Yoga for Walkers

Dear Yogini: Aside from my long walk to work during the NYC transit strike and a really great birth, I've never sustained an athletic endeavor in my life. However, a mama I met in pre-natal yoga class has gotten me signed up for walking the Eugene half marathon with her. I did nearly 15 miles on foot yesterday. With the ongoing training I know I'll be a tight and sore. What poses and stretches would you suggest to support the long walks (knowing that several miles at a crack I'm lugging a 21-lb baby in an Ergo or pushing said child and her gear in a jogger)? ~~ Hot-footing Mama

Dear Mama: Congratulations! You are making great choices. And you couldn’t ask for better training weather ~ hope your out taking advantage of the 70 degree sunshine!

To take care of those walking muscles you’ll want to stretch both before and after your walks. Stretching before you walk will help muscles to warm up and prevent injuries. Stretching after your walks will help your body flush the toxins that cause soreness and prevent muscles from becoming stiff. And finally, sustained hard exercise in a single sport can result in muscle imbalances. Adding Yoga to your routine will keep you limber, balanced, and going for the long distance.

First, I’d like to address the issue of carrying your beautiful baby on your walks. You’ve probably discovered that this changes your center of gravity. Pushing the baby jogger causes you to lean forward of your center of gravity while walking. Although the geometry is different, you are probably also leaning forward when you have her on your back in the Ergo. Both of these positions will cantilever your spine relative to gravity. To support your spine, you need to build and maintain abdominal and back strength while you are training. A few simple core-strength exercises practiced regularly are essential. Here are three good ones:

Prone Core: Lie on your belly, bring your elbows to the ground under your shoulders and lace your fingers together under your face to create a triangular shaped support. Engage your abdominal and back muscles to narrow your middle. Tuck your toes under and raise your body from the floor, keeping the shoulders, hips and knees in one plane. If you are not strong enough to hold the plank position on your toes, then leave your knees on the floor (half plank). Hold this position for 1 to 2 minutes. Release and repeat.
Swimming: Lying on your belly engage the your belly and back muscles to narrow the middle of your torso. Extend one arm alongside your ear and then lift that arm and the opposite leg from the floor. Hold the lift for a breath or two and then switch sides. Repeat back and forth lifting arms and legs in opposition at least 10 times each.
100s: Lie on your back and lift your shins to bring your knees above your hips. Legs can be extended straight (harder) or you can keep your shins parallel to the floor (easier). Press your low back firmly into the mat and then lift your heart and head toward your thighs reaching your arms parallel to the floor alongside your body. Hold this position steady and imagine you have a small beach ball under each hand. Gently press the imaginary ball toward the floor for five quick counts while you inhale, then five quick presses while you exhale, continue inhaling five counts, exhaling five counts for 10 sets of 10 breaths. The abdominal work here is holding the form of the torso and legs while moving the arms from deep in the back.
Now for some stretches that work both the lower and upper body:

Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Savasana): begin on hands and knees. Engage your abdominal muscles. Tuck your toes and lift your sitting bones up and back while you straighten your legs and shoulders. Take your weight back into your legs as far as possible, opening and stretching the hamstrings and low back. Then walk your legs in place, slighting bending one knee at a time to enhance the stretch. Press down the entire circumference of your palm, especially the mounds of the thumbs and first fingers. Then roll the shoulders so that the outer edges of your arms rotate toward the floor while the inner edges (adjacent to your ears) roll toward the ceiling.
Forward Facing Triangle (Parsvotonasana): Take a nice long stride with the back foot turned out about 30 degrees and the front foot facing directly forward. Turn your hips forward. Reach your arms upward, alongside your ears, then bend your elbows and grab each elbow with the opposite hand. Engage you abs and lift your heart to stretch the front of your spine. Continuously return to the intention of supporting your lumbar spine (low back) with your belly muscles while opening your heart toward the front of your chest. Keep your neck long and comfortable. Release your arms and take your hands to your hips. Begin to slowly bend forward at the hips. Stop before you round your upper back and hover with an extended spine for a few breaths. Then continue to fold forward and bow toward the front leg. Rest your hands on the front leg or the floor. Hold the forward bend for 5 to 6 breaths (or up to 2 minutes). You can add a twist that will stretch the gluteus muscles by turning your chest over the front leg (i.e. if the right leg is in front, turn the chest to the right lifting the right arm toward the ceiling). To come out of the pose, firmly reengage your abdominal muscles and inhale as you rise to standing. Repeat on the other side.
Lunge (Anjanyasana): Take another long stride and keep the feet parallel, this will mean that the back heel is off the ground. Bend the front knee directly over the front ankle and check that your knee, foot and hips all face directly forward. You can take your hands to the floor on either side of the front foot. Keep reaching into the back heel and lifting the back thigh toward the sky. Bring your hands to your knees and lift the chest over the pelvis. Then straighten your leg to rise and change sides.
Dancer’s Pose (Nataranjasana): Standing near a wall for balance, bend one knee and catch the other foot with the same side hand or a strap. Soften your standing knee just a little. Keep your abs engaged as you press the lifted foot into your hand. Your goal is to rotate your thigh bone backward in the socket. Resist the urge to fold over the front leg until you have fully extended the quad and hip flexors of the leg you are holding.

A great resource with photos for anyone walking or running for fitness is: The Runner’s Yoga Book by Jean Couch (1990).

p.s. ask that lovely husband of yours to massage your feet and legs occasionally as well :)

Good luck!