A simple, relaxing pose has a direct, positive effect on your running.
Written by: Sage Rountree
If you’re like me, and like most Americans, you spend a decent amount of each day sitting in a chair with your arms raised. Chances are, that’s what you’re doing right now. This position, used for keyboarding and driving, can have deleterious effects on your running. It tightens your chest, hampering your lung capacity, and it overstretches and weakens your upper back, making it harder for you to run tall and strong.
Down the road, we’ll look at ways to strengthen the upper back; here, let’s look at how we can release the front of the chest. Happily, this is an easy and relaxing chore. You’ll need a pillow folded lengthwise, a rolled beach towel or pair of rolled towels, or, if you’re slightly more masochistic, a foam roller, perhaps one sawed in half lengthwise to form a half-moon-shaped non-rolling implement.
Get down on the ground with your bottom on the ground and the prop running the length of your spine. Choose a position for your legs that feels comfortable, relaxing, and sustainable, because you’ll be staying here a while. This might mean your knees are bent (you could even add another pillow running horizontally under your knees), or you can stretch your legs long. Your whole spine should feel supported. Don’t take too strong a curve in your lower back. You’ll feel the prop resting against your spine along your upper back. Check that your neck is comfortable, and add a pillow for your head if your chin is poking up higher than your nose. Your arms should go off your hips or slightly higher, palms up, with elbows bent if that feels better.
Now, the work: stay here. Stay here for a good long while, at least five minutes and up to fifteen. This might not sound like work, but it is; after two or three minutes, you’ll likely think of other things you should or could be doing. (Ironically, these things might involve sitting in a chair with your hands on a keyboard!) Push through this impulse to move on. Instead, abide. Hold your position and relax. Where can you do less and just be? How does the breath inform the stretch? As you stay, what unfolding occurs along the front of your chest? And when you are truly done, after your intended five to fifteen minutes, how do you feel? Is your posture straighter? Is your mind clearer?
When you realize the benefits that this relaxing stretch brings, you’ll find it a worthy addition to your day, most days of the week. Work toward balance in the front and back of your chest, and you’ll be able to run taller, more relaxed, and with fuller breaths.
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Sage Rountree (sagerountree.com) is author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. In addition to teaching yoga workshops nationwide, she is an active coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and the RRCA.