As both a long-distance runner and a yoga teacher/student, I understand the benefits that can be gained from both pounding the pavement and being on your mat and the affinities between the two disciplines seem never-ending to me even though there are a multitude of differences between a yogi and a marathoner.
In my experience, getting a serious yoga student into running shoes happens with much less of a struggle than trying to convince the serious endurance runner to get on a yoga mat. It is my hope that this article on the benefits of yoga for runners may convince you to at least try a few classes, and see if, through the practice, you can imagine becoming a faster, more efficient, and less injured runner. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?
But I’m a runner…
Focus on what you hope to get out of a yoga class – it is not to turn you into a yogi but for you to integrate yoga to be a stronger runner. Don’t be worried that you’re not flexible enough – putting your foot behind your head has no relevance to your sport or your success in it so that won’t be your goal or outcome and that’s okay! As you develop more body awareness and intuition about your body’s messages, make sure that you focus on making it your practice and ask for modifications in postures if they don’t feel good in your body. It is not a weakness to ask, everyone has their areas they need to work on. What a runner may lack in range of motion, usually makes up for in strength and endurance on the mat. That’s why it is called a yoga practice.
Suggested Read: Runners and Yogaphobia
Isn’t yoga “just stretching”?
While yoga will absolutely help in the area of range of motion, yoga also focuses on strength and balance. Doing the physical postures (asanas) with intelligent sequencing will open the body gradually, releasing muscular tightness and increasing joint movement. This is important to ensure there is enough suppleness in the joints and muscles to avoid loss of natural shock absorption and increase stress on the joints. But the great thing about yoga is that in addition to releasing tight muscles, it also builds strength in the body –addressing weak areas and muscular imbalances created by the repetitive running motion, awakening deep stabilizers that will improve performance when fatigue takes during long runs, and toning muscles not primarily used in running (upper body, spine, core) when they should play a role to make us more efficient runners.
Making breath a tool in your running tool-belt
The coordination of breath and movement will help to increase the range of motion through softening of the resistance in the fibers of the muscles. The breath will encourage muscles, connective tissue and joints to release and help establish unison of mind and body and at the same time you’re strengthening and expanding the muscles that help you breathe, leading to a more optimal oxygen intake for running.
Just chill out
While yoga is generally challenging for runners, it does eventually become relaxing and meditative. This aspect of the practice is one that is very beneficial for long distance runners but is often overlooked. Through guided meditation and controlled breath work, the yoga practice gives an opportunity to work on gaining mental discipline, goal visualisation, and calming the mind through physically challenging moments, which will be beneficial on performance, as the body learns to stay relaxed, therefore being more effective at conserving energy.
If you think you might be even the slightest bit curious in trying yoga, do it. I’m certain that in most running groups, there are yoga-for-runners-converts who can recommend a good teacher or studio to try and sometimes, that’s just what’s needed to get out there. Bringing mindfulness to each stride, making you stronger and at less risk of injury? That’s got to be reason enough to at least say you’ve tried it.
About the Author: Alice Toyonaga is a yoga teacher, runner and bureaucrat. She is best described by her friends as a goal-setter with seemingly limitless endurance and a gift for multi-tasking. Convinced she sleeps in plank, her friends also know that in order to see her socially, they either have to join one of the many run clubs she is a part of or attend her challenging yet grounding yoga classes.