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The most effective way to tackle sore muscles is by stretching them out and allowing the blood flow to increase. (1) These actions enable fresh oxygen and nutrients to reach every cell, speeding up repair and strength building.
In yoga, these translate to focusing on poses that call for long, passive holds and paying more attention to your breath, so you make use of every oxygen molecule that enters your lungs.
If you’re suffering from sore muscles, here are the best yoga poses that can bring relief.
1. Half Pigeon Pose
One of the best poses to relieve sore leg muscles is the half pigeon pose, also known as ArdhaKapotasana. It is the less advanced version of the one-legged king pigeon pose or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.
This pose involves a deep stretch of the hamstrings, hips, and glutes while allowing the upper body to relax and simply “let go.”
How to do this pose:
- Starting in a downward-facing dog, lift your right leg to prepare. Bend the knee and bring it right behind your right palm.
- Untuck your left toes and relax your left leg all the way down on your mat, stretching it straight back. If your level of flexibility isn’t high, try to position yourself by placing your right toes underneath your left hip, feeling the stretch in your right hamstrings and glutes.
- If you wish to go a bit deeper, work on bringing your right shin as parallel to the front of your mat as possible, opening the hips and stretching your inner thighs and tendons along the way.
- Once you’ve found a comfortable position, place your palms near your seat and inhale with your spine straight, activating your core and creating space for your vertebrae. You can choose to stay in this position and just breathe, or you can take it a step further and walk your hands forward, stretching them out on the mat in front of you and relaxing your torso over your right leg.
- Try to keep your hips from shifting to one side, and bring your body back to center, avoiding any pressure. You can choose to relax your forehead on the floor, or you can grab your elbows and place them on your forearms if you need of a softer surface.
- Stay in this position and breathe for 5–10 long, deep breaths. The goal is to relax your body as much as possible while stretching and loosening all muscle fibers, breaking down the lactic acid buildup, and soothing the sore feeling away.
- Slowly come back out the same way you entered. Once you’re in a downward dog, take it for a walk by bending one leg and then the other to reset before repeating it all on the other side.
2. Plow Pose
The plow pose, or Halasana, works wonders for the legs as much it does for the lower back. Without causing tension or force, this amazing yoga pose allows your back muscles to open up and stretch out naturally, increasing blood flow to the area.
How to do this pose:
- The plow pose is performed after an inversion of choice, most commonly after a shoulder stand, as the positioning of your body makes for a great preparation. You can also choose to come into it after a headstand, handstand, forearm stand, or even just a straight lie-on-your-back-with-your-legs-vertical pose.
- Bring your legs over your head, while your hands grab onto your hips and lower back, protecting them as you lead your body into the full expression of the pose.
- If your feet can’t touch the floor, keep them parallel and try to relax as much as possible, breathing into your lower back. If your feet easily come to the floor above your head, push your toes into the ground, and try to walk with your feet as far from your head as your body allows it, stretching and elongating your spine.
- You can leave your hands on your lower back or place them on your mat, palms pressing into the floor to create more leverage, and push your legs even further away. You can even interlace your fingers and push your palms firmer into the ground to intensify and advance even more.
- Stay in this position for 5–10 breath cycles.
- Slowly exit the pose by grabbing your legs and bringing your spine back on the floor before lowering your legs all the way down to your mat.
Whatever your level of flexibility and mobility, Halasana is the perfect pose for releasing the tension and speeding up the recovery process, as it uses gravity to get deeper and stretch further, without any pulling or pushing sensations.
3. Fish Pose
Stretching out the front body is just as important as stretching out the back, and that’s where the fish pose, also known as Matsyasana, comes into play.
A lot of yoga poses can stretch out the chest and shoulders, such as the upward-facing dog, warrior I, and practically every backbend. However, they all involve a lot of tension, which is what you must avoid in passive stretching.
The fish pose allows the body to relax while the stretch is happening. It also lets you focus on your breath and feel the relaxing sensations flowing through your body.
How to do this pose:
- Start by laying down on your mat and stretching out your arms over your head.
- Clasp your hands together and push them into the floor, creating a lift in your upper body. You can stay in this position and breathe, or if your chest muscle flexibility allows, bring the crown on your head into the floor and push into it to enhance the stretch. This is the very basic form of the pose, and it requires little to no level of flexibility, as you’ll be able to feel the stretch immediately.
- Use your inhales to push your hips and your hands into the ground. Use your exhales to elongate your spine even more.
- If your body asks for more space, bring your hands underneath your hips, palms facing down, and push your sitting bones into your hands. Propel yourself onto your forearms, and send your torso away from the floor, allowing your shoulders to open up. Throw your head back like you’re in a hair salon and allow your neck and throat to open up as well. You can even open your mouth a little and feel the muscles on your face relax as you breathe through your mouth (one of the rare occasions where it’s allowed in yoga).
- Stay in this position for 5–10 long breath cycles, and slowly come back to a laying pose, interlacing the hands behind your neck and gently pulling your head toward your chest to neutralize the powerful stretch. In this pose, it is not uncommon to feel the stretch all the way to your hip flexors and even your thighs, especially as you keep on breathing and stretching.
These are just some of the amazing passive stretching yoga poses you can do whenever you feel like your muscles need to rest, repair, and heal. Soreness is a result of too much lactic acid that needs to be released in order for it to go away.
Work with your body and not against it, and pay attention to the signs it’s sending to avoid injury or any other uncomfortable consequences.
Turn your attention to your breath and feel your body relax with every exhale, flushing out the toxins and releasing anything that doesn’t serve your overall health and longevity.