Ah, summer—that glorious season when we can't wait to head outside. And heading outside usually means an increase in our usual activities…or trying totally new ones. Training for a marathon? Beach volleyball? A mountain hike now that it's warm enough not to freeze your gluteus maximus off?
Whatever the case, your hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, and inner and outer hips may feel the difference the next day. Here are my five favorite ways to help counterbalance any tightness you've incurred.
Low Lunge for Hip Flexors
Standing at the top of your mat, step back to crescent lunge with the right foot, then slowly lower your back knee down. Adjust your legs as necessary to keep the front knee directly over the ankle and your back leg long and in line with your hip. Let your head hang down to add a fascial release to this stretch. Stay here for 5 to 8 breaths, gently stretching the hip flexors. Switch sides.
Downward dog can be a great way to release tight calves. Start by gently peddling the legs out, pausing on each side to first notice which one is tighter (are you right-handed and right-leg dominant?). Knowing more about your body will help you to support, release, and equalize your defaults and resulting areas of tightness. Hold when it's tight for up to 5 deep breaths.
From dog, draw your right knee forward until your shoulders are over your wrists. Angle your knee toward the right edge of your mat and the sole of your foot toward your left. Lower the right leg to the mat. Place a block or blanket under your right sitz bone. You can either stay seated to continue getting a hip flexor release or lower your chest to the mat. Repeat on the left.
From dog, draw both knees down to the mat in table pose. Keep your hips over your left knee and extend the right leg forward. This is my favorite hamstring release because it's effective, and from here you can see which of the three hamstring muscles are the tightest.
That's right—there are three hamstrings, semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris—and you can only stretch as far as the tightest one. Find which one is tightest by gently, slowly, rotating the foot in a windshield-wiper motion. Then hold on the tightest one for 3 to 5 more breaths. Switch sides, then step back to table.
Next, shift to seated and swing both legs around to the front.
Upavista Konasana for Inner Groin
Open the legs to wide-enough angles that you feel the adductors, your groin muscles, stretch. Place your fingertips on the mat between them and lift the heart, letting the lower back drop very gently forward.
Stay here if you feel enough or continue to slowly lift your heart up first, then lower down (keeping your spine long and lifted).
Work gently, patiently, and with a sense of compassionate curiosity. This is a chance to learn more about your body, its tendencies, defaults, and tightness—and then to start to therapeutically release and equalize.