I kept doing it every morning and didn't even skip when visiting Beijing in winter.
Besides preparing the body for running or lifting weights, the Surya Namaskar is
a cardio exercise in its own right. A great dynamic stretching routine, it has
improved my posterior chain flexibility from touching the toes to palming the floor.
It has not been a panacea, however, for all my joint issues, as I recently
realized. When four years of SN have not fixed my right foot pain, which usually
happens after mile 20 in the long runs and during recovery, naturally I start to
look elsewhere. Things are like that, with an intention, one notices signs all
over the place.
First and unexpectedly, during a strength session at the end of March, Tim
showed that he could do a pistol squat, my dream move, on his right side. He was
almost as heavy as me and I was totally amazed. Over years of training, I have
become quite strong (well, certainly stronger than the kid) but this beautiful
move has defied my pursuit. The problem was my limited ankle mobility: I would
fall backward before reaching the bottom when attempting the squat. I tried to
work in an Asian squat position but did not do it consistently.
And then I remembered a stretch that my friend L showed me recently: point the
foot to a vertical surface and try to reach the surface with the knee by bending
at the ankle without lifting the heel. I had Tim do the exercise using the frame
of the pullup bar as shown in the picture where d was the distance between
his big toe and the frame.
With his right foot, he scored a d of seven inches whereas my right foot could
do only five. Our left ankles had the same mobility of six inches and Tim
could not do a pistol on his left, falling back as I did when getting to the
bottom*. All the evidences pointed to the ankle. My revelation was complete.
Now that I had a perfect measurement system, after some searching and
more inspiration from Tim, I came up with an effective scheme to stretch
the ankle and calf, i.e., to stand on a towel-covered bar when working.
As the elevated surface was narrow, the heels have to dangle and my full
body weight helps stretching the ankle.
I believe this stretch would kill two birds with one stone. I have already seen
benefits after about one month. With improved mobility, the foot pain was
much better during and after runs. And I know if I keep at it, I would be able
to do the pistol within a year!
To be fair to yoga, the downward dog position as a static pose will improve the
ankle. But this has two limitations. First, I can not work while doing it. This
is a big deal because working, or just looking at the screen, provides the
distraction I need during the painful stretch, often longer than five minutes.
Second, in downward dog, four limbs support the body and therefore it would take
much longer to get results.
My friend S was surprised that I only started to stretch the calf after five
years of running and L joked that it was because I was a PhD. I guess he had a
point. How could I be so SMART for so long? ;-)
* Tim showed later that he could barely do one on the left with a raised heel but easily do three on the right.