Sunday, December 19, 2010

Calf Stretches: Traditional vs. Yoga

Traditional calf stretches, like the one pictured to the left, are effective at isolating and stretching the gastrocnemius and its Achilles tendon. I joke around with runners that they like to finish a run, poke around with a few stretches like the one shown and then hop in the car off to brunch.

In this post, I'm offering an alternative calf stretch that requires you to sit down, pay attention to your body and breathe. The sitting down part is actually pretty nice after a long run, ride or game. Without having to exert any effort, it allows you to release not just the calf muscles, but your body as a whole. You will be able to connect the tension in your calves to the entire back of the body - hamstrings, low back, mid-back, all the way to the base of the skull.

My friend, Gia, a student in my Yoga for Runners class, was nice enough to model this one for me - see pic to the left. Sit with your left leg out and right leg in and folded across the body. Allow your inner thighs to come as close as they can to each other. Flex your left ankle, drawing the toes in. If your calves feel very tight this may be difficult. Stop at the point of mild discomfort.

Keeping your shoulders relaxed, lean your torso forward so that it puts mild pressure on the right thigh and perhaps increases the sensation in the back of the left leg. Drop your chin to the chest. Breathe into whatever you feel.

To go deeper, grab hold of your foot and gently pull your toes in. Keep your shoulders free of tension. You don't want to cram your shoulders toward the ears as if shrugging. If you can't reach your toes, loop a belt around your foot so that you can keep the shoulders smooth and relaxed. Continue to lean forward with the torso and then tuck your chin.

As you breathe here, trace the strong sensation that you feel in the lower leg into the hamstrings. Then move your breath along into the lower spine, the mid-back and ribs, and eventually the base of the neck.

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