As a professional dancer and model for 23 years, my credits include Seal, Robbie Williams, Gabrielle, Nelly, starring in stage productions like Chicago and Peter Pan. I trained to be a personal trainer and am a passionate natural movement coach and yoga teacher. As an ambassador for Vivobarefoot, I’m excited to be participating in the ÖTILLÖ Sprint Isles of Scilly in June.
Swimming, running and yoga have more in common than you would think at first glance. For example, both yoga and swimming involve movements that are synchronised with breathing, so breath awareness from yoga will also greatly benefit a swimmer.
Yoga is like a moving meditation. It will improve your range of motion and works on building muscle strength, while increasing flexibility. It enhances and boosts stamina, helps in sharpening your focus and concentration and aids in restoring and rejuvenating your energy levels.
When we focus on movement of the body and work with our breathing, we can surrender to the present. Now that you know the benefits, here are the best asanas (poses) to reap the benefits.
Benefits for runners
- Reduces stiffness in the heels
- Strengthens ankles and makes legs strong and agile
Benefits for swimmers
- Reduces stiffness in the shoulder blades and shoulder joints
- Stretches the chest, shoulders and hamstrings
- Get onto the floor on your hands and knees. Place hands firmly on the ground, tuck your toes under and rise to Down Dog.
- Slowly stretch the back and the legs first.
- Draw the shoulder blades towards the spine and actively try to lower them, rotating your upper arms outwards. Focus on having your spine straight and aim your tailbone towards the sky. Bend your knees if you need to in order to keep length in the spine.
- Holding this pose for one minute restores energy when you’re tired, as it gently stimulates your nervous system. Regular practise will rejuvenate your whole body.
- To release the pose, drop your knees to the floor slowly and bring your buttocks to heels and rest in the Child’s Pose – the body resting on the thighs in a fetal position, and your arms can either rest on either side of the body, or be stretched out in front, with your head tucked into the body.
- Strengthens your spine and lower back
- Stretches, strengthens, and tones chest, shoulder, lungs, and core
- Improves your posture
- Soothes and heals back pain and sciatica
- Eases fatigue
- Lie on your belly, chin on the floor, palms flat on the floor under the shoulders with your legs together.
- Pull up the kneecaps, squeeze the thighs and buttocks and press the pubic bone down into the floor.
- Without using the arms, inhale and lift the head and chest off of the floor, keeping the neck in line with the spine.
- With elbows close to your sides, press down into the palms and use the arms to lift you up even higher. Drop the shoulders down and back, and press the chest forward.
- Stay for 5 breaths
- To release: exhale and slowly lower the chest and head to the floor.
Variations: Use Sphinx pose as an easier variation to Cobra. For this, as you are resting on the elbows, you can concentrate on engaging the legs and lengthening the spine.
- Opens hips and groin
- Stretches your ankles, lower hamstrings, back and neck
- Aids digestion
- Tones abdominals
- Stand a little wider then hip-width apart with your feet turned out slightly, make sure your knees are over your feet and lower your buttocks down as far as you can.
- Hands in front of your chest in prayer position and press your elbows against your knees.
- On the inhale, lengthen your spine.
- On the exhale, open your chest and press against your knees.
- Stay for ten breaths.
Tip: Place a rolled-up towel under your heels, if your ankles are tight and your heels are lifting up.
Variation: Intensify the stretch in your groin by placing one hand on the ground, on the inside of your foot, and stretch out the opposite hand towards the sky. Twist and hold. Then, repeat the pose on the other side.
- Stretches deep glutes, groin and psoas
- Relieves sciatic pain
- Start on all fours in a squared table pose.
- Slide the right knee forward toward your right hand. Angle your right knee at 2 o’clock.
- Slide your left leg back as far as your hips will allow.
- Keep your hips square to the floor. If your hips are not square, there will be unnecessary force on your back, and you won’t be able to open the hips to their fullest.
- If you’re not feeling a deep stretch in your right glute, slide the right foot forward – little by little – toward your left hand. With practice, bring your foot parallel with the front edge of your mat.
- Your right thigh should have an external rotation, and your left thigh should have a slight
internal rotation. This keeps pressure off the kneecap.
- You will be upright on your hands while sinking the hips forward and down.
- Stay for ten breaths and change legs.
Variation: For the Reclining Pigeon, lie on your back, place your feet hip width apart, raise right leg up and place ankle onto left thigh.
Then raise your left foot off the floor until you feel the stretch in your right hip. Stay and breathe deeply for ten breath. To release bring left foot back down and take right foot off the thigh. Change sides.
- Stretches the legs, groin, and hip flexors
- Opens the front torso, chest, and shoulders
- Strengthens and tones the thighs, hips, and butt
- Balancing helps to develop flexible stability
- From standing position, step back with the right foot into a lunge and drop the right knee on the floor.
- Make sure your left knee is over the left ankle and square your hips so they are equal facing front.
- Place your hands on your left thigh, inhale open your chest, lengthen the spine and exhale deep into the hip flexor.
- Stay for 10 breaths.
- To release, place both hands onto the floor next to the front foot, step the right foot forward next to the left with your knees relaxed, and change sides.
- Stretches and mobilises shoulders, hips and neck
- Energises the spine
- Sit tall with feet placed on floor, lengthen spine, twist to the left and hug your knees with your right arm. Inhale lengthen spine, on exhale twist deeper.
- Stay for 5 breaths
- Release facing front and change sides
- Increases balance, focus, memory and concentration
- Strengthens the ankles and knees
- Stand tall on both feet and lift your right foot up as high on your thigh as you can. Press your foot against the inner thigh, engage your core and bring hands into prayer position.
- Press your standing foot into the ground and lift up from the crown of the head and breathe.
- Stay for 10 breaths and change leg
- Stretches vertebral column, shoulders, hamstrings
- Strengthens back, spine, abdominals
- Sit with spine tall and legs stretched out in front of you. With your hand grab the flesh from under the seat bones and pull it out and back on a 45-degree angle. You will notice how much easier it is to keep the spine straight.
- Inhale and raise your arms over your head. Stretch.
- Exhale and bend forward. Feel the fold from your hip joints. Your chin should move towards your toes.
- Keep heels on the floor, flex feet and hold your feet from the outside.
Variation: To intensify pose, lengthen spine and bring your torso on your thighs, finally drop the head between your shins.
- Stretches the entire front of the body, ankles, thighs and groin, abdomen and chest, and throat, and deep-hip flexors (psoas)
- Strengthens the back muscles
- Improves posture
- Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and neck.
- Lie on your stomach with your feet hip width apart and your arms alongside your body.
- Bend your knees, take your hands backwards and hold your ankles.
- Breathing in, lift your chest off the ground and pull your legs up and back.
- Breathe and hold for ten.
- Release and lie on your stomach.
- Opens up chest
- Stretches deltoids
- Stand with feet together, clasp your hands behind back, draw stomach in.
- On Inhale lift chest and on exhale squeeze shoulder blades together and straighten your arms.
Variation: To intensify stretch, when arms are straight, on exhale draw them together and up.
- Helps in improving your lung capacity
- Helps you to know your breathing pattern
- Improves cardiovascular strength
- Enhances blood circulation levels
- Beats stress and anxiety
- Improves your focus and concentration levels
- Make a “peace sign” with your right hand. Fold the two extended fingers toward the palm or rest them lightly on the bridge of your nose.
- Place your thumb onto your right nostril.
- Place your ring and little fingers onto left nostril.
- Close your eyes and inhale through your left nostril closing your right nostril (using your right thumb).
- Close your left nostril (using your ring and little fingers) and exhale through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril, exhale through your left nostril.
- This concludes one round. Finish with 8 rounds.
Gratitude to Brian Rolfe photography (brianrolfe.co.uk) and yoga wear by Hey Honey! (hey-honey.de)
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 2 (Apr/May 2017)