Keeping it tight

April 13, 2013

I always tell my yoga students that if you can connect your breath and your movement…. and I mean truly connect them…. that is where the magic of yoga happens. Just like there are athletes like myself who can train for 18-20 hours per week and be serious about multisport…. there are yoga teachers and students who put the same effort and dedication into their practice. Those are the ones we with limited practices usually wind up next to in class, which causes us to try to do what they do, instead of allowing our practice to fit out bodies.

As athletes there is a certain degree of tightness we want to maintain. Think about the pose half pigeon, pictured below.

half pigeon

My half pigeon certainly does not look like this. And there is still deeper to go in this pose if your hips are flexible enough. At the same time I would love to be in this version of this pose…..  it has the potential to ruin my running. Let’s look a little deeper.

Half pigeon targets the periformis muscle pictured below.


Many athletes target the periformis muscle as a hot spot (trouble spot) and need to get in there are gain some flexibility and range of motion. As you can see it’s a difficult muscle to get to.

At the same time….. the periformis muscle’s job is to laterally rotate and stabilize the hip. This is critical for athletes who do a lot of lateral movement, but also is important for runners and cyclists, because it also helps to maintain the alignment of the knee and ankle with the hip. I know many many athletes who have developed periformis syndrome, which happens when the sciatic nerve gets compressed by the periformis muscle.

Half pigeon is a very good pose to help increase flexibility and ROM of the periformis. If you again look at the above picture…. it is not often  for an athlete to be able to do this pose in this alignment with their hip on the ground ( it happens, but isn’t that common). This then causes the hip to be off the ground, the yogi will sit on a block and I don’t like the torque and angle this puts on the knee. Knees are expensive to replace!

I tend to teach this pose either on the back, with a strap… or I teach it on the front with the back leg bent. If you are a dancer and know what a jazz sit is…. that is what it looks like. The point it…. I will teach it differently to alleviate the possibility of injury to the knee.

Now on the other hand…. let’s pretend a yogi comes to me, who is hyperflexible… and wants to learn how to run. One of the first things we need to do is assess the flexibility of the hips. If a muscle like the periformis is very very open on this yogi…. their knees might sway out to the side causing them to run bowlegged. Which in time would cause a whole series of injuries.

The point is this: when it comes to being an athlete… there is a certain degree of tightness we need to maintain. It is more than unlikely that we will embark on a yoga practice and develop hyper-flexibility. We just don’t have it. But we can stop trying to fit into the uber yogi’s body and their practice.

It’s critical to develop your own practice and that begins with a good understanding of which poses do what and why. Which poses relate to you the athlete. I am delighted that now more and more athletes are coming into the studio… and I am really excited that more and more practitioners are focusing on athletes. When an athlete who has been around the block a few times (Molly at Molly’s yoga, Leslie at TUNE yoga to name a few) we have a deeper understanding of the physiology of the athletes… we’ve been there…. and we also have a deep understanding of the yoga practice. That allows us to guide our students but not try to put them into a practice that they shouldn’t be fitting into.

I am really excited to be bringing my Yoga for Athletes program to Midtown Athletic Club for a four week series, open to both members and non members. From 5:30-6:30pm beginning April 18th (and then for the next 4 Thursdays) we will get down and dirty with the practice of yoga. We will look at what poses are important for which athletes. You will leave with handouts and knowledge of how to sequence poses together so that you can practice at home for 20 minutes, and then aim to hit the studio once a week or every 2 weeks for a tune up. The information is detailed below.

It’s not hard for me to get athletes to work hard. It’s hard for me to get athletes to take care of their recovery and restoration. The new buzz word is pre-hab (rather than rehab) and it’s a good thought to not only have in your head…. but a good habit to get into.


If you… as an athlete….. can connect your movement and breath. That’s the real key to yoga. The flexibility and the strength will come with it… I promise. What I don’t do in my yoga classes is lecture on life and spirituality and fluff. In my opinion it’s up to you to discover what is on your mat. (I will give you the “nuggets” as I like to say though). So much happens when you connect movement and breathing… and then suddenly you will find yourself in a race, on a long ride….. making that exact same connection.


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