The Most Effective Style of Yoga to Increase Your Flexibility - Monthly Yoga With Abi

Oct 18, 2016
by Abi Carver  
Legs Up The Wall Photo credit Paul Baker

I’ve been teaching Yin Yoga to hundreds of surfers in Bali over the last few months and seen amazing results. There are lots of ways that yoga can support an intense athletic training program – from building core strength, to loosening up tight joints, reducing muscular pain, improving balance and training mental skills – but increasing flexibility may be the biggest game-changer and the hardest to achieve.

In Yin Yoga, you hold poses anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes. I know, it sounds pretty intense. The discipline required is actually much more mental than it is physical. You can think of it like a therapeutic dose of stretching.

A Brief History

Yin Yoga is one of the oldest forms of yoga practiced in the Indian Hatha tradition. It was initially designed to prepare the body for long periods of seated meditation without distraction from physical discomfort.

Yin was brought to North America in the late 1970s by Paulie Zink, a yoga teacher and martial arts champion who found that it was the most effective way for his students – who had developed strong but overly tight muscles – to improve their flexibility and achieve greater agility, power and endurance.

The Benefits of Yin Yoga

This style of yoga is ideal for complete beginners and requires no previous experience. The other primary benefits are:

- Increasing flexibility
- Loosening up tight joints
- Improving range of motion
- Easing aches and pains
- Improving posture
- Speeding up athletic recovery
- Building discipline
- Improving breath efficiency
- Relaxing the body
- Calming the mind

How To Do It

- Use a timer and hold each pose for at least three minutes on each side. Try to increase this time by 5-10 seconds each session to see continued improvement in your flexibility over time.
- Prop yourself up on as many cushions as you need, to feel comfortable and relaxed.
- Completely let go of tension and let gravity do the work. When your muscles are relaxed, they are much more receptive to stretching.
- Breathe in and out through your nose throughout the sequence. As you inhale, inflate the front, back and sides of your rib cage. On every exhalation, let all the air out as slowly as you can, drawing your belly button back towards your spine.
- As with all training, consistency is the key. This sequence will help you to relax if you do it every now and again but the real benefits are only going to come if you’re consistent. You can do the full sequence a couple of times a week or break it up into poses and do 15 minutes, 5 days a week.
- The best time to practice Yin is at the end of the day. I don’t recommend doing it before vigorous exercise as you’re more susceptible to injury after a deep stretching session.
- Be careful not to put your body in any position that causes you pain.

The Upgrade

This practice should ultimately be relaxing – if not a little uncomfortable at first – but there is a way you can take it to the next level. The breathing in Yin is fundamental and by maintaining a specific breathing pattern throughout the sequence, you can make it into both a breath training workout and a meditation.

Try counting in for 4 and exhaling for 8. This is hard to maintain for the full sequence but it's effective even if you maintain it for just a few poses.

The Poses

I’ll give you some pointers for each of the poses and you can head to my site: www.yoga15.com for more detailed instructions and video tutorials.

1. Child’s Pose

Child s Pose Photo credit Paul Baker

- Child’s pose gently stretches the upper back and shoulders and calms the mind.
- Bring your arms outside your knees and let go of all tension.
- If you can’t sit back comfortably on your heels, put a cushion or two between your calves and hamstrings. 
- Breathe deeply into the front, back and sides of your rib cage.

2. Puppy With Hands In Reverse Prayer

Puppy Pose Photo credit Paul Baker

- Puppy pose decompresses the spine – making space between the vertebrae – and stretches the lats, shoulders, and triceps.
- Bring your knees hip-width apart directly and point your toes straight back. Check that your hips are directly underneath your knees.
- Pull your hips away from your elbows to feel the stretch in your triceps, shoulders and lats.

3. Scorpion

Scorpion Photo credit Paul Baker

- Scorpion stretches the chest and shoulders and increases spinal mobility.
- Lie on your stomach with your hands underneath your shoulders. Bring your right arm straight out to the side in line with your shoulder, palm facing down. Bend your left leg at the knee.
- Press into your left hand and twist your body open to the left bringing your left foot flat to the mat behind your right leg.
- Support your head on a cushion if you feel any discomfort in your neck.
- Breathe deep into your abdomen.
- This pose should not be painful, so adjust yourself as you need to.

4. Reclining Hand To Toe

Reclining Hand To Toe Photo credit Paul Baker

- Reclining Hand To Toe pose stretches the calves and hamstrings safely, without putting pressure on your lower back.
- Keep your raised foot flexed by pressing through your heel.
- If you find yourself straining in the pose, you can bend your bottom leg and bring the sole of your foot flat to the mat.
- This pose prepares you for hip openers.
- Use the weight of your arms to increase the intensity of the stretch.

5. Supported Bridge

Supported Bridge Photo credit Paul Baker

- Supported Bridge relieves tension at the lower back, releases the hip flexors and stretches the abs, chest, shoulders and the back of the neck.
- Make sure that your feet are hip-width apart and that your toes point straight ahead.
- Yoga blocks have 3 different heights, so only go as high as you’re ready for.
- Breathe deep into your belly to release your psoas.
- Supported Bridge is one of the most effective poses for relieving lower back pain, especially if you also suffer from tight hips.

6. Dead Pigeon

Dead Pigeon Photo credit Paul Baker

- Dead Pigeon releases the lower back and stretches the outer hips, glutes, groin, hamstrings, knees and ankles.
- You can take hold of the back of your thigh or reach through and interlace your fingers around your shin to increase the intensity of the pose.
- Press your lower back into the mat.

7. Reclining Butterfly

Reclining Butterfly Photo credit Paul Baker

- Reclining Butterfly opens up the hips, releases tension in the mid-back and gently stretches the chest and shoulders.
- You can support your knees on cushions to completely let go of tension in your hips.

8. Reclining Spinal Twist

Reclining Spinal Twist Photo credit Paul Baker

- Reclining Spinal Twist releases tension at the lower back and stretches the glutes, outer hips, lower back, abs, obliques, chest, and neck. It also increases spinal mobility.
- Try to let go of tension in your neck and shoulders.
- If your knee doesn’t come all the way down to the mat, you can support it on a cushion or two.
- This is another lovely pose to alleviate lower back pain.

9. Sleeping Pigeon

Pigeon Pose Photo credit Paul Baker

- Sleeping Pigeon is a deep hip opener that stretches the glutes and hip rotators on your bent leg and the hip flexors on your straight leg.
- You can't see it in this image, but the bottom part of your front leg should be positioned on the diagonal.
- If your hips are not level, you can put a cushion or two under the hip of your bent leg. 
- Try to let go of any tension, thoughts or distractions.

10. Final Resting Pose

Final Resting Pose Photo credit Paul Baker

- Release your arms and legs and lie back in Final Resting Pose.
- Notice how your body feels and allow the stretches to sink in for a few minutes before moving back into your evening.



Drop me an email to abi@yoga15.com if you’d like me to send you the audio of a Body Scan Meditation to listen to in Final Resting Pose to help you fully relax. If you’re looking for a complete yoga program to support your training, you can download the Yoga For Mountain Bikers series here. And for more yoga motivation and tips, follow me on Instagram @yoga15abi.

Photo credit: Paul Baker



Previous Yoga with Abi:

Easy 15-Minute Yoga Routine To Loosen Up Tight Joints
How To Release Tight Quads And Increase Your Power
How To Release Chronically Tight Hamstrings
A Challenging One-Hour Yoga Flow Class
Take Control of Your Mind and Push Your Personal Limits
Yoga To Relieve Pain In Between The Shoulder Blades
15-Minute Routine To Unlock Tight Hips
15-Minute Yoga Routine To Build Core Strength
Short Yoga Routine To Help With Lower Back Pain in Bikers
15-Minute Yoga Routine To Enhance Balance and Agilityl
15-Minute Post-Ride Yoga Routine
8 Quick Yoga Stretches To Do At Work



MENTIONS: @yoga15app

Must Read This Week

84 Comments

  • + 110
 My version of the scorpion also increases spinal mobility but doesn't involve a yoga mat and is much more painful. Going to try Abi's version instead.
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  • + 31
 Apparently she is also lying still, like not moving forward with a bike on top of her
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  • + 8
 Yeah, her version looks more like post scorpion dirt nap, which I can hold for way too long sometimes.
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  • - 11
 She making a strong argument for yoga and many other things!!!!
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  • + 2
 Tip O' the Cap @spillway. I figured the top comment would have a scorpion reference, and I still laughed audibly when I read it.
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  • + 41
 I cant even sit in a quiet room for 3 minutes
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  • + 13
 You must have kids or ADD Smile
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  • + 7
 Then this is exactly what you need to do. Embrace the suck!
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  • + 1
 @yoga15app: ill just ride my bike. I suck at that already.
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  • + 2
 @yoga15app: I started doing yoga after a lower back injury. I wish I had started doing yoga when I started playing soccer competitively.......never done the puppy with hands in reverse pray. I'm going to work that one into my routine. I Love yoga
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  • + 1
 @rivercitycycles: awesome! That version of Puppy pose is great for opening up the shoulders and decompressing the spine. Make sure your knees are directly under your hips and pull back against your elbows for a great triceps and lat stretch.
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  • + 32
 Way to go, gentlemen!. I don't see a link for "below threshold comments hidden". (applause!)

We've come a long way! Thanks for sticking with us, Abby! While helping most of us with our flexibility. You've helped a couple of us grow up a little too.
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  • + 5
 You were too early... Side note: the fish clips also work great to hold a blanket onto a stroller!!
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  • - 1
 You should have waited at least 12 hours.. That way all the pervs worldwide would be able to see this article and choose to imput.
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  • + 1
 @whattheheel: Well hey, we were on a good run! Got to start somewhere.
Those FishClips are handy. I've done the same!
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  • + 2
 So nice of you to send my way! We use the knife all the time too! Daughter loves it!
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  • + 1
 @whattheheel: How many pinkbikers have sent stuff to you?
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  • - 15
 is because of idiots like you that those comments happen is the internet just dont give them attention and they will go away if you acknowledge it in any way trust me you are encouraging by disencouraging. also this is just for you:

SHE IS HOT!
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  • + 3
 @iamamodel: Who knows? 40-50? Maybe more. I was just slapping some WTH stickers on my helmets from either Iggy or Nato. If your bored you can go thru 42 pages of my pics and count. I know I missed quite a few pics tho.
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  • + 1
 @whattheheel: Well it is a 2 way street as you have sent quite a bit of stuff the other way. Cutter arrives today expect more decals will make some smaller ones also.
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  • + 1
 Excellent! I was tagging stuff last night and am running low on WTH stickers. You the man!
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  • + 12
 This was definitely my favorite Abi article. Dead Pigeon and Sleeping Pigeon are really good for stretching the piriformis, which is easy to overwork or pull when your rear wheel loses traction while your leg is forward and powering uphill. Then it is misdiagnosed as a "hip flexor" or "hamstring" injury because the tightness will often put pressure on the sciatic nerve and manifest itself in other places like the hip or front of thigh. If I am sore and heading out for a ride, that is a must-do stretch to avoid injury.
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  • + 4
 Spot on comment!!! Two months of pain traveling between my lower back and hamstring until I figured this out. Integrated these stretches into my routine and it opened up my entire hip. No issues anymore.
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  • + 1
 Agreed on todd's assessment and coverdigger's confirmation. Dead Pigeon SAVES my lower back.
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  • + 1
 Thank you @todd. It's crucial to stretch out the glutes and piriformis as you mention. I find that even if athletes find Pigeon too intense initially, Dead Pigeon can give you that same release at the lower back. What would you say are other non-negotiable stretches for you?
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  • + 1
 @yoga15app: Any stretch that works the calves/achillies. If you have to jump off the bike suddenly, you risk pulling a muscle especially landing on uneven/rocky ground.
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  • + 3
 @todd: You do need unbreakable ankles and good flexibility in the calves to avoid injury. Barefoot balance poses will improve your foot and ankle strength:

www.yoga15.com/blog/3-advanced-balancing-poses-for-athletes

And these poses would be to increase your calf and hamstring flexibility:

www.yoga15.com/blog/a-complete-solution-for-releasing-tight-hamstrings
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  • + 10
 You guys need more metal in your life
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  • + 4
 Abi, can we download any of your videos onto an iphone yet? It would be nice to purchase your bike videos in itunes or something so I could take it to the gym, vacation, up in the mountains, etc.
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  • + 2
 I use the Vimeo app on my iPhone, from there you can purchase her videos and have them available offline.
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  • + 1
 The best place to download the vids is on Vimeo @Reignonme. Here is the link:

vimeo.com/ondemand/yogaforbikers

There is a Vimeo app that you can put on your phone to make it more streamlined.
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  • + 3
 Dude---my cousin totally did the cliche scenario and farted on the dead pigeon pose. He started to laugh when she said, "Now REACH AROUND between your legs" and that relaxed him enough to accidentally squeeze out a small but audible fart---the look of surprise on his face. I'm literally crying thinking of it now.

Side note: I will start doing this exact routine every morning
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  • + 2
 I would definitely recommend practicing this routine in the evening. A more dynamic sequence would be better in the morning.
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  • + 2
 Hi Abi, first thanks kindly for your contributions, theyre very much needed in this sportSmile the perfect yin to the yang as another has said.
Theyve very much helped me come around to the idea of complimentary training and finding solutions to the aches and pains . Will certainly be attending yoga with my GF now!
I also sought out a local exercise physiologist - which i cant recommend highly enough to anyone with any physical issues or pains.. After over a decade of MTB and not much else im a mess as im sure many are. Mainly hip flexors, quads, iliopsoas, lower trap, FABER, gluteal, levator, scapula, seratus anterior... ok so everything. This Yin yoga program seems perfect for some of these.

I just wanted to ask how you would recommend to engage and strengthen the transversus abdomini as most of my exercises call for it but i have no idea how or what it does.
Thanks again and keep up the awesome work☺
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  • + 2
 Thank you for your comments. I agree with everything!

Here is a link that I think might help you learn how to engage your abs:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BOTvaRaDjI
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  • + 2
 Great article Abi..loving do the pigeon during my weekly routine for lower back pain.. Sleeping pigeon gives me much pain relief and increases my general mobility..feeling deeper into the pose with every breath.. Thank you very much Abi..
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  • + 4
 Thank you @vic690. I hope there are also some new poses in this routine for you to try out that should give you even deeper relief. See how long you can hold them!
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  • + 1
 Abi, I love your videos and have played around with a few of your Yoga routines. I suffer the dreaded lower back pain/weak core and stiff hips. I hope to spend the winter doing some major repairs with the help of your videos. Thanks for making this so much more accessible and geared toward MTB.
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  • + 1
 My pleasure. I'd love to hear how you get on. Let me know if you have any questions.
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  • + 3
 Yin yoga is pretty amazing stuff. I've been doing ROMWOD for a few months, and the difference it's made to all my athletics, as well as all my aches and pains, amazes me.
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  • + 1
 It's an amazing techniques for athletic recovery. A hard sell in some ways but incredibly beneficial and the results definitely compound with consistent practice.
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  • + 0
 I think the main reason why we need to be doing Yin is because mountain biking is such a Yang activity; its all energy and adrenaline! We need to give our bodies time to balance that energy expenditure out. One of the reasons why I love mountain biking (besides the obvious) is that it is like forced meditation, my mind is completely focused on just one thing only. If you can practice doing meditation outside of riding it will give you more focus, and then if you're out on an injury it will help you from losing your mind. If your taking up a Yin practice it is very important to make sure you do not have any tingling or numbness in the poses. I found that taking some lessons really helped me to learn how to make adjustments for my body. One great author is Bernie Clark, check out his website and books. Im super stoked to see an article on Yin here on pink bike!
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  • + 1
 Thank you for your comment. I agree on every point! I just wrote an article for Cameron Diaz's site where I go into the balancing of yin and yang in a little more detail. Here is the link:

www.ourbodybook.com/your-at-home-yin-yoga-sequence-go-slow-to-go-fast

Which poses do you find as an mountain biker give you the most relief? Feel free to drop me an email at abi@yoga15.com if it's easier.
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  • + 1
 @yoga15app: I have ankylosing spondylitis so I do a lot of spinal work. I follow a sequence in Bernie Clark's book that takes you through the 6 different types of movement the spine does. It really helps me to maintain my mobility. I love that book!
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  • + 1
 Definitely going to try this.

I've started to work more flexibility in the pelvic area and it seems to be helping my lower back. Who'd think tight hip flexors would lead to lower back pain?!?!
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  • + 1
 I agree. It's counter-intuitive but stretching your hip flexors – especially with Supported Bridge and Low Lunge – is going to give you relief from back pain, and not stretching but strengthening the lower back.
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  • + 1
 @yoga15app: The routine I have been following is probably more advanced than I should be doing, but I'm starting to get the poses. I find the warrior moves fantastic for core and pelvic strength and flexibility. but man they are tough to hold after awhile!
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  • + 1
 @robwhynot: I think that's great. How are you going to get better if you don't push yourself harder than you're ready for. I wouldn't recommend this for stretching, but for balance and strength training it'is going to give you the fastest results. I find balance poses pretty addictive now.

Here's a couple for you to try:

www.yoga15.com/blog/3-advanced-balancing-poses-for-athletes
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  • + 2
 I try to do most of these when I wake up and before I go to bed (and definitely pre and post race) and they've helped a TON
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  • + 1
 Amazing. That's so cool. I'm impressed by your consistency.
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  • + 2
 good stuff as always, abi. hangin in bali has got to be instant yoga in and of itself.
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  • + 2
 Bali and yoga were made for each other!
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  • + 1
 @yoga15app: ha! the harmony in location. you just don't know the inner struggle of texas bbq and yoga, abi!! lookin forward to next segment. be well!
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  • + 2
 I love the 'dead pidgeon' pose... My lower back relaxes very well after a long day working.
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  • + 2
 Thanks Abi! I have been working through a couple injuries and stretching/yoga have been a nice mental and physical release.
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  • + 1
 Awesome. Keep stretching and strengthening gently and you'll heal so much faster.
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  • + 1
 Hold dead pigeon in half squat for extra burn, extra balance and strength benifits
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  • + 1
 That's also a good option if you're out on the trail and you don't want to lie in the mud.
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  • + 1
 Looking forward to trying these. Only tried the Dead Pigeon from one of your previous routines.
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  • + 1
 I'd love to hear which poses personally give you the most relief.
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  • + 1
 That Scorpion pose doesn't look like the Scorpion (Vrschikasana) pose that I know. Is there another name for?
[Reply]
  • + 1
 It doesn't as far as I can tell. Maybe Lying Twisted Scorpion?
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  • + 2
 I can feel my shoulder popping out with position 2
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  • + 2
 yoga change my life Smile
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  • + 1
 Abi, another great series! Nice work Smile
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  • + 1
 Thank you. This routine is one of my favourite. It is effective on so many levels.
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  • + 1
 I think I can do the Final Resting Pose ...
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  • + 2
 You gotta start somewhere.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 So the pose in the headline pic isn't one of the poses in the routine?
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  • + 1
 You can actually start the routine with Legs Up The Wall. It's a very gentle hamstring stretch, it releases the lower back and allows lymphatic and the other fluids to drain from your feet and legs. I do it before and after I go on long flights.
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  • + 1
 The curious strike animal poses.
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  • + 0
 ...they feel the heat... the heat between me and you..... How can you just leave me standing ? alone in a world that so cold....
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  • + 1
 That T Gap tho. hehehe
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