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Core Strengthening and Stretching Through Yoga

Article written by Niki Jamieson.

Triathlon ResourceSo do you hear the word Yoga and get all freaked out that you're going to have to start chanting "Om"? Me too! But after some convincing by my friend, I signed up for a community center class and hoped that I could understand why so many athletes are raving about it!

The Preparation
I headed to Target and grabbed a yoga mat -- pretty easy. The only dilemma was in picking a color. If I were a man I would have not been too happy with the choices being pink, dark pink, light blue and light purple. So men, I would say to get a yoga mat somewhere else where there are man-colors.

For clothes, I just put on a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of loose-fitting sweat pants along with some socks and sneakers.

The Room
It was a very dark quiet room that was lined on one side with mirrors. There was a bar on the wall (nope, not with booze) but it looked like it was for dancers or something. The student's mats were all lined up in neat rows and most people sat silently without making eye-contact. Kinda strange so far.

The Set Up
My friend and I found some open space in front of the mirror and set our mats next to each other. I stuck my jacket between the top of my mat and the mirror and accidentally stepped on my mat with my sneakers that left a big footprint that I couldn't get out, so I decided to sit on instead while I waited for the class to start. I looked around sheepishly trying to get a feel for the class. There was every shape and size person there doing their own thing. Some were lying down with their eyes shut, some were stretching body parts, others were trying not to get caught looking at anyone else and there were two people in the corner whispering to each other. My friend and I stayed quiet.

Beginning of the Class
A tall thin woman with crazy wild hair floated into the room with a lamp, plugged it in and that cued everyone to lie down on their backs with their palms up. Her voice was like nothing I'd ever heard -- almost like a warm breeze blowing over a bottle top. She was talking all cryptically about the universe and intentions and I kept thinking that if Mother Nature was real and she taught Yoga, this would be her. I can't say that I had any idea what she was talking about, but I really enjoyed listening to her.

The Workout
She had us slowly and carefully get onto all fours. I could see my footprint again and then I was in this thing called, "Down Dog". It's when you look like an up-side-down "V" -- your hands and feet are on the floor and your butt is up in the air. Pretty simple although I was beginning to rethink the T-shirt choice. Because my chest was lower than my hips, my shirt was slowly creeping up, I mean, down because I was up-side-down. Whatever, my girls were in range for exposure so I tucked the shirt into my pants. Note to self -- wear a snug shirt next time. My feet were also starting to slide and my socks were all bunched up under my arches, so I chucked them. Second note to self -- no socks next time.

I thought we would move to something harder when I felt Mother Nature's hand gently pushing my back straighter and then moved to my knees where she straightened them out. I thought she was done but she then reached over to my head and arms and lead my center of gravity back towards my butt. After she moved throughout the class adjusting others, I could feel my shoulders getting tired and I smiled to myself. I could feel an amazing stretch pulling from my butt to my heels around to my toes!

I could tell we were about to get into the good stuff!

We were in this push-up stance -- straight line from head to heels with my arms straight down holding me away from my footprint. I equate it with a letter "L" that fell over. I thought we were going to do some push-ups until she had us turn our torso to face the wall and stretch our hand all the way up to the ceiling. We basically looked like a letter "T" that fell over. I got into the pose with much concentration and was pretty impressed with myself until I looked in the mirror and realized that my "T" was pretty flimsy. Mother Nature was behind me once again guiding my arms and shoulders into position. I realized that I was stretching and strengthening at the very same time. My core muscles were shaking trying to hold the position while a spectacular stretch was happening from the tip of my fingers on one hand though my chest all the way to the fingers of my other hand.

After we held the position on both sides, Mother Nature breathed the next set of directions. From the push-up "L" position, we should bend our right knee up towards our right chest area allowing our right foot to rest under left hip bone. Once we got here, we were to bend our elbows until our chests were resting on the mat. Left toes should be flat too. I've had some serious issues with the butt muscle called the piriformis getting too tight and leaving me useless for days, but this stretch was like the hand of God reaching deep into my hip and stretching that muscle like only God could. I wanted to stay in this position forever; I wanted to spend the rest of my days on earth in this position; I wanted to eat a chocolate sundae in this position!

We did many other cool positions that made my muscles work and stretch at the same time. It reminded me of one thing only -- kettle corn popcorn. How can something so sweet be so salty? How can something that strengthens have that relieving stretching feeling at the same time?

Maybe Mother Nature explained it at the beginning and I didn't understand it. I'd be sure to come back next week and see if I could figure it out though!

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