Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Best Kept Secret...

...is not so much a secret, as it is something that many athletes, yogis and people who are on their feet most of the day already know. The first time I learned about the stretch (and yoga pose) was in high school while attending a week-long lacrosse camp at the University of Pennsylvania where me and my teammates played lacrosse for over 8 hours a day (in addition to the 5 miles we would walk to get to and from the fields for each of the three sessions). Loopy from exhaustion, we were advised to put our legs up on the wall after our night games to reduce the lactic acid in our tired legs and to help us wind down for the evening. I had no idea what lactic acid was at the time but I knew that, after only a few minutes of doing the stretch, it felt great for my body.
Lactic acid begins to build in the muscles when oxygen becomes scarce. When aerobic activity induces a respiration that cannot bring oxygen fast enough into the body, the anaerobic system kicks in. This system helps to produce lactate, enabling your body to keep functioning at its peak. This commonly happens during strenuous periods of exercise, such as sprinting. After this period, lactate or lactic acid can stand still and cause muscles to become sore and stiff. Moving this lactate around is essential to an expedited recovery.- Judy Kilpatrick, Chron 
Elevating the legs creates a blood inversion which literally reverses the flow of blood back toward the heart to be re-oxygenated and to create more space for new blood to circulate. The benefits of the stretch are not exclusively reserved for those who exercise strenuously, but for anyone looking for a gentle and invigorating leg stretch.   Years later in a yoga class, I learned that this stretch was also a yoga pose known in Sanskrit as Viparita (turned around, reversed) Karani (doing, making, action). Like most inversions, or poses where more of your body mass is above your heart, it is generally regarded as a restorative pose because of its noted benefits of calming the waves of the mind and allowing soothing energy to move through the body in a different direction. Often in yoga classes, it is practiced before the final resting pose, Savasanna or corpse pose.

It should be noted, according to an article I read once, that practicing the pose for at least 15 minutes has a similar effect on the body as 4 hours of sleep.  I'm not sure whether or not that statement is scientifically accurate, however, based on my current sleeping patterns these days, anything that hints at 4 hours of sleep for a fraction of the time is worth a try. A lot of times I will flip up into the pose on my bed (as seen in the photo above) for a quick refreshing boost of energy, as ironically, the pose seems to both relax and energize me at the same time. The pose is often recommended for those who are seeking relief from headaches, insomnia, digestive issues, backaches and even depression. Usually, I try to stay in the pose for the prescribed 15 minutes, sometimes with a pillow behind my head, lightly resting my hands on my stomach feeling the breath steady itself, rising and falling into its own natural cadence. More than usually though that 15 minutes slips indulgently into a delightful hour.

For a demonstration of how to get into and out of the pose by Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman, see below.

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