The Best Yoga Poses for Exercise Recovery

As a longtime athlete, I used to think soreness and pain were just side effects of progress. I tried to push through the discomfort, only to get injured and sidelined from competing. I put my body through so much abuse that I (unknowingly) couldn’t perform at my fullest potential.

Now that I practice yoga, I understand how to listen to my body. I know that if I try to push through pain, it only makes my exercises less efficient. The practice helps me recover and keeps injuries from interfering with my workouts. Here are six poses to restore your body and help you get the most out of your workouts:

1. Half Split
How to do it: From lunge, lower your back knee gently to the floor. Take a long enough stance so that your back knee is slightly behind your hip. Straighten your front leg until your toes and knee point straight up. Rotate your back inner thigh back and plug your front thigh back to square your hips. Place your hands on either side of your front shin. Lengthen your lower back and your upper and mid back equally. Twist slightly over your front leg and draw your forehead towards your kneecap as much as you can while keeping your hips level and your front leg straight.

Why to do it: If you are an avid runner, weightlifter or cyclist, or if you play a sport that involves strength in your lower body, this pose will help your performance since it helps stretch your hamstrings evenly. If your legs get restless or are sore after your workout, chances are you are tight and at risk of injury.

2. Pigeon
How to do it: Start in down dog and bring your right knee forward behind your right wrist. Angle your right shin across your mat and lower your back knee gently. Square your hips. As your hips start to open, slide your back leg and pelvis back and down toward the floor. Only stretch as much as you can keep your hips even. Take several deep breaths and repeat on the second side.

Why to do it: If you have knee pain from exercising, chances are your hips are overly tight. Tightness through your hips and IT bands creates more torque on your knee joints. This pose bulletproofs your knee joints while opening up your outer hips and your IT bands. It also helps clear soreness in your glutes and outer legs.

3. Twisted Thigh Stretch
How to do it: In a low lunge with your back knee on the mat, move your front foot to the outer edge of your mat and angle your front foot out diagonally. Place your hands on the floor to the inside of your front foot. Point your front knee in the same direction as your foot. Without moving your foundation, draw your front foot back and drag your back knee forward to square your hips. Only as much as you can keep your front knee aligned, bend your elbows and settle in for five breaths. Repeat on your second side.

Why to do itOpening your quads is the most important aspect of recovery for athletes who experience lower back or thigh pain. But most exercisers can benefit from this pose since nearly every workout engages your quads. If your thighs become hyper-muscular, they’ll pull your thighbones forward in their hip sockets and collapse your low back.

4. Side Angle
How to do itStart in warrior two with your right foot forward. Bend your front knee deeply and point your knee the same direction as your foot. Make sure you’re long enough in your stance that when you bend your front knee over your ankle, your front thigh is parallel with the floor. Align your front heel with the back inner arch of your foot. Place your right forearm on your front thigh. Extend your left arm by your ear. Stamp your back foot down evenly to set your thigh back and create an even lift out of your pelvis in your lower back. Take five breaths before switching sides.

Why to do itSide angle creates a big release through the sides of your torso and in your lower back. Especially if you are lifting weights or taking CrossFit, you may be prone to collapsing through the sides of your body. Try side angle pose after your workouts to help eliminate tightness.

5. Bridge
How to do itLie on your back with your knees bent. Place your feet so that your ankles are underneath your knees and your feet are hips-width apart. Make your feet and knees point straight forward. Press your feet down and lift your hips up. Swing your arms alongside your body and clasp your hands underneath your hips. Walk your shoulders up and underneath you. As much as you can prevent your knees from turning out, lift your hips up. Lengthen your back and root your feet down. Stretch the back of your neck and keep your chin perpendicular to the floor. Take five breaths, unclasp your hands and lower your hips gently to the mat.

Why to do it: Bridge helps open up your shoulders and upper back while releasing your lower back. When you feel discomfort in your lower back after exercising, it is usually because you are flattening your back. Practice bridge to keep a sore back and tight shoulders open and healthy.

6. Seated Twist
How to do itStart seated with your legs extended straight out in front of you on the floor. Bend your right knee in and place your foot to the inside of your left thigh. Keep your left leg straight with your toes and kneecap pointing straight up. Set your right hand behind you on fingertips. Inhale, reach your left arm up and lengthen through your spine. Exhale, twist and hook your left elbow across your right thigh. Stamp the sole of your right foot down and widen your right knee against your arm. Root down through both hips evenly to create an even stretch in your lower back. Twist from your core; then from your torso and your shoulders. Plug your right shoulder back and look over it. Take several breaths and switch sides.

 Why to do it: Twists create space laterally on either side of your back. This is important to restore after back exercises.

The Best Yoga Poses for Exercise Recovery was originally published on U.S. Health News & World Report.

Article written by Jake Panasevich, US News. Practice with Jake Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30am and Wednesdays at 5pm. Register here!

Jake is a yoga teacher in Philly specializing in yoga for men and office workers. He is also a yoga trainer for professional athletes. Listen to Jake’s recent interview on NPR. You could also learn more about Jake in his featured articles in Men’s HealthHuffington Post and US News. Visit Jake’s website at yogawithjake.com.

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