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Hip openers for runners

Loosen hips to lengthen stride... and release stress?
I read recently that tight hip flexors can shorten a runner's stride, resulting in decreased efficiency and speed. The fact caught my attention because I'm barely 5' 3" and need to avoid anything that may shorten my already not-too-lengthy stride. At a subsequent class at Yoga Shunya in Jersey City, I made a request for hip opening poses. The instructor, Ola Widera, responded with an interesting thought: in the anusara school of yoga, it is believed that emotions such as stress are held in the hip area. Therefore releasing the hips also frees you from the grip of emotions that hold you back -- i.e., helps you "go with the flow", which is what anusara means in Sanskrit.

I thought about how my stride is shortened as much by my mental state as by muscle tightness. For example, my little legs feel like they're constrained by bands when I'm anxious and my stride lengthens only after much focus on relaxing my breath and body. In the yoga class, my focus remained on my breath as Ola led us through intense hip openers that left me  looser in the hips -- and freer in the mind.


Resting the torso over the bent leg is a more advanced
expression of pigeon pose / photo: Maureen Miranda

Pigeon Pose
I was once taught an advanced variation of this pose called screaming pigeon -- but all levels of pigeon pose make me want to scream. Ease into this one. The instructions below will help you achieve the pose pictured at the right.

- Start in downward dog. Bring your left knee forward between your hands with the goal of having your left lower leg parallel to the top of the mat (left knee toward left hand and left foot flexed and toward right hand) .

- If your right hip begins to lift up from the mat, draw your left foot away from your right hand and back so it's more at an angle to the top of the mat.

- You can stay here or walk your hands out in front of you, allowing your torso to rest on your front bent leg (as pictured).

- Stay here and breathe into areas of tightness and tension for 5 breaths, or as long as you'd like.

- When you're ready to switch legs, do it very SLOWLY.

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