[wp_ad_camp_1] Although yoga and running may appear to lie on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum, the two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, running and yoga make a fantastic marriage of strength and flexibility and can result in some incredible race results!
Running & Passion
Runners are driven by their passion. They think in terms of goals, training schedules, waking up early and getting out there and hearing their feet pounding the pavements. They know everything there is to know about their race, their routes, their GPS systems, their training pace, their race pace, their schedules and their competitors. They have an A race, a B race, and most of them a C race. They have short term, medium term and long term hopes and aspirations. They are the most organized of athletes with a tremendous focus on the end result.
Runners can also be the worst for not incorporating a strength and conditioning practice into their training schedules. I say this as a once guilty runner myself, until my physiotherapist gave me a reality check moment one day as I kept on being treated for a repetitive running injury race after race! As runners we tend to be so consumed by the goal, the clocking up of miles, of speed sessions at the track, of our time splits, our race pace versus training pace amongst a zillion other things! When exactly do we have time to add even more training to our schedule? And yoga? Stretching? Come on…runners are hardcore, we don’t need that, we like to break a sweat, feel the blood pumping through our veins to feel alive!
Fact: During the course of an average mile run, your foot will strike the ground 1,000 times.
The force of impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight. It's not surprising, then, to hear runners complain of bad backs and knees, tight hamstrings, and sore feet.
The pain most runners feel is not from the running itself, but from imbalances that running causes and makes far more intense. It is fair to say that most runners are guilty of not listening to their bodies. They can be so driven by their goals, that even when their body is screaming at them to slow down, stop, or take a rest they choose to continue for the simple reason that stopping now, so close to the finish line is absolutely heart breaking after months of focused and dedicated training. Running also produces huge amounts of endorphins. These wonderful “feel good” chemicals also double as nature’s painkillers, which mask pain and the onset of injury and illness.
A well-rounded yoga practice includes dynamic flexibility training, core stabilization, strengthening and balance work. Yoga not only helps you to relax tight muscles, but also calms anxious and over stressed minds. It improves our concentration, suppleness, strength and stamina while inviting awareness and understanding of our minds, bodies and actions.
Yoga is the oldest known science of self- development. And as runners we view every race, every training opportunity as an opportunity for personal self- development. We train religiously to continuously better ourselves, to grow and develop and better equip our bodies to race harder, faster and smarter.
9 Benefits of Yoga for Runners
1. Increased physical balance and stability. Yoga asana focuses on finding your body’s center of balance and stability. You may fall the first few times, but eventually with time and focus you will know how to use your body to maintain your balance. This heightened sense of body intuition will help you to fine tune your running skills and decrease your chances of sustaining injuries.
2. Correct muscle imbalances & injury prevention. If you run and don’t do anything to maintain flexibility, chances are that you will end up with a running injury sooner or later. It is crucial to your training to increase and maintain a range of motion and stretch out the muscles that get tight from running. Yoga can correct muscle imbalances created from high impact training, by aligning the joints, improving bone density and stretching and stabilizing the body to prevent pain and injury, particularly in injury prone areas such as the IT band, hips, hamstrings and knees in runners.
3. Create efficient running form. Standing yoga poses correctly align the body with a focus on improving balance, pelvic stability and leg strength for powerful and efficient form. Dynamic flow sequences develop a sense of rhythm between breath and movement, helping to build stamina and co-ordination, combining upper body and core strength with lower body flexibility.
4. Total body fitness. The muscles you use for running are strong but don’t use all of your muscles. Yoga brings more movement into your whole body, creating more movement in the hips, hamstrings, shoulder and neck. It also helps to develop your upper body to balance your already strong legs. Each yoga pose requires all of your muscles to work in tandem.
5. Increased agility & faster recovery. Many of us stretch before our runs, but practicing a few yoga poses afterwards when your muscles are warm will help to make you feel a whole lot better the next day! Yoga can help you recover faster by preventing a buildup in scar tissue. Tense muscles don’t receive blood, so use yoga after your run to keep your muscles open for movement enabling oxygen. A solid yoga practice can help you to recover faster between workouts and increase your range of motion.
6. Increased self-awareness. When you’re running you need to be in the zone: your mind needs to be focused on your body, your breathing and your goal. While running you can aim for the perfect co-ordination of body, mind and breathing. By calming your mind, you focus on your body and staying present. You concentrate on your breathe, taking one step at a time, creating a healthy sense of rhythm rather than worrying solely about the outcome of the race. This is especially useful for long distance runners.
7. Channel your energy in the right direction. Yoga allows you to become minutely aware of everything that is happening to your body. With yoga, you can learn to decipher and respond to your body’s messages. Yoga builds such a tight connection between your body and mind, and heightens your sensitivity to your body’s movements that you will intuitively come to know when to push harder, slow down or dig deeper and faster in your races.
8. Develop mental focus and concentration. Through focus, visualization and better self-understanding you can train your mind for competition and to improve confidence and focus. Yoga breath work and asana exercises can improve body awareness and confidence, focus and patience, which in turn lead to a sharper focus when racing, a more fine tuned approach to your body form and stronger race results.
9. Increase your oxygen capacity. Most of us are shallow breathers, not using the full capacity of our lungs. A regular practice with pranayama can increase our ability to breathe effectively resulting in more oxygen being supplied to our blood system. This oxygen rich blood can boost performance and endurance for runners.
Fabulous Yoga Poses for Your Running Legs
Try these poses one at a time according to what part of your body needs the most attention, or put them together into a small sequence post race or training run. Hold each pose for 5-10 breaths before moving onto the next pose. Enjoy!
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend stretches the inner thighs and hamstrings, while both strengthening and lengthening the spine. It also releases through the groin, and calms the mind and body.
Downward-Facing Dog energizes the entire body. It stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches and hands. It strengthens the arms and legs. It is also known to relieve headaches, back pain, while calming the mind and body.
Warrior 2 celebrates our unique strengths and connects us to the absolute power within our bodies, starting with our legs but reaching every single muscle and joint. This is an excellent pose to dig deep into your heart, and into your hips as you sink low to the ground. It also provides us with the chance to focus and keep a clear mind, knowing that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.
Tree pose focuses on improving our balance, while strengthening the muscles of our ankles, toes, calves, knees, thighs and the hip joints. Tree provides us with the opportunity to develop a sense of clarity, steadiness and determination.
Plank & Side Plank
Plank and side plank pose will begin to increase your upper body and core strength, while strengthening the entire length of your core and obliques.
The bridge pose is a great backbend that engages every single muscle in the body. It strengthens our lower back, hamstrings and glutes. It also opens the front of the body strongly through the chest and abdominals, while giving the spine a maximum stretch.
Plow pose is a fantastic pose for stretching through the whole length of our spine, while also stretching the shoulders. It reduces stress and fatigue and calms the mind and body.
Pigeon is one of my all time favorite hip opener yoga poses. It provides an incredibly deep and luxurious stretch through those hard to reach hip flexors on the straight leg, while working deeply with the glutes and IT band on the bent leg. It provides an all round extended stretch through the thighs, hips and groin and in an advanced practice it releases the chest and relieves shoulder tension.
Bow stretches the entire front of the body, ankles, thighs and groins, abdomen and chest, and throat, and gets deep into hip flexors. It helps to strengthen the back muscles, and improves our posture.
Half Lord of the Fishes
Half Lord of the Fishes pose helps to open the rib cage and chest, while energizing the spine as it provides a gentle spinal twist. It also stretches through the shoulders, hips, back and neck.
Celebrate the overall changes in your body as a result of your combined yoga and running schedule. Inject your new found passion, strength, flexibility, mental strength, focus and energy into your running technique and watch your racing times reduce drastically. If you're willing, yoga can change your life and give you better race results!
Caroline Layzell is a certified 500-hour yoga instructor, based on the paradise island of Nusa Lembongan, just off Bali, where she is lucky enough to be teaching yoga full time at the Yoga Shack Lembongan. When she is not doing yoga she can be found underwater diving with the beautiful manta rays in Lembongan. Diving is her moving meditation! Caroline came to yoga after a lifetime of marathon training, cross country running, triathlons and short distance races. It helped her to put her body back together after numerous injuries, and it is here that her passion for yoga began. Now she is a self-confessed yoga addict! Join Caroline on Facebook, Instagram or her website
Images via: @longrunergy