Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Behalf of the Calf

Are you struggling with tight calves? Every step we take uses our calves, as they are activated each time we toe off and take a step. Unless we are spending time stretching them, this repetitive use can gradually result in muscle tension.

The two principal muscles in the region of the lower leg we call our “calves,” are the gastrocnemius and soleus. Both of these muscles attach to the Achilles tendon, at the back of the heel. When these muscles are tight, we commonly see tension in the Achilles tendon and/or soles of the feet (“plantar fasciitis”). Since they pull on the connective tissue throughout the back of the body, tight calves can even cause problems as far away as the lower back. Thus, keeping energy flowing via flexible calves is essential for the maintenance of a healthy spine, leading to proper body alignment and nervous system health.

In Yoga one excellent posture for keeping the calves flexible is called Downward-Facing Dog. To get into this posture, come onto your hands and knees, with your hips over your knees and your hands placed a little ahead of your shoulders. Plant your whole hands firmly on the ground. Take a deep inhale and on your exhale, slowly lift your hips towards the sky. Gently lower your heels towards or to the ground. The shape of your body will be similar to that of an inverted ‘V’. In case of limited hamstring flexibility, you may need to bend your knees. Now rotate your shoulders outward, and relax them down away from your ears. Your arms and torso should be in one straight plane.

Be sure the stretch through your calves (and everywhere else the posture addresses) feels comfortable: the stretch should never feel sharp or painful. Stay in the posture for three to five deep breaths. When you are ready to come out of the posture, slowly bend and lower your knees to the ground and rest in what is called Child’s Pose. In Child’s Pose the tops of your feet are on the floor, and your pelvis is resting over your heels; your arms are by your sides, with your forehead softly lying on the mat. This is called a “counter pose,” when we take the body gently in the opposite direction to the previous pose. Counter posing helps the nervous system organize and integrate the changes that have occurred in the muscles.

Written by David Seborer
ACSM HFI and Swim Coach, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate
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