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End of Season Exercises

ArticleMarch 10, 2022

Feeling Broken? Gentle Yoga for Post-Season Recovery

It’s the end of the paddling season—are you feeling stoked, yet broken? Paddlers who get after it all season long tend to feel tweaks in the hips, back and shoulders come end of season.

This is the time to rest and recover and get ready for the awesomeness that the next season brings. The most beneficial yoga practice you can do right now is a gentle and restorative practice to help your body repair and rejuvenate.

Exercise science is now saying that rest and recovery are just as important as the activation phase. Take this time to give your body the juice it needs to get back to feeling free and clear.

Here’s my favorite floor sequence for paddlers. I practice these poses every day to help me reduce the risk of injury and keep my body and mind free, clear and ready to activate.

The entire sequence is done lying on your back so you get to relax, breathe and stretch. This is beneficial, not only for the body, but also for the mind and nervous system.

FYI—Some of these poses require a yoga strap and 2 yoga blocks. They are easy to order online and make a huge positive impact on your body. Get some and get it done!

Reclined Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (Variation with strap)

This is one of my favorite poses for paddlers because it allows for an effective hamstring stretch while keeping the back in alignment. The full sequence also stretches the front of the hip and top of the quad, IT band, quadratus lumborum and pectorals. That’s why I love it so much—it gets into all the places that paddlers need and it is fantastic for releasing the low back.

This pose requires a strap. It will not have the same positive effects if you practice it without a strap. In fact, when you try to practice it without a strap it can make your low back feel worse and tighten your shoulders even more.

If you don’t have a yoga strap then use a cam strap, belt, scarf, shirt or anything else that you can sub in.

Reclined Head To Knee

Reclined head to knee
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat and your strap within reach.
  • Take your strap, lift your right leg and place the strap around the ball of your right foot letting equal amounts of the strap drape from either side of the foot.
  • Hold the straps so that they’re long and you’re holding as close to the ends as possible. DO NOT TRY TO PULL YOUR LEG TOWARD YOU Yes, I did have to yell those instructions because it seems that everyone is hell bent on pulling on that leg, and that’s actually counter to what we’re trying to accomplish here.
  • Extend the right leg up toward the sky, pressing the ball of the foot strongly into the strap, don’t pull the strap toward you. Maintain a soft bend in the knee.
  • Draw your shoulder blades towards one another to create a gentle lift in the chest.
  • Stick your butt out like you’re booty dancing (yes that’s a real cue and if you’ve been reading my articles you’re familiar with it by now). As you do the action of sticking your butt out press the ball of the foot into the strap even more.
  • Your leg may not be at a 90 degree angle to your torso and that’s OK.
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths.
    Reclined head to knee
  • Take both ends of your strap and hold them in your right hand.
  • Keep sticking your butt out and slowly take your right leg out to the right. DO NOT LET YOUR RIGHT FOOT GO TO THE FLOOR Go only as far as you can without lifting your left hip or back of the leg off the floor. As soon as you feel even the slightest of fall over to the right, stop there.
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths in and out through the nose.
  • Bring the leg back to center.
    Reclined head to knee
  • Cross your straps in front of your shin, again holding one end in each hand.
  • Take the right left across the midline to the left about 10 degrees.
  • Stick your butt out like you’re booty dancing and you’ll feel it immediately in your IT band.
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths in and out through the nose.
    Reclined head to knee
  • Finally, hold both ends of the strap in your left hand and take the right leg all the way across the body toward the floor on the left. You can keep holding on to the strap and extend your leg in this reclined twist, or you can release the strap and let the leg relax in the twist. In this position the left hip can come off the floor, but keep inviting the right shoulder blade toward the floor.
  • Hold for 5 breaths in and out through the nose.
  • To finish, bring the leg back to center and extend maintaining a soft knee before releasing the strap and allowing the leg to float down.

Pause for a few breaths and notice the difference between both hips and legs before switching sides.

Windshield Wiper Pose

In my experience, this pose is the best passive stretch for the hip flexors, and allows for a sweet release in the low back.

Windshield Wiper Pose
  • Lie your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat.
  • Walk your feet apart until they’re just off your mat on either side in a very wide stance.
  • Exhale, take both knees to the right and allow the soles of your feet to lift off the floor so that just the outer edge of the right foot and the inner edge of the left foot remain on the floor.
  • If you want to feel a deeper stretch in your left hip flexor then walk your left foot further to the left.
  • If you feel any tightness, pain or discomfort in your knees then flex your feet and spread your toes. If you’re still feeling discomfort then back off a little until your knees feels comfortable.
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths in and out through the nose.
  • Switch sides.

Bridge and Supported Bridge Pose

Bridge pose is an excellent pose for paddlers as it strengthens the glutes, opens the chest, stretches the shoulders, and extends the spine in a position that is opposite of the sitting position.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor about sits bones distance apart with your toes pointed straight ahead and parallel with each other.
  • Walk your feet toward your hips until your ankles are in line with your knees.
    Bridge and Supported Bridge Pose
  • Press your feet into the floor, especially the heels and the big toes, to lift your hips toward the sky.
  • Walk your shoulders underneath you to lift and open the chest.
  • First variation: Keep your elbows pressing into the floor with your fingertips toward the sky.
    Bridge and Supported Bridge Pose
  • Next variation: Clasp your hands under your back and walk your shoulder blades under even more.
    Bridge and Supported Bridge Pose
  • Press the back of the head gently into the mat and gently lift the chin to maintain the natural curve of the cervical spine.
  • Imagine your knees are gently holding a block or beach ball between to engage and avoid splaying out.
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths in and out through the nose.

One Legged Bridge Pose

This pose targets and strengthens the glutes. When our glutes are activated and strong it relieves pressure on on a small muscle in your hips called the TFL. When the TFL relaxes and the glutes engage, it helps to soften the IT band, decreasing discomfort along the outside of the leg.

  • Come to bridge pose prep lying on your back with your feet on the floor knees bent over your ankles and feet sitz bones distance apart.
  • Extend your right leg up toward the sky with the heel pressing up and toes spread.
    One Legged Bridge Pose
  • Inhale press your left foot, especially the heel and big toe into the floor to life your hips up.
    One Legged Bridge Pose
  • Exhale lower your hips back down to the floor while keeping the right leg extended toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.

Bananasana

Introduced to me by my good friend, paddler and yoga teacher in WV, Lila Thomas, bananasana is one of my go to poses. Besides having an awesome name, bananasana effectively stretches the side body, including the quadratus lumborum (QL), the muscle responsible for hiking the hip.

The QL helps kayakers maintain edge control and hip snap. It helps SUPers balance on their boards and activates during the side crunch phase of the forward stroke.

This pose is simple, fun and feels great.

Bananasana
  • Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead.
  • Take a big full body stretch from your fingertips through your toes.
  • Keeping your hips anchored in place, move your torso and your legs over to the right so that your body creates the shape of a banana.
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths in and out through the nose.
  • Switch sides.

Chest Opener with Blocks

This pose is very relaxing and allows for a deep opening in the chest and shoulders. It’s a wonderful restorative pose for paddlers. Once you experience how good it feels you’ll never go back.

This pose requires two yoga blocks or a foam roller.

  • Place two yoga blocks together in a line with the longer and thinner side up.
    Chest Opener with Blocks
  • Sit in front of the blocks with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Lay back on the blocks so that the edge of the block that is closest to you supports the middle of the back in line with where your Xyphoid process is located on your front body. If you’re a woman, that means where your bra strap lines up. :)
    Chest Opener with Blocks
  • Please refer to photo above for clarification!
  • Your head will be supported by the second block.
  • Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the mat.
  • Take your arms out to the sides with your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle with your palms facing up toward the ceiling – your arms will be in the shape of a cactus.
    Chest Opener with Blocks
  • Bring movement to this shape by drawing your elbows down toward the sides of you’re your body and then moving the elbows up towards your head, extending the arms. The movement you make is similar to a bird drying its wings in the sun by the side of the water.
    Chest Opener with Blocks
    Chest Opener with Blocks
  • As you move notice any spots that feel really good and pause there for a few breaths.
  • Move and hold for as long as feels good.
  • To come out of the pose, roll onto one side off the blocks and press yourself up to sitting. You can also use a foam roller instead of blocks.

Reclined Twist

This is a relaxing twist that lengthens the obliques, helps stimulate digestion and calms the nervous system. It’s also a gentle chest opener when you position your arms in ‘cactus arms.’

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat.
  • Press into your feet to lift your hips slightly off the floor and shift them over to the left a few inches and set them down.
    Reclined Twist
  • Bend your knees at a 90 degree angle so that your thighs are perpendicular to the body and your shins are parallel to the floor.
    Reclined Twist
  • Inhale, and on your exhale twist to the right bringing your knees to the floor to your right.
  • If you can, keep your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, and stacked on to of one another.
    Reclined Twist
  • Hold for 5 deep and easy breaths in and out through the nose.
  • Inhale the knees back to center, place the feet on the floor and shift to the other side, repeat.

Relaxation Pose

In general, paddlers enjoy being active and may not put a lot of emphasis on taking time to let the body relax and rejuvenate. Studies show that relaxation can enhance performance and, according to Ayurveda, relaxation is a key ingredient in proper digestion, which in turn leads to healthy muscle tissue. Taking the time, even 5 minutes, to do relaxation pose at the end of your practice can improve digestion, increase mental clarity and relieve stress. Improved digestion helps muscle (and all) tissue form better and boosts energy. Increased mental clarity enhances focus.

  • Lie on your back with your legs relaxed. This means not holding in the legs and allowing them to settle. For most people that means allowing them to naturally externally rotate.
    Relaxation Pose
  • If your low back gets uncomfortable when you lie on your back, then roll up a blanket or use a bolster under your knees for support. This makes a world of difference!!
    Relaxation Pose
  • Your hands are not to close and not too far away from the body. Relaxed and palms facing up so that the shoulders are naturally externally rotated.
  • Allow yourself a few seconds to shift and settle.
  • Take three deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth – maybe even sighing as you exhale to release any tension.
  • Let go of any control over the breath and simply observe the path of the breath through the body.
  • Notice the thoughts in your mind, acknowledge them and let them float away as if they were clouds passing by overhead or a leaf floating downstream in the current. Return your attention to the path of the breath. Do this over and over and over until you let go of the mind and the body.
    Relaxation Pose
  • Allow yourself to relax in this pose for a minimum of 5 minutes. For deeper relaxation allow for 10—15 minutes.
  • To come out, hug your knees into your chest, roll over onto your right side and press yourself up to a seated position.
  • Sit for a few minutes quietly before opening the eyes and getting up.

With 20+ years of experience as an accomplished whitewater paddler and instructor, NRS Ambassador Anna Levesque is the leading expert on kayak instruction for women and yoga and wellness for paddling, including SUP Yoga.