"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.
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.
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.
Price: $49.95 (YogaToes) and $24.95 (Mini Massager). (800) 488-8414; www.yogapro.com.
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.
Price: $15.95. (800) 473-4888; www.huggermugger.com.
Roy Wallack is the author of "Run for Life: The Anti-Aging, Anti-Injury, Super-Fitness Plan to Keep You Running to 100." firstname.lastname@example.org.