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Filtering by Tag: stretch

Simple sequence for a stiff lower back

Olivia Marley

I had a question this week from someone that said they often felt stiff and tight in the muscles on either side of their back. I'll preface this with saying: if you have back pain, go see a doctor/ osteopath/ chiropractor etc. But if you just want to move your spine a bit more and stretch out some of the muscles in the back of your torso this is a great little sequence. It may help improve flexibility in the backs of your legs too, which can also be good for back discomfort. Remember: be gentle. Don't force anything! 😎

1. Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Take your hand to your lower back: if you can feel your vertebrae sticking out (instead of your lower back having its natural inward curve) sit up on a block/ couple of books/ folded up towel/ something like that. If you still can't sit up straight bend your knees until you can. 

Leave your right leg where it is. Bend your left knee and step your left foot to the outside of your right thigh. Put your left fingertips on the floor behind you. As you inhale push down into your left hand and sit up tall. As you exhale turn towards your top knee and either cradle it with your right arm or put your right elbow on the outside of that knee. For your next five (slow!) breaths: each time you inhale sit taller. Each time you exhale turn a bit more towards your top knee. 

TIP: notice how it's easy to sit tall through the left side of your torso by pushing down into your back hand. See if you can also create the same amount of lift through the other side of your torso. 

2. As you inhale release the twist and face forward again. Bring your left foot back to its own side of your bottom leg. Keep your left knee bent but this time let your knee fall out to the side. If it doesn't reach the ground support it with a pillow or rolled up towel. Turn your chest to face towards your left knee and place the back of your right hand on top of your right leg. Keep facing towards your bent leg and as you inhale sweep your left arm up alongside your ear; as you exhale bend sideways towards your extended leg. Take five slow breaths here. 

TIP: notice how your top shoulder wants to drop forwards so your chest turns down towards the floor. Try to resist the temptation to do that; instead back out of the posture a little and turn your chest more up to the ceiling. Lean your top shoulder a little bit back. You might not be able to reach your top arm so far but the stretch will be more in the side of your body (which is what we're trying to target here!). 

3. As you inhale, lead with your top arm to come all the way back up. Keep your legs where they are but this time turn your chest to face towards your extended (right) leg. Again, remember that slightly bending that leg may help you sit up taller. Place your finger tips either side of that extended leg. As you inhale sit tall; as you exhale turn more towards that leg and fold (= yoga jargon for lean your chest down towards your leg!). Hold for five slow breaths. As you next inhale sit all the way up again, and repeat the whole sequence on the other side. 

As always, let me know if any comments or questions! 🙏🏼♥️

Prep for a wide legged forward fold or prasarita padottanasana

Olivia Marley

I had a question from @mylifeisforliving a few days ago about how to work towards a wide legged seated forward fold or prasarita padottanasana (see my Instagram posts here and here if you're not sure what that looks like). Even though that posture might look relatively simple, I completely understand her question!

For some people sitting with their legs wide apart is naturally quite comfortable. For me the complete opposite has been true until pretty recently. I spent quite a lot of time horse riding when I was growing up without any thought of ever stretching, which left me with strong but very tight adductors (inner thigh muscles) and hip flexors (the muscles that you'd use to bring your knee up towards your chest). So whenever I tried to sit with my legs wide:

  •  well firstly, they wouldn't actually move that far apart
  • I couldn't sit up straight at all, and felt like I was falling over backwards
  • I'd get cramp in my hip flexor muscles
  • If for some reason I was daft enough to then try and fold forwards, I wouldn't move at all and the cramp in my hips would just increase 😩

So instead of keep trying to force my body into a position that obviously didn't work for it, I thought I'd try a more targeted approach for a few months to see if it made any difference (💥spoiler alert💥 - it did).

It's relatively easy to stretch your hamstrings (the big muscles on the back of your thighs), especially in a vinyasa yoga practice. It happens every time you fold forwards (see my quick video here about doing that more effectively!). Hamstring flexibility comes into a wide legged fold too, but for the purposes of this blog I'm going to take it as given that you know how to stretch those muscles. Instead I'll be concentrating on the muscles that are most restricted for me in this posture: my adductors. For me, the 3 postures in the photo above allow me to access my adductors most effectively. And this is the order I'd use them in:

Photo 1 (top left): Stand with your feet wide apart on your mat and parallel. Fold forwards. If your fingers don't reach the floor use a block. Turn your right toes out 45 degrees, and bring your left hand to centre so it's directly underneath your face. Bend your right knee and use your right forearm to guide your knee out towards the little toe side of your foot. As you inhale lengthen your spine by stretching the top of your head straight forwards and sticking your tailbone out behind you. Keep that, and as you exhale lunge a little deeper and keep using your am to gently press your thigh out to the side. After a few breaths inhale to release, and exhale to repeat on the other side. Tip: don't put your arm on the top of your leg. Make sure it's on the inside - maybe even rest your fingers on your shins to help get it.

Photo 2 (top right): Stand with your feet about a metre apart, and turn both feet out about 45 degrees. Bend your knees out and sit down towards the level of your knees. Take a peek at your knees - if they seem to be collapsing inwards compared to your feet turn your toes to point a bit more forward (it won't make the posture any easier or harder, but will be a more stable position for your knees). Lean forwards and place your forearms on the inside of your thighs. As you inhale lengthen your spine by stretching the top of your head straight forwards and sticking your tailbone out behind you. As you exhale sit a little lower. Tip: this is like the previous posture, but with both knees bent instead of one. So the same applies - don't rest your arms on the top of your legs. Make sure they're on the inside, and use your arms to gently press your thighs apart while also lengthening the skin on the inside of your thighs from hips to knees.

Photo 3 (bottom centre): Sit on a block with the soles of your feet together and knees apart. Inhale and sit up as tall as you can, and think about moving the natural inward curve in your lower back further in and up. As you exhale fold forwards, but keep sticking your tailbone out behind you as much as you can (that will maximise the stretch your after). If your elbows reach your thighs then bend your arms and gently use your them to lengthen the skin on the inside of your thighs from hips to knees. Tips: instead of taking hold of your toes and pulling them towards you (which can create a twisting action in your knees), reach for your ankles instead. And don't pull as hard as you can with your arms, as that'll create tension in your neck and shoulders - be gentle!