Quitting your day job and going to India to practice yoga is a dream for many, but it didn’t just stay that way for my friend Marley – she’s not long home from 4 weeks in Goa qualifying to become a yoga teacher. As well as being a superstar yogi, Marley is a big fan of weight training, so she knows only too well what it’s like to be inflexible as those of us who lift heavy and put a lot of demand on our bodies very often are.
If you’re anything like me as a CrossFitter, as soon as the WOD is done and you’ve finished your standard laying-on-the-floor recovery, it’s time to get some food in you and chill. There’s no stretching and no real cooling down, other than walking across the box to pick up your protein shaker.
By consistently adding in the following moves, as recommended especially for CrossFitters by Marley you’ll increase your mobility and flexibility, slowly bring your heartrate down, and reduce risk of injury.
1. Downward Dog
Downward dog is done so often in yoga flow, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually an incredibly beneficial posture in itself: as well as stretching your shoulders and hamstrings it can improve shoulder strength too. Follow Marley’s pointers to perform downward dog for ultimate post-CrossFit stretch.
“First, hamstrings: when you’re in downward dog you really want to engage your quads – that way you are allowing the hamstrings to stretch fully. In the pose you want to feel as though your tilting your sit bones up to the sky, with a nice anterior rotation of the pelvis. If you want to increase the stretch here walk your feet further back away from your hands.”
“You want to feel as though you have a slight external rotation of the shoulders with the shoulder blades drawing away from each other and down your spine.” Marley’s prompt of imagining the majority of weight was going through my little fingers really gave me the feeling of space between my shoulder bladers. “If you want to increase the stretch for the shoulder walk your feet in closer to your hands.”
2. Cat & Cow
I’ve always done this stretch to release my back, but it’s perfect for after a WOD where you’ve absolutely hammered your core, like after doing lots of heavy thrusters. Simply plant the hands under the shoulders with the knees under the hips, and flex upwards for cat, with your pelvis pointing towards the sky, then push through the hands, tucking your pelvis forward for cow. Aah.
3. Uttana Shishosana (Puppy pose)
“This alone is a good shoulder stretch as you extend the arms in front of you but if you want to target each shoulder separately weave your right arm under your left, palm facing up and bring your right cheek to the mat,” says Marley. In CrossFit we do this thoracic stretch with a straight supporting arm, but Marley encouraged me to add a bend and I got much more out of the stretch. “You should feel this across the shoulder blade. Hold and then repeat on the left.”
4. Ustrasana (Camel pose)
“A deep hip flexor stretch – make sure if you cannot reach the heels that you keep your hands on the lower back for support”, says Marley. Considering I have tight hip flexors this one came quite easily to me, though if it doesn’t for you the first option will be just as beneficial. Marley adds that “during the pose you really want to push the hips forward” – this will make sure you feel a good stretch along the front of the body.
5. Garudasana (Eagle pose)
I was far too wobbly during this posture to get an in focus photo, so here’s Marley doing Eagle! “A great one for the shoulders and hips – if your right leg is on top your right arm should be on top. Once in the posture push your hands away from your body and upwards, then you should feel the shoulder stretch increase.” I found this difficult to get in and hold, though for the moment I did right I felt it right in my hip capsule. One worth sticking at.
6. Baddha Konasan
This one is a brilliant hip opener, but right now I can’t reach too far, so as per Marley’s direction I kept my feet a little further from the body so my posture stayed straight. “Open the feet like a book – you’ll notice this engages the kinetic chain relationship between your hips, knees and ankles and your legs should come down further,” she says. The ultimate goal is to fold forward, but it’s essential you keep your spine straight. The above is how far I could go when I was truly folding forward from the hips, but I still felt the benefit of the posture.
7. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon)
Admittedly this is a posture I do in my mobilisation before training, though it’s a good one to add in afterwards too. I normally let my hip pop out and I slump over, but with Marley’s direction my body is much more aligned and I felt like I was getting more benefit from the pose, despite not getting as deep into the stretch as I might have done with incorrect alignment. “If your hips go out of line, bring the foot back in closer to the pelvis and keep the hips straight – the leg at the back also needs to be in a straight line. To help with alignment you can press down into the top of the foot of the straight leg. Inhale and straighten the spine and then fold forward as you exhale if you can.”
8. Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)
“The key here is to keep a straight spine – if you’re hunching over your back is over compensating for the fold and allowing your hamstrings to be lazy!” says Marley. That’s exactly what was happening to me when I was touching my toes, so I kept my ego in check and just moved to where I could whilst also keeping my spine straight. “If you can’t reach the toes, keep palms on shins, use a strap or you may also find that sitting on a block helps you to reach, and you can also keep the knees bent.”
You should know this from CrossFit anyway, but remember to leave your ego at the door – with these postures we’re looking to achieve alignment, balance and flexibility, not cheating to do the best version of the pose, whatever the best is. If you’re doing that, you’re completely defeating the object!
I’ll leave you with some wise words from Marley herself…
The goal of yoga is what you personally make it for your own journey. It’s not about being superhuman flexible or being able to balance on one arm in a cool looking pose. It’s a process of mental, spiritual and physical development that everyone takes at their own pace. There’s no wrong or right (as long as your alignment is correct) just go with it and enjoy your own practice. Don’t compare to others, don’t beat yourself up for not nailing a posture first time. Just breathe, relax and most importantly enjoy the journey it will take you on!