrition. I'm currently coming back to triathlon after a year-long hiatus, and yoga has been soooo very helpful getting me back into things smoothly. Anyway, great blog!