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Yoga gear helps loosen up stiff bodies

"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.

Sun Salutations, Inc.

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.

Dislikes: None

Price: $14.98. (888) 411-4747;

Yoga Props

Hang time

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;


Good vibrations

YogaPro Yoga Toes and Mini Massager: Gel brackets that spread your toes, plus two attached mini-vibrators that give a massage.

Likes: Effective and soothing. Spreading out toes that have been smushed together by shoes feels great; some say it enhances balance and circulation, strengthens foot muscles, and aids athletic performance. The tiny (2 1/4 - by- 5/8 -inch) massagers, clipped to the bracket, provide a luxurious buzz.

Dislikes: None

Price: $49.95 (YogaToes) and $24.95 (Mini Massager). (800) 488-8414;

Hugger Mugger

Support system

Hugger Mugger Cork Block: A 9- by 5 1/2 - by- 3 1/2 -inch block made of cork. Blocks are used as support for difficult movements and poses, such as sitting for a prolonged period on the haunches.

Likes: Stays drier than typical foam blocks.

Dislikes: None

Price: $15.95. (800) 473-4888;

Roy Wallack is the author of "Run for Life: The Anti-Aging, Anti-Injury, Super-Fitness Plan to Keep You Running to 100."

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