Sometimes the floor can seem really far away when you’re lunging, bending, and stretching – especially if you have tight hamstrings or hip flexors. We asked Erin and Sandy, Halfmoon Yoga Products staff and Vancouver yoga instructors, to shed some light on how to use blocks to help us when we’re stretching or doing yoga. Today’s post covers three stretches with blocks that are great for runners, climbers, cyclists, and skiers.
Part two of a three-part series on stretching with props (part one covered therapeutic stretches using a bolster).
“Props are made to bring the floor closer so that yoga is more accessible to everyone,” explains Sandy. And whether you’re a yogi, a runner, a climber, or a cyclist, if you haven’t reached for your toes in a while you know that it can bereally hard to get your muscles into certain positions.
The silver lining is that if you’re attempting to get into a position using a yoga block, you’re bound to deepen your stretch, increase your balance, and develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is important because it’s what allows your muscles to slowly transition from using the block flipped on its tall side, to its long side, to being flat, to maybe even being non-existent. Don’t forget, you can always stack a few blocks on top of one another if you’re in need of additional height in a position.
So, a few stretches then?
Runner’s Lunge, aka High Lunge, Low Lunge
Good for: Anyone who’s discovered tight hip flexors or hamstrings (so, basically any runner, climber, skier, or cyclist).
In a nutshell: “This pose is actually a preparation pose for the splits, because the pose opens the hips and stretches the quadriceps,” says Sandy. “Doing this pose with blocks prevents you from crashing into your front knee, and allows you to relax your shoulders and stop hunching, so that you can really get into your leg muscles and hip flexors without having to be so concerned with your balance.”
How to: Stand two blocks shoulder-width apart, flipped to the height you think will work best for you (I went for the tall side). Lower yourself down into a lunge so that your front foot is between the blocks, and your knee is still above your ankle – a good test is if you can still see your toes past your knee. Then, straighten up on the blocks and look forward, shifting your body around until you get the stretch you want (I tucked my hips under to get a deeper stretch in the quad of my extended back leg).
My thoughts: I’m a runner who normally only makes time to stretch when the screaming of my calves drowns out the Jay-Z on my iPod. My lack of flexibility usually translates into collapsed shoulders (to be able to reach the ground), or a rounded back (to be able to reach my toes). Using blocks completely eliminated the collapsing and the rounding. I just got to focus on getting the most out of my stretch. And when the stretch got too intense, Erin and Sandy told me to drop my back knee, which allowed me to get into my hip flexor because I could bring my front knee a bit more forward without risk of injuring it. My legs whimpered with relief.
Insider tip: Outdoor adventurers have definitely started to see the parallels between yoga and activity: Googling “yoga for running” yields about 123 million results, climber Chris Sharma pulls out his crash pad to do pre-climbing yoga, and cyclist Evelyn Stevens boasts about the attributes that practicing yoga has brought to her Olympic performance. It makes sense. Yoga and outdoor activities both require balance, flexibility, and concentration. Both emphasize the importance of breath and listening to your body. And both provide an amazing payoff when you reach your destination, whether it’s sending a 5.12 or mastering Crow Pose.
Supported Forward Fold
Good for: Cyclists doing hill rides, skiers who are skinning, runners after a long run, and hikers following an aggressive climb (basically, the tight-hamstringed).
In a nutshell: Sometimes the floor can feel really far away, but if it’s any consolation, Erin confirmed that hamstrings can take up to 15 years to open. So don’t feel like you must get your hands on the floor. “This fold is also considered an inversion, as it allows all of the juices to flow in the opposite direction, getting the blood to the head,” says Sandy.
How to: Stand with your feet hip distance apart, place the blocks in front of you at whatever height feels most comfortable, and simply bend at the waist, looking back between your legs.
(arms aligned under shoulders; deeper bend; up a bit higher for a less intense stretch)
My thoughts: Normally when I’m getting into this stretch, I just hang my fingers down towards the ground and sway a bit, hoping that once my body warms up, I’ll be able to reach the ground (this very rarely happens). Being able to have a connection to the ground via the block gave me way more leverage, which allowed me to comfortably take my stretch deeper and hold the pose longer (because when you can actually feel the stretch, stretching doesn’t feel like a waste of time).
Insider tip: Wood blocks are awesome for stability, whereas foam blocks can be a bit more bendy if you’re putting your entire weight on them. “The Halfmoon wood blocks that MEC sells are made by woodworkers in Chilliwack from Canadian cedar offcuts,” mentions Erin. And one whiff transports you to a rustic, wood-burning sauna.
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
Good for: Rock climbers who need vast amounts of flexibility in their hips. And given that most activities involve movements that tighten and shorten your hip muscles (including sitting at a desk all day) all of us can likely benefit from giving our hips and glutes a little love.
In a nutshell: The hip opener of all hip openers. And, depending on whether you’re in King Pigeon or Reclining Pigeon, you can also get into your lower back, chest, and shoulders. “Pigeon increases your range and ease of movement and gives your posture a boost,” confirms Sandy.
How to: Get into plank and bring your right knee up towards your right elbow, dropping your knee down (gently!) onto your mat, in front of your right hand. Pull your right foot across your body, placing it on your left-hand side so that your right leg ends up in a triangle-ish position in front of you; leave the left leg stretched out behind you. Slide a block under your right hip for support, and sink into the stretch.
My thoughts: I’ve always just dropped into Pigeon, slumping over into my bent hip and resembling a toppled fruit cart. Putting a block under the hip of my bent leg balanced me, keeping me square across the hips and giving me the proper alignment I’d always lacked in this position. I loved the space that got created from using the block, and how weightless my body felt, which made holding the stretch easy.
Insider tip: Depending on how deep you want your stretch or how open your hips are, you can place a bolster in front of you to lean forward and rest your forearms on. For something a bit deeper (but still supported) cross your arms and lay your head down.
Next time, we’re going to get into straps. They support your stretches, give you leverage, and increase resistance. They’re also lightweight, so carting them along on a hut trip or in your carry-on is super easy.
Halfmoon blocks are available in stores and online. We can’t wait to hear what you think of your block and these stretches. And if you have a stretch that’s really working for you, let us know!
Image credit: Thanks a heap to Erin, who was awesome enough to be the model for these shots, and to Lisa at Halfmoon, who supplied additional images.