Yoga and running. These two forms of physical activity couldn’t be any further from one another on the exercise spectrum, but together they can help any runner reach new personal bests through breath and stretching that strengthen the whole body. By introducing yoga into your training, I can guarantee that you will offset the effects of running’s one- dimensional nature AND as an added bonus you and running will live happily ever after.
As a yoga instructor I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the following excuse reason why one does not have a yoga practice “I’m not flexible enough”. To anyone who says this I say “Ah, heck to the no”. Yoga is not just for people who can wrap their leg around their head, it is about the journey towards touching your toes (or wrapping your leg around your head – if that’s what you’re in to) and allowing your breath to carry you from one position to the next. As runners, we often forget about the breathing part, especially when faced with those pesky things called hills. Instead of focusing on our breathing, we often hold our breath till we reach the top. Let me ask you a question, when you do that, how do you feel once you reach the top? Tired, heart racing, and maybe like you can’t go on? Whatever you are feeling, I am sure that it falls into the negative category. With something as simple as proper breathing, you will find that you can calmly run one kilometre to the next – including hills, with ease.
As runners, we experience a ton of pounding, tightening and shortening of the muscles and not enough restorative, elongating and loosening work. The body starts to compensate to avoid injury by working around any instability, which means our body compensates by putting stress on muscles, joints and the entire skeletal system. If you’re off balance, every step you take forces the muscles to work harder. Tight muscles get tighter and weak muscles don’t have a chance to strengthen, and this is when you end up spending more time in recovery than in training.
Runners can use yoga to develop strength, increase range of motion, and train the body and mind. You learn how to coordinate your breath with each subtle movement. The result is that your body, mind, and breath are integrated in all actions. Through consistent yoga conditioning you can engage, strengthen and correct muscle imbalances which will improve posture and help with recovery. Mental focus is also extremely important for us distance runners and yoga has a meditative component that can help keep you calm and focused through any training run and/or race.
From personal experience, I can vouch that if you only run during training for a race, you are not giving yourself your best chance on race day. When I last ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon back in 2008, all I did was concentrate on adding miles and speed (putting my regular yoga practice on hold), and wouldn’t you know it, that failed me. At the 24km mark, I developed tremendous IT band pain and spent the rest of the race in agonizing pain. Since adding regular yoga classes (in addition to teaching) into my training routine I have become a new runner. I am more in tune with my body; I spend more time training and less time resting/recovering. I am stronger, and on race day I am not only physically ready, I am mentally ready.
Still think that the benefits to yoga for runners are overstated? How does this grab you; with a straighter spine, a stronger core and better focus — you’ll find that you will become a more efficient runner.
Check out Get Fit in the City where I take you through a short yoga flow you can do at home. You can also join me on Sunday, July 7th at Chopra Yoga Centre, for a special Yoga for Runners Workshop, click on events and then scroll to the bottom.
**until then you can look for my name on the schedule (Lisa Davidson) and drop in for one of my other classes**
See you on the mat/pavement.
Photo Credit: Eva Redpath BCBD Retreat, Cabo San Lucas 2013