How Sand (or gravel) Can Improve Your Yoga Practice
Some of this content was published in Men's Health
Do you get tired of the same fitness routine, but you don't have a lot of money to go to new fitness centers or buy new equipment? Well, you're in luck, by changing one simple FREE variable in your workout you can challenge and change up your routine!
Fortunately, I live close enough to the beach where this is possible for me. I am very grateful for that. Sticking my bare feet in the sand helps me ground myself into my intentions for my workout and reset my mind into a clear and motivated space. The sand is also different every foot or hand placement I make on it, so it always gives me a good surprise and challenge whether I am running or practicing a slow yoga sequence—I can count on the sand to “keep me on my toes (and heels)”!
Biomechanically: Bodily movement starts from the base up, so it only makes sense that when you change the pattern of the ground you’re bound to challenge balance and stability. Sand is a very beautiful and unique substance. It has the density to support you but also a soft absorption factor that decreases the retraction variable. When you walk on concrete, your foot pushes against the concrete, and the concrete doesn’t move so it requires less force to raise your foot away from it. When you are walking on the sand, the sand doesn’t provide as much push back on the foot, therefore requiring much more work to lift the foot away from it.
Emotionally: We are natural creatures, feeling most comfortable and relaxed when surrounded by nature. Practicing yoga workouts in the sand helps to ground and refresh the mind. Ujayii pranayama is a popular yogic breath used to regulate the body when strong postures are being practiced; the Sanskrit translation of this breath is “conquers breath” or “ocean’s breath” which in of itself gives a yoga workout a new perspective when practicing side by side with the giant abyss.
Difficulty: As we discussed before there is less bounce back from the sand when dynamically moving across it whether you’re walking, running, standing, or vinyasa yoga flowing—because of this, combined with the uneven nature of the surface of the sand the difficulty of each movement dramatically increases. The entire body is required to ignite when the base variable is altered—the quick changes in balance will engage the core stabilizing muscles (psoas, oblique, transverse abdominis) as well as the gluteal complex.
SAND YOGA WORKOUT:
Props/Equipment: Yoga Mat (optional), Free-hand weights (dumbbells 4-10lbs.)
1. Starting in child’s pose. Grounding your breath, and passively opening the hips.
2. Table top position (4-point kneeling) Find organic and circular movements waking up the intercostal muscles, rib basket, lower back, and belly.
3. Bird-Dog balance position. Raise right leg and left arm. Engage the core and draw the left elbow to the right knee, point of contact below the belly button. Repeat 15 times and switch sides.
4. Toe taps with oblique work. Start in table top position (4-point kneeling). Lift the right heel to the back of the mat and draw circles with the ankle, stretching the muscles in the feet (anterior tibialis, posterior tibialis, peroneal tibialis) Draw a “rainbow shape” with the toes behind the body, using the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and toning of the core to glide the leg. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
5. Press to the top of a push up (plank position) gently tap your knees to the ground and back up, maintaining solid alignment in the upper body and core. Repeat for 30 seconds, and rest.
6. Lift the body into a plank position again, keep the arms narrow and take tricep pushups. Hug the elbows close the body and lower only to a 90 degree angle of the elbow joint. Repeat 10 times.
7. Press to downward facing dog, bend your knees and walk your hands back to your feet to a “rag doll” position. Find a gentle sway in your upper and lower body, feel a stretch your lower back and relax your cervical spine (neck).
8. Roll the body up to standing and find a hips width poised position. Inhale breath at the top. Exhale glides your tail bone toward the back of the mat, flexing your hips and bending the knees lowering into a squat position. Alternate from standing to squat for 10 rounds.
9. Continue with this alignment but take the movement into a plyometric squat jump! At the top of your stand add a giant leap off of the mat, and land lightly (toe, ball, then heel) on the mat with safe bent knees and a secure squat position. Take these squat jumps up and down the mat, maintaining the parallel foot alignment. Repeat for 30 seconds, then rest.
10. Widen your squat; turn your heels in and your toes out. (Goddess or Horse pose) Lower your hands to the posterior side of your “thut” (thigh-butt meet point). Engage your core and tick-tock the body right to left, using the oblique and latissimus dorsi muscles to shift the body from right to left. Repeat 15 times and test.
11. Take a 5 minute cool down savasana on your mat, allowing all your hard work to soak into the body, and prepare your mind for the rest of the day J