Athletes should adhere to a scientific method of opening their body’s structures and preventing injuries (see latest article), and while I only advocate the scientific, systematic approach of an anatomically-correct yoga sequence I must answer the question I get asked most frequently. “If there was only one stretch I should do, what would it be?”
After giving this some thought, I realized that there isn’t one yoga posture that fixes everything, just as there is no magic pill
that cures all your injuries. So to answer this questions, I decided to look at the prime movers for runners and where injuries most frequently occur. Based on that inquiry, it was decided that Thread the Needle pose is the one best stretch for runners. The Pigeon Pose was a close contender; however, the Thread the Needle stretch was chosen because the athlete has more control over their alignment and if they have a limited range-of-motion, they won’t have the weight of the torso pushing down on the stretch, possibly taking the muscles too far.
Thread the Needle Pose can be tailored to the range-of-motion within the athlete. The prime focus of this pose is the piriformis muscle, a triangle-shaped, small muscle located under the gluteus (bum) muscles. The purpose of the piriformis is to abduct (pull away from the body) the flexed thigh. This is important in running because this abduction assists in the outward rotation of the hip and also helps shift bodyweight to the opposite side of the foot being lifted. In certain segments of the population, the sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis and if the muscle becomes inflamed, sciatica could be the result. In short, we have found that this muscle is quite tight in runners.
How to Thread the Needle
Lying on your back, bend both knees and place the soles of the feet on the floor. Put the left ankle on the right thigh just below the knee and flex the left foot back towards the left knee (dorsi flexion). It’s important to note that the left toes must keep flexed back during the whole stretch to protect the knee, which is now in an unfamiliar position. If you require a deeper movement, simply thread the left arm between the legs and interlace with the right hand on your right shin or hamstring. If you aren’t able to interlace your fingers, simply wrap a towel over your right shin and hold on to either end.
To increase the intensity of posture, we don’t necessarily need to pull the right knee closer to the right shoulder, rather simply push your left hip down towards the ground. This will have the effect of leveling your hips and aligning the posture correctly. Breathe into the posture for a minimum of 30 seconds, then switch to the other side, repeating the sequence.
About the Author: Rob Thomaes is the Co-Owner and Director of Moksha Yoga London & Moksha Yoga London West. He has been an athlete for as long as he can remember and translates his lifelong passion and study of the human body into his classes. Outside of yoga his passions are running, weight training, surfing, and photography.