Tag Archives: flexibility

Stretching shins with Hero Pose

Your legs, when positioned correctly in contact with the horse, are the most influential tools you have to effectively communicate your aids.

Yoga can assist you in developing a correct and effective riding position by improving the muscular strength and flexibility of your legs.

“Yoga for Equestrians” by Linda Benedik & Veronica Wirth

Dressage rider leg position

Photo by Douglas J O’Brien on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hero Pose – Virasana

vira = man, hero, chief
asana = pose
Pronounced: (veer-AHS-anna)

When I took dressage lessons I wasn’t able to hold the proper leg position until over time had stretched out the stiffness in my ankles and leg muscles. Leg flexibility is important for riding.

Muscles of shin marked with colored ink on leg

Due to an injury this summer I have a weak right knee and am stiff down my right shin over my ankle (anterior tibialis).

Hero pose stretches the hips, thighs, knees, ankles and feet. It can be a good posture to practice neutral spine and staying centered over the hip bones.

As with all exercises, it is important to build up slowly. Use a block under the hips to ease the stretch.

Hero Pose

The following video gives good examples of using props as you increase flexibility. With practice the buttocks will be on the floor centered over the hips between the ankles and feet.

Also see “Child’s Pose” in a prior post, which is similar.

If the shin muscle (anterior tibialis) is tight, then you can do a myofascial release using a soft roller.

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DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

If you exercise beyond your abilities, then 24 to 72 hours later you may experience  ‘Delayed On-set Muscle Soreness‘ or ‘DOMS’. The pain and stiffness is likely the result of tiny muscle fiber tears. The body will recover and build up strength in rebuilding the muscles after a few days. Gentle massage and stretching can help ease the discomfort. Resting the muscles is a good option.

I learned the term ‘DOMS’ on a vacation trip to Canada when we hiked 3.5 miles from the parking lot of the hotel on Lake Louise B.C. to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Coming back down the 3.5 miles my legs were turning into quivering jelly. I’m surprised we managed to do the hike. We most definitely overdid that day. Two days later we were hobbling around in agony.

View overlooking hotel on Lake Louise, B.C. from hiking back from Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse Hike: View overlooking Lake Louise, B.C. (Photo by IcieMeg)


Unfortunately I’m finding it is very easy to over use my muscles. Two weeks ago I made myself rather sore twice with DOMS. I slathered on Ultra Strength BenGay, used my heating pad and took Ibuprofen.

First overused my upper legs. Our ground is a mix of red clay and sand intermixed with sandstone. I was out in the yard noting more small sandstone rocks brought to the surface by wind and rain. I usually bend to pick these up. My bending over muscles are good from poop scooping chores. I decided to use deep knee bends because am needing to practice this exercise to build up the muscle strength to help me mount my horses from the ground. I managed about 15 deep knee bends while walking around the backyard picking up the stones. A couple of days later paid the price with pain and stiffness in my legs that made it painful to even walk.

Little girl trying to balance on a ball (Photo by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr)

Photo by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

My legs being sore didn’t prevent me from sitting. Another day tried sitting on a stability ball as my office chair for about 2 hours to work on my posture and balance. I had no idea that I was overdoing so badly because sitting on a balance ball is hard work. It didn’t feel like hard work, but my muscles were firing constantly to keep my balance. This resulted in very sore shoulders and stiff neck with a headache, as well as areas on my back and hips.

Being so sore, the main exercise for last week was only to spend a few moments during the day to stretch out my right knee and shin, as well as practicing balancing on one foot. From my prior post of “Yoga on a sheet” I had noted that my right knee and right shin to ankle and down over top of my foot is very stiff. I can’t think of why this part of my body became so stiff and why my left side isn’t stiff. I did injure my right knee this summer, so maybe that is the reason.

In upcoming posts I will discuss how to stretch out the shin muscles and about using a balance ball as a chair.

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Down Puppy

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility. This will help towards my goal of riding my horses with confidence. Even with the limited amount of yoga that I have been doing, I can feel a positive difference in my body. I realize that it is very important not to strain and to go at my own pace. Make sure you go at your pace and your abilities when doing yoga and exercises. With that in mind.. today we continue to work through the poses for my New Year goal of doing 10 ‘Sun Salutation’ routines.

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose

Adhas = down
Mukha = face
Svana = dog

If legs are not flexible enough, then can bend the knees. I was able to do a full Downward Facing Dog with straight legs to stretch, but the pose put too much strain on my elbows supporting my body. My right wrist also complained afterwards. I took a few days to recover before doing this posture again. I have learned that it is very important to listen to my body and to take things at my pace and avoid straining. Spreading fingers wide is supposed to help distribute the weight on the arms. Until I am stronger, then plan to use modified poses.

Downward Dog with Chair – Yoga for Inflexible People

Uttana Shishosana – Puppy Dog Pose is a cross between Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog. Can put a soft pad under the knees.

Even those modified examples of Downward Dog may be too difficult. A blog with good suggestions is: http://dorestorativeyoga.blogspot.com

Restorative yoga is a passive practice in which poses…are held for several minutes at a time, propped with blankets, blocks, and bolsters to minimize the amount of work that the muscles are doing in the pose. – Yogajournal

Supported Puppy Pose ~ Uttana Shishosana

Supported Puppy Pose ~ Uttana Shishosana

Using props of blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters to help in the poses with support is a great idea and will definitely look into this further to avoid injury as I become stronger and more flexible. Yoga doesn’t have to be strenuous. The principles can very gently stretch out the ligaments and tendons and muscles with no strain, even if recovering from an injury.

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Hip flexors

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.


= praise (from root anj meaning honor)
Pronounced: (AHN-jah-nay-ah-sa–na)

Anajaneya pose is a type of lunge that stretches the hip flexor muscles, such as the psoas. The pose is similar to a “runner’s stretch”.

The psoas enable riders to influence their horses with their seats and legs. By mastering the use of these muscles, riders will be able to maintain self carriage, both on and off the horse.

– Tom Nagel, author of “Zen & Horseback Riding

Anterior Hip Muscles diagram

Hip muscles

The psoas is the only muscle in the body that connects the legs to the spine. One action of the psoas is flexing the thighs at the hip enabling us to raise our knees. It assists in thigh rotation and adduction, helps to stabilize the pelvis, move the lower back, and links by connective tissue to the diaphragm.

The iliacus is another hip flexor that connects the legs to the pelvis. It joins into the thigh bones with the same tendon as the psoas muscle and often called the iliopsoas together.

These hip flexor muscles lie deep in the body behind the abdominal and pelvic organs.

Stretching the hip flexors is important for horseback riders, as well as for runners.

Yoga instructor Sage Roundtree describes a Low Lunge exercise.

This is an interesting interactive tool for learning about the human anatomy.

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Bend at the hip joints

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

ut = intense
tan = to stretch or extend
asana = pose
Pronounced: (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna)

Uttanasana is used as a resting position between the standing poses, as in the Sun Salutation series. There are also seated variations of this forward bending pose.

My basic understanding of the pose:

  • Stand in Mountain Pose – neutral spine & neutral pelvis.
  • Think about the structure of the hip joints in the pelvis. Exhale and reach your chest out and down bending forward from the hip joints, not from the waist, keeping the back straight. Do NOT lock the knees and can bend the knees to ease the stretch. Do NOT bounce and do NOT strain to bend farther than your body is comfortable while keeping the spine straight. Bending half way over is called “Ardha (half) Uttasana”.
  • Breathe and relax into the stretch (for example, 30 seconds to a minute).
  • Exhale lifting the body keeping the spine straight returning to Mountain Pose.
  • Relax and breathe in Mountain Pose.

Using a chair for forward bend:

My husband is unable to bend far enough to lean on a chair. My suggestion is to practice using a wall as a resting spot. I am able to do “Ardha Uttasana”.  I can feel the greatest stretch in the back of my legs (ham strings), as well as my stiff right knee. Bending forwards sitting in my office chair with the spine straight works an upper body stretch without stretch in the knees and lower legs.

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Yoga on a sheet

While researching easier pose versions of Yogatic’s New Year “Sun Salutation Challenge”, I was struggling to remember to maintain good posture. As with sitting at my desk, it is important to have proper alignment during the poses. Doing the poses is yoga “practice”. For the “Sun Salutation” Challenge see my post from January 1st.

Since starting my blog a couple of weeks ago I had intended to re-start the Namaste Yoga tv show series. Instead I have only done simple stretching mostly in bed. That’s better than nothing, right? I have also practiced feeling how to stand and sit more in skeletal alignment, which has me stretching upwards and tilting my hips and wiggling around. I found my DVDs, but hadn’t used the DVD player in so long that had trouble finding the control. Surprised me when I opened the player to find that there was a Namaste yoga DVD ready to go. How long was that DVD sitting in the player as a thought intention to re-start doing the exercises? My vacuüm is on the fritz preventing proper cleaning of the carpet of the planned exercise area in the den. After reading about yoga, was time to actually DO some official yoga. No more delays, so just laid down a sheet over the carpet. In my PJs before bedtime I intended to finally do some yoga without one more day passing. Surely gentle stretching would be relaxing before sleep.

It was a real eye opener at how stiff that I have become. The warm-up was just barely doable.

This is a clip they have on-line of part of a warm-up series.

Last time I followed the series was probably 4 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter. My body is much stiffer now. Even “Child’s pose” wasn’t comfortable. My fatter belly blocked bending down and my “caboose” stuck up in the air. My right knee hurt not letting me settle back on my heels.

The standing stretching arms up over head and bending over while deep breathing is a resting period between the poses. My arms got tired. I had to take a break from the ‘rest’. I stopped to watch the serene faces and graceful bodies moving on the tv, as if effortlessly. Wow… I want to be more like those lithe young women. That will take yoga “practice”.

My muscles trembled standing in ‘Warrior Pose’. I wobbled and fell over attempting one-leg balances and held onto a chair. I didn’t try to complete the full set of poses, then finished with the session’s cool-down. The cool-down wasn’t easy either.

Standing and bending over was the easiest exercise, which probably comes from all the times bending with my scoop shovel by the wheelbarrow to clean up horse poop. Picking out horse hooves is also good bending and squatting practice.

The yoga was a work-out. Afterwards I felt unhappy muscles that I’d forgotten that I even had in my body. These weren’t the muscles used in poop scooping. I took an Ibuprofen and climbed into bed putting a warm heating pad on my upper back.  Next morning my left elbow had a sore spot. BUT…in other ways I felt more stretched out and found it a bit easier to sit up in my desk chair. I felt taller. Of course… I still find myself slumping. I’m amazed how often, without realizing, I end up in an awful slouching posture.

I remember that 4 years ago couldn’t do an entire set on the first day of doing the Namaste DVD. It also took time to improve my balance. In my researching easier yoga practice discovered there are programs for doing yoga and even aerobics sitting in chairs. Even on my less optimal health days there will be no excuses to not get in some stretching and exercise. Even a small stretch will help improve my flexibility.

What’s coming up next in my blog:

  • Will include various yoga videos and poses for my personal slowed down “Sun Salutation” challenge. You are welcome to follow along and even join in. Might take me several months of “practice”, but my goal is to actually manage the 10 Sun Salutations with some actual grace.

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New Year challenge

I have done easy yoga stretches for the last several days. Now I plan to work on a New Years Yoga Challenge by Esther Ekhart. The challenge is to do 10 Sun Salutations in a row.  Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation, is a series of 12 postures (asanas) performed in a single, graceful flow. The original challenge starts with one Sun Salutation on the first day. Two Sun Salutations on day 2 and so on… building up to 10 in a row.

This challenge gives a good goal and structure for making slow changes to build strength, stamina and flexibility. My goal is to do the 10 Sun Salutations, but I will break the challenge into smaller steps. I will also modify the poses to easier versions, as Esther’s example is by someone already flexible. Ultimate goal is to do the full 10 Sun Salutations with good flexibility and strength. It’s a big goal. I’m also going to attempt to talk my husband into joining in. That may be the biggest challenge. LOL!

First… I will review and learn the asanas, then begin to put them together into one complete Sun Salutation.  Next I will begin the original challenge, but will proceed as slowly as necessary in order to do the 10 in a row without strain.

Here is the Sun Salutation challenge:

Will continue learning about the human skeletal system, as visualizing and understanding the bones will help achieve proper form and posture.

That is my modified slowed down challenge. Maybe you want to try this too. There will be upcoming posts that will follow along with my learning and progress.

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Awareness – Body Scan

Twice this week I awakened before dawn when it was still dark outside. Sitting in bed I did some stretching feeling where I was stiff. Where was I holding tension in my body?

I could hear my husband breathing on the other side of the bed and one of our cats quietly snoring at his feet. Moving my joints I heard clicks, cracks and pops. My right knee has a grinding sound just before I straighten it out. When did I develop this sound? Was it when I twisted my knee this past summer? The knee is much weaker now and perhaps damaged a ligament.

How do my joints feel as they move? I note the different ways my hands, elbows and shoulder joints move. What happens if I move my shoulder with my palm up? What happens if I move my shoulder with my palm down? I hear the click and pop of my right shoulder. My collar-bone doesn’t connect to my sternum properly on that side. Could this cause me imbalance in my body? Is there a difference in how my shoulders can move on my left and right sides?

I feel tension in my shoulders and neck. I consciously tell them to relax. Am I still holding tension? Rolling my head from side to side my neck makes quiet grinding noises and then a couple of loud cracks. My neck feels less tense after the cracks.

I imagine the atlas and axis vertebrae and the joints at the base of my skull. Can I move my head on the pivot points without bending the rest of my neck? Feeling with my fingers on muscles of my head and neck I move my head slightly nodding up and down and turning side to side.

I lay back down. I often find myself holding tension. Am I actually relaxed? Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  It’s like my body is on guard and holds tension to prepare to react. Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  Am I ready for fight and flight?  Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  Can I just focus on my breath and not think of anything else? Even for a breath? Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.

How can I tell the difference between relaxed and tense? I have read about a body scanning technique that presents a contrast to help become more aware of holding tension. The body scan tenses a set of muscles to feel the contraction and tension. After feeling the tightness, then you tell the muscles to relax. Feel the difference.

Starting at my toes I tense each area of my body and hold the contraction a few seconds, then ask the area to relax. – Tense the foot by pointing toe forwards, then relax. Tense the foot by pulling toes backwards, then relax. I work my way up the body tensing and relaxing each area. Continue down my arms. Clinch my fists, then relax. Move to my shoulders. Lastly I’m squinching up parts of my face and sticking out my tongue.

My other cat jumped up on the bed to investigate. I practiced mindfulness by feeling his soft fur on my hands and listening to his rumbling purring. He gave me appreciative licks on my hand with his rough tongue. I got up and the house was dark. Dark enough that didn’t matter if had my eyes open or closed. The house was mostly quiet. Is it ever truly quiet?

Again practicing mindfulness I take the time to just stand and listen. I can hear humming from a computer and the quiet roar of a plane flying over coming into land at the airport a few miles to our south. Is it coming from California and folks on the red-eye?

I stand in the dark hallway with my hands just touching the walls. I try balancing on my left leg, then my right leg. I wobble.  I ask my body questions. Do I tend to tip one way more than another? I seem to tip backwards mostly. When I start to tip over standing on one leg it happens quickly. My feet muscles try to hold me stable and fail. Can I do anything to make myself more stable? Bend my legs, think differently? Would this be easier if I could see and maybe focus on a point? I can’t rely on my body’s proprioception alone to remain stable in the dark. The body’s proprioception system provides informational awareness of your body in space. I definitely need to improve my balance, as well as stabilizing muscles to help me hold position.

I shake out my limbs. First my hands, then my wrists, and my arms. I swing my arms gently and feel the joints of my shoulders and elbows. Next my legs. I bend at my knees and feel how they support me. Where are my hips? I do a hip swivel and swing my entire leg back and forth. I rock my hips up and back and side to side. Watching that belly dancing show has taught me a few things.

Late afternoon now… how am I sitting? I’m slouching in an awful position at my desk. The lumbar support cushion does help, but the chair wants to lean back and takes me with it. Seems easiest to lean back into the chair this way, but maybe a reason I also hold tension in my neck and shoulders and my upper back often hurts.

Awareness is an important step in making changes.

For a practice:

  • Try a body scan and check where you hold tension. Try to tense at least one area, then relax. Note the difference in how that feels.
  • Try moving your synovial joints to notice how they function. See post  “Ride with Your Bones” for definition and examples of these joints.
  • Can you stand on one leg? What about balancing with your eyes closed?
  • If you are sitting now… then are you aligned over your spine? Are you riding the bones of your chair? What is tight in your body?
  • As a mindfulness exercise – close your eyes, try to clear your mind and just listen. What do you hear? Just sit for a couple of minutes and listen.
  • Try breathing in for a count of 4, then out for a count of 4. Can you have your mind empty and just breathe focusing on counting your breath? This is a simple meditation. Try for a count of 10. What does your mind do? Does it wander off?

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Child’s Pose – Yoga

I am initially working on increasing flexibility and balance with some gentle strength building through easy yoga practice. This also supports mindfulness, relaxation and focusing on the breath.

This is one of my favorite poses called “Child’s Pose” (Balasana).

Yoga - child's pose

Child's pose (balasana)

Bala means child. A pose or posture is called an “asana”. I find it very relaxing and helps to stretch out my spine, upper thighs and feet.

If just trying for the first time, then try finding examples that show a modified version leaning on pillows or with a milder stretch. There are many variations.

If you are a bit more flexible, then this is a good example. Toronto Star writer and yoga teacher Daphne Gordon demonstrates the Child’s pose.

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Plan of action – Human

Improve flexibility, strength, and balance.


– Exercises recommended for rider fitness

  • Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian
    by Mary D. Midkiff
  • The Rider’s Fitness Program
    by Dianna Robin Dennis, John J. McCully, Paul M. Juris
  • A Gymnastic Riding System using Mind, Body and Spirit
    by Betsy Steiner with Jennifer O. Bryant

– Yoga

  • Yoga for Equestrians: A New Path for Achieving Union with the Horse
  • by Linda Benedik and Veronica Wirth

  • I have enjoyed the Namaste Yoga tv series.
    I will begin with their basic warmup/cool down exercises. This style of yoga is called Hatha Vinyasa yoga that emphasizes a flowing style focusing on breathing through the movements. The show is very relaxing with soothing music and lovely background locations. The ladies are inspiring.Sample video of warmup:

Improve stamina and aerobic conditioning

  • Hiking
  • Bicycling
  • Walking on treadmill
  • Horse chores

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