You hear it all the time from new yoga students. “Yoga is just stretching right?”. In my time as a yoga teacher, I have seen the evolutionary power that stepping onto the yoga mat can have on a student.
From past life gymnasts to the staunchest ex-rugby folk, there are two common reasons people sign up to a a yoga studio. I find that new students are either looking for a way to relieve the stressors of everyday life or their body has had enough with the wrigamorale of physical activity that we tend to put it through. It is becoming more common for healthcare professionals to recommend yoga as a way for athletes (be they professional or DIY) to heal injuries and manage pain.
In active bodies, there seems to be a common thread of physical injuries. While most injured bodies like to see immediate relief for their niggles and pains, a recovery process often takes time and, the dreaded, rest. Although rest and seeking consultation with your healthcare practitioner is a must before jumping into any active recovery, it seems our most common sporting injuries can be alleviated by simple myofascial release techniques that have been tried and tested.
Ankle sprains are a killer for people who do exercises with rapid movements or weight bearing. Any injured ankle needs to be rested and raised initially. When ready I like to use MFR techniques on surrounding tissues of the calf to encourage hydration into the area, not on the sprain itself.
Grab a yoga block or hardback book and tennis ball. Sitting down, place the ball in the dense part of the calf muscle, and supporting yourself with arms allow the calf muscle to slowly compress the tissue. You can heighten this by flexing and pointing the toes, slowly paying attention as you go. Remember this isn’t about no pain no gain.
Rotator Cuff issues
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and supports the stability of the shoulder joint itself.
Issues here can be common in overhead athletes, and single arm sports like golf or cricket. There are several techniques we can use here but one of my favorites to begin with is MFR on infraspinatus, a key player in external rotation of the upper arm bone, and the muscle which covers the back of the shoulder blade.
Take one ball and stand by a wall or solid structure. Hold the ball in one hand and feed it under the opposite arm pit until you can pin the ball between the muscular layer on the back of the scapula and the wall. With a little bend in the knees, start by gently rolling on the surface of the scapula. Find one spot that feels tender (not overly painful!) and stay for five deep breaths. You can also explore moving that arm slowly and noticing if this changes the sensation. Do both sides and pause for a moment in between to notice any small changes in the tissues.
Shin splints are tough to handle They can be brought on from high impact training, and particularly running. Please stay away from those pavements!
When I work with students who have shin splints I focus on three things: opening up hamstrings, as if they are tight they can put more pressure around joints, and adding strengthening work for both calf muscles, and the hip abductor group. Collectively this strength gives more support to the leg.
To address the hamstrings, lay on your back with a yoga strap or a towel handy, hug one knee into your chest with the other knee bent, and foot on the ground. Keeping your pelvis heavy on the floor, loop your strap on the ball of one foot and with a generous bend in the knees, think about drawing
down with the strap, but lightly pressing up with your foot. You can point and flex, slowly, working only until you feel some gentle resistance in the back of the leg. Hold 5 to 10 breaths each side.
To work on hip abductor and calf muscles, take a wide squat stance (think sumo squat position) and bend your keens ensuring that your hips don’t go lower than your knees.
Press your hands to your inner thighs and resist with your leg. Then staying in the bent knee position place your hands on your hips and with a long spine, lift one heel at a time, going side to side slowly. Repeat 5 to 10 times each side.
Lower back pain
This can be complex, and for many reasons. We can have a tender low back from heavy lifting, or it can come from more chronic disc issues. Ensure you have clearance from your physio or doctor and are working to suit your needs.
There are many things we can look at here, but one thing I like to address is the thoracolumbar fascia, which is a large and tough layer of connective tissue spanning the lower back, which is also where can be most developed.
Standing at a wall, take your foam roller into the curve of your lower back. Lean in with enough pressure to feel some feedback and bend your knees so you can slowly move up and down on the roller covering this entire area for about a minute.