10 power yoga stretches for baseball pitchers
The following article was contributed by Alyssa Dinowitz, RYT, of www.athletesyoga.com. For pictures of featured poses, go to “pose finder” at www.yogajournal.com.
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, to join or unite. The chief aim of yoga is to join all parts of the self; mind, body and spirit. When physical poses are combined with controlled and deliberate breathing, an athlete can remain sharp, focused and in “the zone”. This happens when the mind is highly focused and the body is relaxed, yet prepared.
Yoga vastly improves flexibility, strength and balance. It is key in preventing injury. “If you don’t bend, you’ll break”.
- Bound Angle Pose: Sit on the floor with legs extended in front of you. Draw the soles of the feet together and bring them as close to the groin as possible. Clasp the big toes with your first two fingers, or hold on to the ankles. Keep your sit bones well planted and lengthen the sides of the body and spine. Exhale and gently move the knees toward the floor bringing flexibility to the groin. Inhale and bring the knees up slightly. Repeat for 5-9 breaths.
- Cat~Cow: Start in a neutral crawling position, hands shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide. Knees and feet are hip width apart, hips over knees. As you inhale, allow the pelvis to lift, chest tilts upward as you create a gentle U-shaped curve in the back. Gaze up. Exhale as you reverse the movement. Tuck the chin to the chest, scoop the tailbone under. Your spine arches, resembling a cat stretching. Allow the pelvis to initiate the movements as you flow through flexion and extension. Avoid crunching the cervical spine in extension. Focus on fluidity of breath and movement. Cat~Cow loosens the joints of the spine, hip and shoulders.
- Half Cow Face Pose: Sit in a comfortable crossed legged position. Inhale and raise your right arm, drop the palm of your hand at the top of your back, or between your shoulder blades. Reach the left arm behind your back. Bend at the elbow, placing the back of the hand on the back. Try to draw the elbow behind the head and work the lower palm as high up the back as possible. Use a strap or belt to bridge any gap between the hands. Inhale, open chest, elbows wide and back. Exhale and feel the tension release between the shoulder blades and chest. Hold for 5-7 breaths, switch sides.
- Half Lord of the Fishes Twist: Sit on the floor cross legged. Step the left foot over the right leg, the sole of the foot on the floor outside of the right thigh. The left knee should be pointing upward. Initiate the twist by wrapping your right arm around your left knee and placing the left fingertips on the floor behind you. Inhale as you lift the crown of the head & ribs up, exhale as you turn your belly, chest, shoulders & gaze over the left shoulder. With every exhale, deepen the pose by initiating the twist from the torso, not the neck & head). Continue to inhale & lengthen, exhale & twist. Hold pose for 5-7 breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
- Warrior One: Stand with your feet 3-4 feet apart. Turn your right foot toward the front of the room, left foot turned in 45 degrees. The front heel should be in line with the arch of the back foot. Rotate your hips toward the front foot and bend deeply into the front knee, (90 degrees if possible). Keep the front knee directly over the ankle. Lengthen the spine, tuck your tailbone under. Raise the arms overhead, shoulder-width apart, palms facing each other. Shoulder blades down, extend through the inner elbows. Keep the outside edge of the back foot rooted into the floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths, switch sides.
- Triangle Pose: Stand with your feet 3-4 feet apart. Turn your right foot toward the front of the room, left foot turned in 45 degrees. Engage the thighs, maintain a neutral pelvis. Lift the ribs away from the hips allow the arms to form a T shape, shoulder blades against your back. Allow the hips to hinge as right hand lowers to right leg, (a block or floor), keeping chest open and sides of torso extended and lengthened. Maintain alignment of torso over legs, avoid locking the front knee. Broaden your chest and gaze up toward your left hand. Triangle strengthens legs and torso, lengthens hamstrings and opens the hips. Breathe evenly for 5-10 deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
- Pigeon Pose: Start on all fours, bring your right knee forward until it touches your right wrist. Place the outside edge of the right leg onto the floor, bending at the knee. Left leg extends straight back. Place the top of the left knee and foot directly into the floor. Keep the torso upright. Draw the tailbone down; lengthen the sides of the body. Shoulder blades soften, lift and expand your chest. Support yourself with your hands, fingertips or two blocks. Draw the right heel closer to the groin to lessen the stretch, away from the body to deepen. Gently move the left hip bone toward the floor. Hold for 7-10 breaths, switch sides.
- Seated Forward Bend: Sit with your legs extended out in front of you, sit bones well planted, back of the legs pressing into the floor. Inhale and raise your arms overhead, hinge from the hips. Extend the spine and draw forward from the chest, exhale and fold. Pelvis extends. Engage the quads to lengthen the hamstrings. Move forward gently as you deepen the forward bend with an exhale. Keep the shoulders down as you maintain a lift in the spine, avoid collapsing in the chest. Inhale and lengthen, exhale and fold deeper. Use a strap or belt if needed around the balls of the feet. Hold for 7-10 breaths.
- Head to Knee Pose: Sit with your legs extended in front of you, sit bones well planted. Bring the right foot to the inside of the left thigh. Extend the spine and draw forward from the chest. Pelvis extends, quads engage, hamstrings release. Keep turning the torso over the straight leg, shoulders square, spine long. Keep the left leg extended, foot flexed toward the body. Arms extend toward the foot. This will bring flexibility to the hams and low back. Hold 5-7 breaths, switch sides.
- Reclining Spinal Twist: Start flat on your back. Bend the right knee and place the foot on the floor. Take the left hand to the outside of the right knee and draw it across your body toward the left. Draw sacrum down and in. Look to the right, keeping the right shoulder blade on the floor. Exhale fully, deepening the twist, opening the chest. Feel any low back tension release. Avoid deep twists if disc problems exist. Hold for 7-10 breaths, switch sides.
Final Relaxation/Corpse Pose: Lie on your back and begin to relax the body. Close the eyes. Soften the jaw and tongue. Allow the palms of the hands to face up, arms away from the body 10 or so inches. Legs are spread apart about a foot as the feet fall open to the side.
Feel the entire body melt into the floor. The more you surrender, the more you will be supported. Feel any tension leaving the body with every exhale. After about 5 minutes, slowly deepen your breath and begin to bring awareness back to the body. Slowly roll to your right side and pause. With the strength of your arms, push yourself up to a seated position. Allow your head to come up last. Notice how you feel... Relaxed? Focused? Energized? Lastly, thank your body and mind. Be very grateful to yourself for practicing yoga!
*Other suggested poses
- Eagle Arms
- Downward Facing Dog
- Crescent Lunge
- Warrior II
- Side Angle
Always consult your coach, physical therapist, or physician before attempting any of these poses. Like any sport, yoga can cause injury if done improperly.