By Kim Russell
–Check out Yoga for Paddlers, Part I
It is all too common for paddlers to have a sore lower back and hips. While paddling, we are seated with a posteriorly tilted pelvis for hours on end, straining our sacroiliac (SI) joints, causing tightness and pain in our hip flexors and hamstrings.
Tight hamstrings limit the mobility of the pelvis during bending-lifting activities, causing the lumbar spine to take up the slack and work overtime. In addition, tight hip flexors torque the pelvis, which can lead to all sorts of alignment, postural, and functional problems.
A regular yoga routine addresses these weaknesses through a series of poses directed toward strength and flexibility. What's more, yoga helps keep muscles at their normal “neutral” length, at which they are their strongest and most efficient. When muscles are in their "neutral" length, they are less likely to be strained and overall risk of injury is reduced.
Here are a few more yoga poses to add to your bag of tricks:
1. Standing Forward Bend: This pose serves to stretch the hamstrings, as well as create length and space in the spine, essential to counteracting the negative effects of the paddler’s posture.
Begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart, knees over ankles. Inhale and extend your arms toward the ceiling. Exhale and hinge forward at the hips, bringing your chest toward your knees. Inhale again and come up to flat back. Maintain a flat back while you exhale and bend forward at the hips. Press your feet into the floor and extend through your legs. Hold for five breaths. With each exhale, relax further into the stretch.
Tip: Neck should remain neutral, with gaze focused just ahead of your feet.
2. Wide-leg Forward Bend: This pose serves to stretch and strengthen the hip adductors as well as the hamstrings.
From the standing forward bend, inhale and come to standing. Hop your feet apart about 3-4 ½ feet (the taller you are, the wider your stance) with toes turned slightly inward, and press the outer edges of your feet into the ground. Inhale, lift your arms overhead, exhale, and hinge forward at the hips, maintaining a long torso. Inhale, look up, and come up to flat back (torso parallel to the floor). Exhale, maintain your flat back, and hinge forward at the hips bringing your chest toward your thighs. Place your hands on the floor, and upon exhaling, grasp your big toes, while lowering your torso into a full forward stretch. If possible, place the crown of your head on the floor. Hold for 5 breaths, bring your hands to your hips, inhale and return to standing.
Tip: Imagine drawing your shoulders backward and down, opening your chest.
3. Reverse Pigeon: This pose serves to stretch the hips and glutes, specifically targeting the piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve weaves through this area, and may be irritated by the piriformis under certain conditions. As paddlers, it is vital to keep the surrounding muscles at their "neutral length" in order to reduce sciatica-like symptoms resulting from a posterior-titled pelvis.
From the wide-leg forward bend, lie flat on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, and threading your right arm between your thighs, grasp your left thigh with both hands. Slowly pull your left leg in toward your chest as your foot comes off the floor, feeling the stretch through your right gluteal muscles. Hold for 5 breaths, and repeat on both sides.
Tip: If this feels too intense at first, grasp your left shin instead of your thigh to modify the stretch. Hold the stretch for 5 breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
4. Locust: This pose serves to strengthen the muscles in your posterior chain, as well as stretches the muscles of the anterior torso. As paddlers, we must maintain a strong core to not only protect and stabilize our spine, but also to gain power for bigger boofs.
From reverse pigeon, move to a prone position forehead on the floor, feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides with palms facing up. Inhale, and lift your legs, torso and arms off the floor. Keep your head and neck in a neutral position with your gaze slightly shifted upward. Hold for 5 breaths, and upon exhale, release to the floor.
5. Boat: This pose serves to strengthen the abdominals and hip flexors. As paddlers, a strong core is vital to protecting the spine and gaining power for a strong forward stroke.
From the locust pose, move to a seated position on the floor with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale, perform a kegel, and lift your legs upward into the boat pose. To do so, imagine lifting inward and upward with your inner thighs, as well as through your spine and crown of your head. Draw your shoulders down and back, and try to avoid rounding your back. To further the stretch, fully extend your legs. Hold for 5 breaths, and upon exhale, release to a supine position.
–Check out Yoga for Paddlers, Part I
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**These exercises may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these movements.**
About the Author: Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology and is both a full-time Exercise Specialist and Professional Whitewater Paddler of over seven years. She has won the Western Whitewater Championship Series from 2010-2013, the Wind River Festival from 2010-2013, and the Northwest Creeking Competition from 2009-2013. She has raced the Little White Salmon, participated in various FLUX women's clinics, and is an active member of the Northwest paddling community. You may also find Kim on the local bike trails racing Enduro Professionally, with a notable win of the 2014 Oregon Enduro Series Women’s Pro Category.
For more information on Russell and for similar articles visit her website: www.kimrussell.weebly.com