Coffee Table Yoga

Today was my last trip of the season to teach yoga to the UNC football team. They’ve had a good season, which officially ends next Saturday but which will continue to a bowl game. My role is as part of the lift-and-flush workout, in which they do some light weights and running, plus yoga. It’s always interesting to see the progression as the season continues. Last week, for example, instead of the usual chatter about who went to what club the night before, I heard some guys talking about who blew what assignment; others were comparing stats. How cool to see a team hit its stride!

Today, we did a variation on the Wall Folds routine from The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, using the team’s lockers. These have a seat-height bench covered in a pad, and they’re deep enough that players can rest the entirety of their lower legs on the pad. The bottom of the bench is solid. At home, you can use your coffee table (or, if you’re tall, your sofa), then move to the wall for the supported twists. The bent-legged position you take as home base for the sequence is very nice on the lower back and knees—much less stressful than a full straight-legged viparita karani/legs-up-the-wall position. Your legs get the draining effect of the inversion; your back is held by the floor, which keeps it from rounding; your chest gets a gentle stretch; and your whole system—body, mind, and breath—gets calm.
Here are some ideas for you to play with. Sure, this could be yoga for football players, but it could also be great as a relaxing sequence after travel, or after a tough workout.
  • Come close to the coffee table, calves to its surface, back on the ground. Bring your bottom as close to the table as feels comfortable. Take your hands to a position that feels good: inverted V, goalpost arms, “Touchdown!” arms, “Safety!” arms, or a V overhead. Stay here for a number of breaths, getting settled.
  • Take your knees closer over your torso and rest your heels on the edge of the table. You’ll be in the shape of a squat on your back. Hold for five breaths or more.
  • From here, shift toward baddha konasana/cobbler pose legs, taking the knees wide into a diamond shape as the soles of your feet come together. Support your knees without forcing them toward the table. Five or more breaths.
  • Unwind and rest your calves back on the table. Straighten your left leg, reaching your left heel toward the ceiling and your left toes toward your head. After a few breaths, gently circle your foot in one direction, then the other, to stretch the lower leg. Repeat on the right leg.
  • Lift your left leg, point the left knee to the left, and cross your ankle over the right leg, so that the outer ankle is to the right of the right leg. If you need more stretch for the outer left hip, slide your right knee toward your chest. If your bottom lifts off the ground, scoot your whole body away from the table, so that your entire backside stays in good contact with the floor. Stay for five to ten breaths—a longer hold helps the piriformis release—then repeat for the right leg.
  • Bring your heels to the edge of the table. If you trust the table will not slip, push into it with your feet and lift your hips in the air. You’ll be in a high bridge pose (drawbridge?). From here, you can walk your shoulders toward each other behind the back. If any of this feels iffy for your neck or back, skip it. Otherwise, five breaths or so should do.
  • This one is for those at a solid couch or with a blocky coffee table; alternatively, move to the wall or a door. Slide six inches or so away from the prop, then drop both knees to the right, taking the soles of your feet to the prop. Open your left arm to the left, and turn your head that way, too. (The players really liked this one; it gives you a slightly deeper twist than the usual knees-down reclining twist in the middle of the room.) For less, move further from the prop; for more, scoot in toward it. After five breaths or more, move to the other side.
  • Finish as you started, calves to the tabletop, back neutral, chest open. Breathe.
Let me know what you think!