Summer is my favorite season. The air is warm, the running layers are light, and sunshine predominates instead of snow. Summer is also synonymous with vacation; for students and teachers, summer means a break from the daily grind of school, and for many families, summer is a time to get together or to travel. Summer feels like a vacation from many things that can wear us down just a bit—the warm summer breeze means not just a change of the weather, but a chance to shake up our routines. Both summer and any kind of vacation offer a chance to break free of old, now commonplace paths of being, thinking, and movement, and find new ones that make us happier and put a bit more pep in our step.
Vacation is a state of mind that you can take with you anywhere. It is carefree, effortless, spontaneous, and relaxed. You may not immediately think “workout” when you think “vacation” but applying this more chill, “go with the flow,” adventuresome way of thinking to your workout is a great way to keep it a mini-vacation for the body and soul, instead of a chore that you have to do. Working out, like vacation, is something you do to stay healthy—don’t ever let it be something that weighs you down. I love my workouts. They invigorate all my other thinking, doing, and being that I have to do in my non-workout time. They make me happy—just like going on vacation.
Vacations are great privileges for the mind since you’re able to think about something besides work or whatever might be burdening you—or maybe they just give you a little extra time to daydream. Often when I run or practice yoga, I enjoy having a little quiet time all to myself. You can only be productive so many hours out of the day or so many days out of the year; both vacations and workouts allow you to take time to recharge, become more creative, solve problems or maybe enjoy thinking about nothing at all.
Now that we’ve reflected a bit on the beauty of vacationing and working out, and on how these two seemingly disparate activities are actually not as separate as you might think, here is a mini yoga workout, aka a “vacation,” for your quads. Maybe you think about your quads a lot, or maybe you think about them very little at all—wherever you fall on this spectrum, I hope this little workout allows for a little extra stretching and strengthening of these muscles outside of your usual routine.
1. Set up your Chair pose / Utkatasana.
Begin at the front of your mat with big toes together and a little half inch gap or so between your heels. Bend your knees and lower your torso to the fronts of your thighs. On an inhale, sweep your hands back so fingertips are reaching towards the back of your mat. Reach our through the crown of your head as you reach through fingers. On an exhale, sweep arms forward, letting them carry your torso up. Sink your bum down as if coming to sit in an imaginary chair. Squeeze knees gently.
2. Chair Pose / Utkatasana Mini Flow.
Staying in your chair pose, inhale onto your tippy toes. Bring hands into prayer at the front of your chest for support here. Exhale and stay on toes, but sink deeper through your hips. Repeat this: inhale higher onto toes, exhale deeper through hips for at least two more rounds. After you’re as high as you can go, release heels to the ground and stay low through your hips. Pause and breathe for at least three rounds. On your next exhale, press all the way up to standing.
3. Transition to Lizard Pose.
As gracefully as you can, on your next exhale, step right foot to the back of your mat. Inhale to extend hands and arms tall, then exhale as you reach hands forward and all the way to the floor at the front of your mat.
Wiggle left foot outside both hands. Release right knee and top of right foot to floor. (Step back foot farther back if need be—just be sure you’ve got a less than 90 degree angle from front of your back thigh to the floor, i.e. not directly on top of back kneecap). Point left foot out 45 degrees, and roll to pinky-side edge of this foot. Use your left hand to gently press on your left inner quad.
4. Lizard Pose Quad Stretch.
Now bend your back leg knee. Reach back with your left hand to grab your left foot—gently kick your foot into your hand, OR pull your foot closer to your bum, OR alternate between these two movements. If grabbing your foot is difficult, try wrapping a yoga strap (or even a scarf!) around your back foot so that you can use your hand to help with the quad stretch.
5. Switch sides!
First, release left hand back to the front of the mat, and release left sole of foot down.
Option A:l If you find yourself more on the limber side today, now step your right foot up to the front of your mat to a squat, then step left foot back to begin the lizard quad stretch on your second side.
Option B: Alternatively, step your left (front) foot back to downdog first, then step your right foot up to begin the lizard quad stretch sequence.
Give your legs a vacation by offering them a new yoga routine. July is a great time to get outside and let elements of summer vacation refresh all aspects of your life. If the snow makes us want to stay inside, the sun makes us want to go outside and play and move. Happy working out and happy vacationing!