A lot like Tough Mudder, yoga presents both a mental and physical challenge to its participants. Another similarity between Tough Mudder and yoga is their rising popularity. More than 36 million people do yoga in the U.S., up from 20.4 million in 2012, according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study Conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. The benefits of yoga range from increased flexibility to injury prevention.
“Yoga trains our bodies in a way that builds optimal awareness so movement becomes more intelligent,” says Cooper Chou, a certified yoga teacher at Kula Yoga Project, Pure Yoga, David Barton Gym, and New York Health & Racquet Club. “The shapes (poses) are designed to help everyone find stability so our joints don’t suffer when our bodies move. Additionally, yoga emphasizes the importance of breathing consciously and well, allowing the body to open, stretch and tone, ensuring that we have endurance during physical activity and longevity.”
Yoga studios are popping up virtually in every city, and major health club chains are offering yoga classes as part of memberships. Since finding a class isn’t an issue you might be wondering, how often you should be doing yoga during your Tough Mudder preparation.
“Committing to yoga 2-3 times a week is a great starting point, and the type of yoga can also vary,” says Chou. “For example, taking a more athletic class once a week will build muscular endurance, the second class can cater towards stretching and restoring, and the third class can focus on meditation and breathing intention. Finding the right balance will prepare the body and mind for what it will face on a Tough Mudder course.”
Whichever day of the week is your day off from training is when yoga is ideal. You don’t have to attend a class to practice yoga, all you need is some free space and a mat - whether that’s in your living room, or out in Nature’s Gym is up to you. On training days, Chou suggests doing yoga after weightlifting or running.
“The body needs to find extension and space after any physical activity that taxes the body or muscles to contract,” Chou says. “More importantly, lifting weights can also have an effect on the spine and yoga is a great practice to realign our bodies so that we remain tall and with our joints stable.”
Chou teaches a class called “Athletic Yoga”, among many other popular yoga classes. He suggests these six poses for optimal performance during a Tough Mudder. Lay down a mat and find your inner yogi with these six moves.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
This shape looks easy but requires being able to stand tall and has a huge emphasis on the legs and the spine. Start with feet together with toes pointing straight ahead. Firm the quads and allow the knee caps to lift and extend. If mountain pose is a relatively new shape, then lift the toes so the effort moves towards the heels. Keep the shoulder blades down towards the back ribs and allow the breastbone to lift. Arms are straight at the side of the body with fingers extended. The head, neck and spine should be aligned in a neutral position.
Often times, plank poses go awry pretty quickly not because of a weak upper body, but because the legs are not "charging" and firing up properly.
Get into a table pose (on all fours) and make sure your wrists are pointing straight ahead. Press palms into the floor and step the legs back. Keep your back flat while sucking in your belly button toward your spine.
Tip: use a mirror to take a look at your plank from the side to ensure a straight spine position.
This shape is intended to stretch the spine. Come into plank pose and ensure that wrists are under shoulders. Start to bend your knees and begin to move the hips back and up. Press the floor away and land with heels touching ground. Move the front of the thighs back to the hamstrings and for most athletes, the low back will tend to "round" putting the lumbar spine into flexion. Keeping the knees bent protects the hamstring and low back, giving the athlete more space to take the rounding out of the lumbar spine.
It's important to learn how to stand on one leg and find your balance. This shape becomes a great hip opener and stabilizer if done well. From a standing position, start by pulling the right knee in towards the chest. Reach inside the right leg and grab the inner ankle. Place the sole of the right foot anywhere along the inner left leg (important to avoid the inner knee). For beginner yogis this spot is against side of the calf or shin.
Place hands on the hips and feel for the hip bones. Aim to get the hip bones even by moving the right knee forward until the hip bones are even. From there, slowly try to stretch the right knee to the right and back, keeping the hip bones even. If balance becomes easy, start to reach the arms up. Repeat on the left side.
This pose is a great way to stretch the abdomen, strengthen our pelvic floor, and to work the back muscles to help offset heavy lifting days or time spent in front of a T.V. or computer. Lie on your back with knees bent. Line up the knees over the ankles. Keeping the feet hips width distance, (a slightly wider stance is also fine), point toes forward. Press into the floor with the heels, fire up the outer glutes and lift the butt and pelvis off the floor. If the shoulders and chest have space to interlace the fingers underneath the back, then do so and start to tuck the shoulders underneath.
Lengthen the tailbone and aim to get the thoracic spine away from the floor and up into the chest. The neck should remain in its neutral position and the hamstrings should be working to keep the pelvis lifted. If the chest is tight, avoid interlacing the fingers. Instead, keep the arms on the floor with palms facing down, shoulders width apart, and press the outer arms and outer shoulders down and aim to tuck the shoulders under.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
This requires no alignment or physical effort. Simply lay on your back with arms and legs lazily spread out. This is the best way to quiet the mind and body after any activity, but especially after something intense. Breath naturally in and out and stay for at least 7 minutes. You can use the time to clear your mind, or to envision what it’s going to feel like when you cross the finish line.