Hack Your Sun Salutes, Part 1

Sun Salutations are a standard feature in most yoga classes, and a given in vinyasa or flow classes. They serve to build heat, stretch the back of the body, and connect body and breath. To that end, they can be a good dynamic warmup before a workout or at the start of your yoga practice.

Problem

Sun Salutations are heavy on the forward folds, and thus can exacerbate issues with blood pressure, vertigo, or injury along the back and in the hamstrings.

Solution

In this video, I show you how to modify the front end of the sun salutation—sometimes called the “half salute”—to alleviate the strain on your vestibular system, blood pressure, and back. You can use a chair or countertop as a prop if you want to keep your head above your heart.

—Sage

Just One Pose: Paused Roll Down

Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” This week, the pose to try is paused roll down. This variation on the Pilates roll down doesn’t rely on upper-body support, so if you’re recovering from a shoulder, elbow, or wrist injury, it’s the perfect core-focused pose.

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John, 71, holds paused roll down

Why

If you want to continue to run, bike, and play for the whole of your life, having strong abdominal muscles is key. You can explore plank pose as a stabilizing pose to build core strength. In plank, the spine stays long. In paused roll down, the spine articulates. This is another important way to build core strength and maintain spinal health, and it’s a good alternative to plank when your upper body needs rest.

How

Sit with your legs extended. Draw your shoulder blades down your back and reach your arms forward. Take a breath in and deeply engage your core. (Not sure what “engage your core” means? Check out Core Engagement 101.) Moving with a neutral spine, start to roll down toward the ground. Pause about halfway to the earth—or when it starts to feel a little challenging. Stay here and breathe. Keep your core engaged and deepen the engagement on every exhalation. The “work” of the pose should happen in the front and sides of your body, not in your back. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Variations

If you have tight hamstrings or hip flexors: Bend your knees. This will give your hip flexors and hamstrings a reprieve, and you’ll still get the benefit of core work.

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Be kinder to your legs: bend your knees

For more support: Hold on to your legs. This will lessen the load on your core.

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Start with holding your legs to build strength

For more spice: Pause with your body closer to the earth. Things may get a little shaky!

If you have disc concerns or stenosis: Instead of rolling down, lean back with a long spine. Don’t lean back very far: pause just a few degrees back. If this pose still doesn’t feel right for you with that change, simply don’t do it. (Not all poses are for every body, but that’s another post.)

—Alexandra

Hack Your Down Dog

Downward-facing dog offers a wonderful release for the back side of your body, from your calves up through the hamstrings, back, and shoulders. But it can be tough for aging athletes.

Problem

A range of issues can make downward-facing dog a bad idea in your body. These include both high and low blood pressure; glaucoma; a propensity for vertigo; problems with the wrists, elbows, and shoulders; or simple tightness along the posterior chain—the back side—of the body.

Solution

In this video, I offer ways to “hack” your down dog—to deconstruct it and customize it to serve your needs. The key is to avoid bearing weight in your hands, and instead to use a chair, counter, or wall for your hands. You can still take the classic L shape with your body, but without leaning much weight into your hands and without lowering your head below your heart.

—Sage

Just One Pose: Plank

Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” Plank always wins this category for me: it’s simple to do, you can do it anywhere (you just need a comfortable spot for your hands), and the payoff is big. Not only does plank help strengthen your core in a major way, it also encourages strong posture, helps keep your back pain-free, and is a great pose to do before you get moving.

Donnie Barnes, 42, holds plank before a run

Why

Core strength is crucial to aging well. It’s also crucial to good performance in your sport. Having strong abdominal muscles means you’ll have less back pain. But core strength isn’t the only benefit of this pose: holding plank is a balance challenge and provides good work for your arms and upper body. It also has the added benefit of gently stretching the backs of your legs.

How

Come to hands and knees and then lift your knees off the earth, extending your legs fully. Spread your fingers wide, and push down firmly with your palms, knuckles, and fingertips. Pull your belly in and engage your core. If you’re not sure how to get your abdominal muscles to fire up, take a moment to check out Core Engagement 101. Press back through your heels, lengthening your legs. Draw your shoulder blades down your back and keep your gaze down to the earth or just a little in front of your hands so your neck remains long.

Hold plank for successively longer periods of time as you make it a part of your routine. Start with 5-10 breaths and add a few breaths each time you explore the pose.

Variations

If your arms or shoulders need more support: Keep the long line of plank from your head to your tailbone, but drop your knees down to the ground. Focus on maintaining core engagement.

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For sweeter, put your knees down

If your wrists need more support: Try elbow plank. Find this same long spine and core engagement, but put your forearms on the ground. While elbow plank takes the pressure off your hands and wrists, it is more challenging for your core.

If you want more challenge:  Try lifting your leg. Or try lifting and drawing circles with your leg. Or try lifting your leg AND extending your opposite arm. Or try any of these in elbow plank.

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For spicier, lift one leg

—Alexandra

Just One Pose: Standing Pigeon

Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” We’ll kick off with one of my favorites: standing pigeon.

Wes Rountree in standing pigeon
Wes Rountree, 45, in standing pigeon

Why

This multitasking pose builds balance in space, balance between the hip and lower portion of the standing leg, and balance between strength and flexibility in the glutes—the standing leg glutes have to work to hold you steady, while the bent leg’s glutes get a stretch. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck, making this a go-to when you have the time or energy for just one pose.

How

Stand tall, shifting your weight into one leg as you cross the opposite ankle over your standing leg’s thigh. Lower your hips back and down until you find a natural stopping point. This could feel like stretch in the bent leg’s glutes or inner thigh, or like work in the standing leg’s foot or hip. Make sure your standing leg’s knee points straight forward over your toes. Keep your spine long and use your arms for balance. Hands can be in prayer position, as shown here, or off to the sides.

Hold the pose for 5–15 breaths, and repeat on the other side.

Variations

If it’s tough to balance: rest one or both hands on a wall, table, or counter. Take off your shoes and try the pose in bare feet on a hard surface. (Conversely, to up the challenge, stand on carpet or a folded yoga mat.)

Tree pose, an alternative for those with bum knees or hips
Tree pose, an alternative for those with bum knees or hips

If your knee or hip won’t bend this way: substitute tree pose, shown above, instead. According to Diane Walder, MD, proper exercise and diet affects your skin making it healthier and glower.

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For a bonus chest stretch: Reach your hands behind you. Use a belt or tie to help them connect, or interlace your fingers if you can.

—Sage