Not achieving your goals? Today I’m going to talk about why I believe a post-workout yoga ‘chill session’ might be the missing link…
Before I start this article I want to hold my hands up and admit that I love teaching yoga (see my previous article here). However, I’m also a keen weight lifter, enjoy functional training and like getting ‘into shape’.
My reason for writing this article is that no matter how strong, hard or fast you train, there is always a place at the end of the session where I believe the body & mind needs to calm down and release, so that you can balance yourself and properly absorb all the positive effects of your training. This, I feel, is particularly pertinent if you don’t feel like you are achieving your (or your clients’) goals – whether that be weight management, rehabilitation, stress relief or training for a specific sport or activity. For some (and I am not saying that you might not be doing this already) that release could be a gentle walk on the treadmill, a seat while you eat your post workout meal or even some old-skool static stretching. For me, it’s a mini yoga practice.
Yoga Postures (Asanas) help reduce catabolism
Most people think of yoga as postures (asanas), which is a fundamental element of Hatha Yoga today, certainly in the West. Asana practices, especially when combined with proper, controlled breathing, practiced correctly, and under the guidance of a good teacher (or adept PT or therapist!), can make a huge difference to your or your clients’ results.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati said:
“Asanas are not exercises. They are techniques that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation. Exercise poses a beneficial stress on the body, and there are several differences in the way asana and exercise affect us. Yoga postures [and I’ll jump in here myself and say ‘when prescribed individually to the person at the right time’] tend to arrest catabolism whereas exercise promotes it.”
So, after an intense exercise session, taking a few minutes to calm the body and mind with some yoga postures might very well help to take the body away from a catabolic (breaking-down) state and kick-start post-workout recovery.
With all this in mind, I’ve selected just a handful of ancient postures (asanas) and breathing practices (pranayamas) that you or your clients might want to enjoy. Some require a certain level of flexibility for the true pose, but a modified version will still have a degree of the desired effect. There are literally millions of poses to try, so if the ones I’ve selected feel good, why not pick up a book and learn some more or chat to a local teacher.
My Favourite Post-workout Yoga Asanas
1. Balasana (child’s pose) – sitting on your heels, knees together if you can, fold forwards during an exhale and place your forehead on the floor, arms by your side, palms facing up (or with your head on two fists if the head doesn’t reach the floor– the objective is to be comfortable) and relax the whole body. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your lower back, lumbar area, and you may feel this area rise and fall on each inhalation/exhalation. Stay here for a few minutes until your heart rate normalises and breathing returns to normal.
WHY? This posture can relax the whole nervous system, and lowering the breath to the reverse of the abdominal area can create a feeling of calm in the person. It can also relax the adrenal glands that may have had a huge workout themselves during the session.
2. Shava Udarakarshanasana (universal spinal twist) – this is a detoxifying twist and breathing should be full and rhythmic due to the compression of the calming abdominal area. This posture may restrict the breath somewhat, and therefore should be taken very gently during a chill out. Lying on your back, bring your right foot flat on the floor, knee bent and place the sole of the left foot on the right leg above or below the knee joint, arms out to shoulder level, palms facing up. Inhale, then exhale as you allow both knees to fall towards the right, feet stay together, encouraging both shoulders to stay down. You can rotate the head to the left. Remain in this position if it feels OK, keep your breathing steady, and let each exhale take you deeper (you can use the right hand to encourage a deeper twist on the exhale if you wish). Inhale as you come back to centre and repeat to the left.
WHY? This asana is very soothing to the nervous system and it can relieve tiredness and tightness in general.
3. Ustrasana (camel) – come on to your knees, keeping them together if you can, feet planter flexed (i.e. pointing down the way they would if you were standing on tiptoes), and lean backward to attempt to take hold of the left heel with left hand, and right heel with right hand (if this is too much, especially for the lower back, keep your hands on hips), you will be pushing the hips forward as though you are against a wall to open out that area, with the abdomen forwards, and take the head back if it feels good for you. The chest & heart will be open, the breathing should be slow and deep.
WHY? This posture opens you out after the calming childs pose, and also can stimulate the heart centre (which generates feelings of acceptance of how your workout, mind and body was/are), it is also said to reduce excess production of cortisol.
4. Janu Sirshasana (head to knee pose) – Sitting on the floor with the feet out in front, knees, ankles hips together if you can, bend the left leg and place the heel gently against the right thigh. If the knee is raised off the floor you can pop a yoga block or pad underneath for support if you wish. Then, gently, leading from the heart and keeping the head balanced and soft, fold forwards, encouraging the head towards the knee, breathing deeply in the final position. You can also raise the pelvis on a block if the hamstrings do not reach for comfort, or slightly bend the right leg.
WHY? This is an introverting, calming, reverse to ustrasana and a nice hip opener.
5. Shavasana (corpse pose) with Abdominal Breathing & Visamavrtti Pranayama – in this posture you simply lie on your back, feet wider than hips, allowing the feet to fall out to the sides, palms facing upwards and make the body comfortable. There are various breathing techniques in yoga, and in this pranayama practice we will encourage abdominal breathing which completely relaxes the nervous system, and combine this with a 2:0:1:1 ratio (visamavritti). Abdominal breathing is one of the most calming breathing techniques we can utilise, and taught properly (sometimes it takes a whole to restore the correct breathing pattern if habitually they have a tendency for chronic thoracic breathing, but change is possible and anything you teach can be passed on to everyday life – as Coutlter says ‘respiratory motions are controlled through somatic motor neurons, so you can think and control it wilfully ‘) it will balance the person and leave them feeling revitalised rather than drained after a workout. To encourage this breathing you can ask the client to place their hand on the abdomen above the navel and the other hand on the heart centre of the chest. Then just observe the breath for a while without changing or judging. After a while, expand the abdomen widely on the inhale, encouraging the chest and shoulders to stay as still as possible.
After a while, begin the to extend the exhale to double the inhale on a mental count, so if you count to 4 on the inhale, count to 8 on the exhale, it is up to the client to understand that they need to take this steady, no forcing or straining, otherwise the effects are negated. There will be no holding of the breath (kumbhaka) after the inhale or exhale on this beginner’s variation, just a steady flow.
WHY? In yoga, the breath is the manifestation of energy (known as Prana), as well as a key controller of the mind. By bringing mindfulness to the breath and extending the exhale, the client should be able to create a feeling of relaxation and concentration, filing every cell with energy and thus revitalising the whole being.
You should then gently end the session by waking up the body’s senses slowly, and then float home!
Four key points to remember when practicing these poses…….
- Chill Out: In Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutra 2.46′, asana is described as ‘Sthira sukham asanam’ meaning ‘steady comfortable posture’. This is actually for a good reason, and in the case of a post workout chill out, this concept should definitely apply! Any evidence of the client going away from the promotion of the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. the heart rate picking up excessively, jerky breathing or breath dominating to clavicular or higher thoracic area, discomfort, changing from internalising the practice to externalising etc.) indicates that the posture needs to be modified (i.e. regressed) there and then for the yoga chill out – these poses should encourage relaxation, not aggravation!
- The mouth: All of these asanas and pranayamas are practiced with the mouth closed.
- The eyes: Eyes can be closed or open during asana (when moving into the posture), but the eyes should be closed during pranayama (i.e. when breathing in the assumed posture) .
- Breathing: Breathing can be visualised as coming in at the back of the throat, rather than being audible through the nostrils.
Let me know how you get on, and feel free to post any comments or questions!
Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
David Coulter – Anatomy of Hatha Yoga