I'd like to begin by noting that I am not a yoga instructor in any capacity. I have simply chosen two positions that I use often with my patients to build flexibility in the torso and legs while reinforcing upper body strength/support.
I appreciate these two stretches for many reasons:
- They are not overly complex so they are universally applicable
- They feel great after a good night's sleep or a long day at work
- As with many yoga postures/positions, they are a combination of a stretch and a support. Think - two for one!
Seal Stretch/Prone press up (aka "Upward Facing Dog")
This stretch addresses tightness on the front of the body while requiring scapular depression and body weight support on the arms. In the image on the bottom of the photo, you'll notice the "Illiacus" muscle depicted. That's right - more hip flexor talk! This stretch, when done correctly targets the hip flexors, the abdominals, and the anterior muscles of the legs and neck. It also stretches the hip and back into extension - something that feels great after sitting all day.
- Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart. The tops of your feet should be pointed — do not tuck your toes, as this can cause pinching in the low back when you press up.
- Place your hands on the floor alongside your body, next to your lower ribs. Point your fingers forward and keep your elbows in close to your sides.
Performing the stretch:
- Press your hands firmly into the floor. Straighten your arms, lifting your torso and your legs a few inches off the floor, while keeping the hips low.
- Press down firmly through the tops of your feet. Focus on keeping your knees extended so that your thighs are slightly lifted off the floor.
- Keep your elbows alongside your body. Keep your shoulders "down," away from your ears. Squeeze your shoulders back and lift the chest.
- Note: only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. (aka: NO PAIN) Deepen the stretch as you gain flexibility, but avoid straining to achieve a deeper arch. (Remember - it should not pinch anywhere in the low back).
Hold for 30 seconds; Do 3-4 repetitions. If able, perform several days of the week.
Down Dog ("Downward Facing Dog")
This stretch addresses tightness in the back of the legs (hamstrings, gastroc, achilles tendon), buttocks and into the low back. It strengthens the hands, wrists and arms - as well as the core, since you need to hold yourself up to perform it.
- Begin on your hands and knees (quadriped; dog position). Align your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Fingers pointing forward.
- Toes tucked, fingers wide and palms flat.
Performing the stretch:
- Pressing through your hands and feet, lift your knees off the floor. Stretch your butt up toward the ceiling, then draw your sit bones toward the wall behind you. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. Bring your body into the shape of an "A." Imagine your hips and thighs being pulled backwards from the top of your thighs. Do not walk your feet closer to your hands — keep the extension of your whole body. Some additional thoughts:
- Draw your chest toward your thighs as you continue to press the mat away from you, lengthening and decompressing your spine.
- Engage your quadriceps. Sink your heels toward the floor.
- Align your ears with your upper arms. Relax your head, but do not let it "dangle".
Dosage: Hold for 30 seconds. Do 2-3 repetitions. Do multiple times a week (if able).
If you're willing, I find that alternating between the two stretches feels really great. It allows the joints to change position and move through their full range of motion in both directions.