by Holly Walck Kostura, devoted Iyengar yoga student and teacher
I remember so well how liberating it felt to run: my feet pounding the earth, the fire building in my quadriceps, and the air blowing across my skin. My mind always felt so spacious after a run; all the ruminations of the past and worries about the future melted into the present moment of the movement of my body.
Wait a minute…earth, fire, air, space. Where is the water element in all this running? (And don’t say it’s in your water bottle!) Of course, hydration is a part of the replenishing process, but did you know that yoga poses can shower your cells, muscles, organs, glands, and skin, too?
Dive into this sequence and bathe your body, mind, and spirit in the deep, still, warm waters of yoga. It’s one of my favorite sequences for bringing the body back into fully hydrated balance. It will provide you with rest, recovery, and restoration on many levels.
OM. Peace. Peace. Peace.
Yoga for Running Recovery (A Sequence to Celebrate the Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival!)
Downward-Facing Hero’s Pose (Adho Mukha Virasana)
- Kneel on the mat with the inner edges of your big toes touching and your ankles and knees apart. Your buttocks should be down on your heels or on a blanket. (If the tops of your ankles aren’t touching the floor when you bring your buttocks to your heels or the blanket, try placing a rolled blanket under your ankles.)
- Take your hands to the floor and, while keeping your buttocks down on your heels, bring the sides of your torso downward and forward until it is between your thighs and your head is on the floor. (If your head doesn’t come to the floor without your chest pulling back toward your navel, place a block or folded blanket under your head.)
- Extend your arms forward from your armpits and draw your shoulder blades away from your fingernails and press them down onto your back. See that you are broadening the space between your buttock bones and your collarbones.
WATER…”Water” your brain by using your exhalations to release the front of your brain down into the support underneath your forehead and using your inhalations to create space between your eyes.
Seated Twist Pose (Bharadvajasana)
- Sit with your right buttock bone on the edge of a folded blanket and your legs stretched straight out in front of you. On an exhalation, swing your legs to the left and place your feet outside your left hip so that the inner right arch is a bed for the top of the left foot. Keep your knees as close together as possible and see that your right knee lines up with your right hip.
- Keeping your left outer shin, ankle, and little toe down on the floor, at your next exhalation, swing your right arm around behind you and clasp your left biceps.
- Revolve your trunk to the right, turning the right side of your abdomen, chest, ears, and temples more and more to the right.
- On an exhalation, come back to the center, releasing the twist from your temples, ears, chest, and finally, your abdomen. (People with knee issues can sit on more blankets or on a chair.)
WATER…your paraspinal muscles. Use your inhalations to extend your spine fully and your exhalations to twist more deeply.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose, variation (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Stand in front of a chair. Turn your hands out slightly and place them on the outer edges of a chair seat.
- Draw your shoulder blades away from your hands and press them down onto your back ribs as you lift your inner arms well up, continuing that lengthening action all the way up your spine as you walk back until your legs are perpendicular to the floor and your spine is fully elongated.
- Reach your arms out from your armpits and lift your ankles, shins, knees, and thighs up, then draw them back. Press your heels down as you do this.
- To come out, walk back toward the chair seat and stand up in Mountain Pose (see below).
WATER…your lower back and the backs of your legs. Use your inhalations to draw your abdominal organs away from your shirt, spreading them out against the inner wall of the back of your body. Use your exhalations to broaden the reach of your heels and calves, the backs of your knees, your thighs, and your buttock bones. Turn your heels out and your toes in to help you pour more “water” on your legs!
Mountain Pose (Tadasana, variation)
- Place a mat down on the floor perpendicular to and at the wall. Turn the folding chair upside down and place it on the mat with the back of the chair up against the wall where it meets the floor. Fold the part of the mat that’s near the wall over the seat of the chair for cushioning.
- Stand in between the chair and the wall with your back to the wall. Very firmly hold onto the legs of the chair closest to the wall and step into the outer edges of the pan of the chair; they are the most stable. Press down evenly on your toes, the balls of your toes, and the front and backs of your heels.
- Place the back of your torso against the wall and keep the top of your buttocks moving away from your lower back. Lift the sides of your waist, your chest, and your sternum up toward the ceiling.
- Turn the upper part of your arms away from the sides of your chest, roll the shoulder blades toward your back, and lengthen your neck and head away from the tops of your shoulders.
- Come out by holding onto the chair legs and stepping out of the pan of the chair.
- Stand in Mountain Pose next to the chair and observe the uninterrupted flow from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head and back down again.
WATER…the bottoms of your feet. Use your exhalations to drop your heels farther down and stretch the skin on your feet toward your toes. Use your inhalations to climb up from your tailbone all the way through your cervical spine.
One Leg in Frog Pose (Eka Pada Bhekhasana, variation)
- Stand perpendicular to the wall in Mountain Pose with your right hand on the wall. Bend your left knee and reach your left arm around behind you to hold your left foot. Remember that both the full elongation of all parts of your spine and the integrity of your joints are your priorities, so use a belt to reach your foot if you need to.
- Once you are holding your left foot, take your right hand off the wall and hold your left foot with that hand, too. Roll your shoulders back, press your shoulder blades down, and lift the sides of your chest.
- Breathe freely and fully as you balance on your right foot. To come out, bring your right hand to the wall, and slowly release the left foot from the left hand.
WATER…your quadriceps. Use your inhalations to lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor while lifting the front of your spine and the crown of your head. Use your exhalations to reach from your outer hip to your inner knee on the bent leg and draw that inner knee back so it is in line with the standing leg without pushing the middle of your buttocks back.
Bound Angle Pose in Bridge Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Place a folded blanket on the floor underneath a bolster. Sit on the bolster with the soles of your feet together and your knees apart. Place a looped belt around the outer edges of your feet and the back of your pelvis so that it holds your heels a few inches away from your perineum.
- Lie back so that the bolster is lifting your middle-back ribs up and away from the floor while keeping the top border of your shoulder blades down on the floor. Your sternum will be moving closer to your face, and your chin will move closer to the notch between your two collarbones.
- Place your legs in Easy Pose or Mountain Pose if your hips or knees need an alternative.
- To come out, bring the soles of your feet onto the bolster and your knees together. Press yourself back until your spine and buttocks are resting on the floor. Stay here for a couple of minutes, then turn over onto your side and come up to sit quietly with your eyes closed.
WATER…your whole inner body. See your inhalations emerging from and creating limitless space inside the container of your body. See your exhalations dissolving into that vast, cosmic expanse within you.
P.S. Some of these poses are part of a longer sequence that I developed with Louis Cinquino, a writer-runner who incorporated Iyengar Yoga into his training for The Fifth Avenue Mile. He wrote about his race training in “The Mulligan Mile” for Runner’s World.
Holly Walck Kostura uses the healing practices of Ayurveda and Iyengar Yoga to secure her to the core of her being. Combining her bachelor’s degree in nursing with her certification in Iyengar Yoga gives her the ability to approach her students from a place of wholeness and infuse her yoga classes with a unique flavor. Find her online at yogawithholly.com.