"I can't do that," said the 36-year-old woman to my right as I leaned down and touched my toes in a yoga class. "I'm a runner." Such limitations may seem ironic, but they're all too common among seemingly fit athletes: marathoners so tight that they can barely reach their shins, cyclists so fixed in their hunched-over riding position that they can't lie flat -- "like crabs," as one masseuse told me. Flexibility is a key element in performance, and a fun and effective way to get it back is through yoga, which is increasingly popular among the high-VO2-max crowd. Helping the cause are new yoga accessories that can help loosen up any body, athletic or not.
First, a firm footing
Sun Salutations Yoga Grip Foot Gloves: Thin, tight, cotton-Lycra socks that have a separate section for the big toe and bottom surfaces covered with tiny, rubbery nonslip dots.
Likes: Safe and hygienic. Keeps you stable by preventing sweat-slick feet from slipping on a mat or hardwood yoga-studio floors, and limits contact with germs remaining from earlier classes. The mitten-like, separated-toe design makes it easy to grab your big toe, a common yoga move. Very comfortable in sandals too.
Price: $14.98. (888) 411-4747; www.yogagripgloves.com.
Yoga Props Yoga Ropes: Four wall-mounted loops of half-inch-thick rope that allow you to do extreme back and shoulder stretches.
Likes: Quickly loosens up inflexible body parts. Particularly helps cyclists unkink their hunched torsos with backbends and other exercises. To use, hold the handles formed by the tied-off ends of the rope and move though several all-body hangs and stretches illustrated in the usage guide.
Dislikes: You need a drill, a stud finder and a spare wall you don't mind drilling holes into. If you knew how to tie ropes, you could probably buy all the parts (four ropes and four big ring-head screws) at Home Depot for less than $15.
Price: $100. (888) 856-9642; www.yogaprops.net.
YogaPro Yoga Toes and Mini Massager: Gel brackets that spread your toes, plus two attached mini-vibrators that give a massage.