I saw the most perfect Downward Facing Dog toward the end of my run today.
You know who was out doing this perfect downdog?
Well, a limber old chocolate lab, of course!
Just as the name for the Downward Dog was inspired by dogs, so is this post pooch-inspired. I mean, I really think that animals know what’s up! Who doesn’t love a good cat stretch or downdog to invigorate ya? For me, strength and stretch sessions mixing Pilates and yoga always leave me feeling wonderful and massaged. They take me to places like this…
Even if I’m just here in my own living room…
As a STOTT® Pilates certified instructor, I may be more of a Pilates guru than a yogi. This year, however, I have noticed a good deal of increased strength and improved balance by adding a little yoga practice into my training.
When I first started doing Pilates back in 2003, I was living and wranglering in Colorado at a Christian camp and conference center. Swanky Wrangler, eh?
Ha! Not really.
Truly great experiences. But where is the fringe on those chaps?
Outside of being a horse wrangler, leading rides and taking care of horses, I met and worked for some wonderful folks who had me house sit for them when they were on vacay.
Those became some of my favorite memories with animals who weren’t my own. But they felt like they were my own!
So now, over a decade later, I’m still doing Pilates and enjoying some yoga too. Then recently a dog-sitting networking website, Dog Vacay, asked if I would share some of my workout tips as a part of their “Get Fit Like Fido” campaign.
Dog Vacay and yoga instructor, Julia Chan, came up with a pooch-inspired yoga circuit which, if you read on, you’ll find in detail below. First, I’ll give some of my own favorite exercises. These are a few of the ones that I do on a regular basis, 2-3 times per week. I’ll do them often as a workout of their own or sometimes I use various ones as a warm up for a weight training session. The nice thing about Pilates and yoga is that they’re gentle and you can sort of warm up and cool down as you go.
I usually start lying on the mat, carpet, grass or wherever, and I do some deep breathing exercises in through the nose and out through pursed lips. This is so good for stress relief! Then I add some super easy, but ever-so-important pelvic tilts: tighten the abdominals to move the spine closer to the mat or floor and release back to neutral where there is that natural curve of the low back away from the mat. Next, I do some arm circles, nice and big, full rotations through the shoulder and then hip rolls which uses the glutes and hamstrings to peel the low back off the mat. Any other gentle movements of the spine are fair game and a great way to warm up. For instance, side-lying with arms stretched out and stacked in front of you, lift the top arm toward the ceiling and then lower it away, behind you, to where you get a nice little rotation through your mid-back. Lovely, that stretch is.
Okay. So, then, here are some of my favorites:
The Single Leg Stretch
With the low-back pressed into the mat or in imprint, hug one knee in to the chest and send the other to a diagonal. Maintain the head, neck and shoulders still and up off of the mat as you do eight reps on each leg. If you want this to be harder, only bring the knee in just to above the navel, or don’t hug it in as far. Then keep the head, neck and shoulders right where they are and move directly into the next exercise: Obliques.
Do the same movement with the legs, but do this slowly. Yes, it’s sort of a long, slow grind of an exercise and will get your obliques burning, so the breath is very important. Inhale as you’re in the middle of switching from one leg to the other and exhale as you reach your armpit toward the opposite knee. The picture above would be a big exhale. You never look up at the sky either to let the head, neck and shoulders sag down. This keeping the head/neck/shoulders flexed up adds to the amazing burn. Do at least eight on each side.
The Shoulder Bridge
After that good abdominal and hip-flexor work, the shoulder bridges are a great release. Start laying on your back with your feet on the mat and knees bent. Press into all the corners of your feet, not just your heels and use the tailbone to draw the rest of the spine up into the air. Focus on firing the glutes because they have a tendency to kick back and let the hamstrings do all of the work…and then cramp up royally. So squeeze those cheeks like it’s nobody’s business. Now, just lifting and lowering the booty is a great exercise, but if you can maintain stability through the hips (and not lower down on one side) then lift one foot in the air, knee going to “table top” as shown in the picture above. From there straighten the leg…
Then with the leg straight, lift and lower the leg 3-6 times, maybe flexing the foot to lower and pointing the toes to lift the leg. To finish bend the knee, place the foot down and repeat on the other leg. And then if that is going well, repeat the whole thing again on both legs. Yay for the bun squeeze!
The Spine Twist
Seated tall and legs out in front of you, make like you’re cemented into concrete and the legs aren’t going to shift. I see people doing this sloppily all the time but it’s sooo easy to do right. So do it! Again, legs are still and arms are out to the side. Inhale to prepare, then twist to one side like you’re spiraling around the column that is your spine. Give a three-count exhale there then inhale to return tall to the center. Repeat on the other side. Enjoy maybe 4-6 times on each side.
There are many ways to start this and many variations of the teaser. For this version, start lying flat on the mat, arms reaching over head long behind you and legs in the opposite direction. Begin by inhaling and starting to lift the arms, then exhale and lift the arms, torso and legs into the position pictured above. From there, stay and just take a breath in while lifting the arms up toward the ears with the shoulders relaxed.
Exhale and lower the arms to the first picture height, then inhale and lift them again. Repeat a couple more times. Finally lower back down to the mat. A beginner version would be to start seated with knees bent and feet on the mat and begin to roll back so that you fee like you almost might fall over, but stay there and lift the arms up toward the ears then lower to parallel with the thighs. Stay put but again lift and lower the arms a couple more times. A next step up would be to do that exercise with the feet in the air but with the knees bent. Eventually you should develop the strength for the full teaser.
The Open Leg Rocker
Starting seated, lift the legs into the air and either grab behind the calves, at the feet or maybe keep your knees bent if your hamstrings will not allow this much stretch. Find your balance. Then initiating from the abdominals and low back, roll back just to the shoulder blades on an inhale and exhale to roll back up to balance. Balance is a goal, but it is tricky, so just keep working at it. And it’s okay too, if you maybe bend your knees a bit when you come up to balance. Then just try to extend them. Also think of extending through the upper back as you come back up to seated. Complete 3-5 rolls.
The Side-Lying Lift
Lying on your side with shoulders, hips, knees, and feet all stacked, rest your top arm on your top hip and your head on your bottom bicep. Take a breath in to prepare and then exhale while lifting the feet and shoulders and really flexing into that top side of your body. Inhale to lower. Repeat eight times on each side.
Top all of that off with a whole bunch of push ups and there you have a few of my favorite exercises! But really, there are so many more that you can always keep mixing it up and never get bored. Have fun with it!
And if you haven’t gotten enough ideas, here is the fido-inspired circuit workout. Give it a try!
Go Get Fit like a Frisky Fido!
Special thanks to Music Meadows Ranch for a wonderful place to visit and do Pilates, as well as to DogVacay for the inspiration for this post! If you liked this, here is another of my favorite workouts.