How Yoga can Help Your Running
Yoga can help your running or athletic ability. It's true! Keep reading to find out more. I have been a runner for 23 years and started practicing yoga because of the amazing flexibility that is "promised". **When I say that I mean that when most people think about yoga, the first thing the comes to mind is flexibility. While this is true, there is way more to yoga than just being flexible.
Yoga is not only a way to move the body. It's a union between the mind and body. Practicing the asanas (poses) helps bring more awareness to the body and how it moves. Concentrating on your breath allows the mind to focus and unite with the body movements. Taking the concepts learned in the physical practice into mental awareness can help bring a calm and steady state to your whole being.
So how can yoga help you if you're a runner (or athlete)?
Flexibility: Obviously practicing yoga will help increase flexibility. Which in turn helps with everyday movement as well as helping relieve tight running muscles. For working on relieving tight muscles, it's best to practice yoga after running. However, you can do vinyasa yoga for an active rest day. Or do a yin yoga session in the evening after a long or tempo run to get into the deeper tissues.
I like to do a movement based quick yoga practice (like this one) before my run. It helps to warm my body, especially on those cold winter days. By making the movements fluid rather than static (holding) it also warms up cold muscles. After a run, I will do a similar flow or stretch quickly and do a yin yoga session later in the day. But to each her own!
Range of Motion & Versatility: Yoga aids in greater range of motion and adaptability throughout the body. By working tighter areas as well as large and small muscles during a yoga practice, it opens up space. The muscles lengthen. The joints get more lubrication. The body as a whole works better to increase the range of motion.
Moving fluidly from pose to pose, the body learns to use breath to adapt to the next body position. Being versatile in your movements helps your body perform better because it doesn't get used to one or two movements (i.e. forward/backward movement of running). In yoga you move the body in all directions (spinal twisting, back bending, forward folding, etc.) resulting in fluidity.
Mind Body Connection: Most people know that yoga brings a better mind-body connection but what does that mean?
When you practice yoga, you bring awareness to your body by feeling each pose/movement. Paying attention to your breath allows you to be in the present moment. Being in the present moment allows you to notice more. It's all connected! Taking time to connect the mind (present moment) and body (movements) will make you more aware in everyday moments and movements. In the case of this post, your athletic activities.
The more you practice the more familiar you are with your own body, which can help with knowing your limits. Let's face it, runners (and most athletes) push, push, push and many times push until injury or illness. When you practice yoga on a regular basis you are more aware of how your body feels and responds to certain stresses or movements.
Greater Core Strength: Just about every asana (pose) in yoga involves core strength. If you are just running and forego strength training or cross training, your core is probably somewhat weak. When you are not actively working on the core, it doesn't get worked out.
Building a strong core helps with any kind of movement. Think about it this way. Everything in the body stems from the center (your core). Your limbs and head are attached to your core. **NOTE: The core includes the center, sides of your waist and back body. If you have a pain in your knee, it's likely because something has been thrown off in your core. Maybe you have a separated abdomen or tight upper back muscles? Those areas aren't functioning as well as they should. When something isn't working properly it snowballs from there. Build your foundation and gain strength and stability everywhere.
Mental Stamina & Endurance: Relating back to the mind-body connection but yoga teaches you to focus on breath or a mantra. This helps to refocus the mind rather than talking you out of a difficult pose. By taking your yoga off the mat and into your running you can practice the same principles and have better outcomes.
Take for example running a half marathon for the first or even the 10th time. It takes some concentration to get through 13.1 miles. Sure you can distract yourself with music but somehow your mind wants to get back to how hard this is. Using a mantra or focusing on your breath can help the challenge fall away a bit so you can focus on form or just having a good time. When you can do this, you cruise from mile to mile and before you know it, you're at 13.1 miles!
Recovery: Taking a hot yoga or vinyasa yoga class on your off days can help increase blood flow, aiding in faster recovery. Your muscles will get less stiff because you're moving and breathing.
If you've done some difficult training like speed or hill work, you might want to spend some time in the evening doing some longer held yoga poses (yin yoga). Yin yoga gets into the deeper tissues (fascia) of the body and releases pent-up energy. Allowing the body to release and recover a little more quickly.
Yoga for Running
The benefits of yoga go beyond the asana or surface thoughts. Yoga asanas (poses) move the body, connect you to your breath and calm your mind. This not only transfers to daily life but also athletic endeavors.
Hold warrior II pose (virabhadrasana II) for longer than a couple of breaths. You might notice your heart rate and breathing increases. Refocusing toward the present moment or a mantra can help calm the mind. You know the "My legs are going to collapse" type of thoughts. Those start to melt away, ultimately allowing you to hold the pose for longer.
How does this relate to running? Picture the last few yards or last mile of a race. You start to really feel the burn. Your mind tells you your body hurts and you can't push harder. However refocusing and thinking of how great it will feel when you finish or thinking of your favorite part of the race, or playing a good song while you finish it suddenly doesn't feel so hard. Refocusing from the hurt and talking yourself out of it to something enjoyable does wonders.
Yoga not only helps your body by increasing strength, flexibility and endurance it also helps reshape your mindset to tackle more challenging situations.
Disclaimer: The information on this website (Alt Yoga Vibe) is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for medical treatment. If you are experiencing any severe symptoms, please consult a healthcare practitioner.