YOGA FOR RUNNERS: THE BASICS AND THE BENEFITS
This is a piece that requires an open mind. One of the really great cross-training alternatives for runners the practice of yoga. I’ve been practicing it for the past two years, and I’ve also recommended it to runners who I coach. Yoga can be highly transformative and can challenge you in new and unexpected ways. As runners, we sometimes need to break out of our one-dimensional routines in order to gain an edge, and practicing yoga can be just what we need.
There are the well-known physical benefits of yoga - increased flexibility, relaxation and an improvement in breathing - but when you really commit to understanding the practice, you find that it is much more than that. At the very core of yoga, at least in my own experience, is an emphasis on awareness and a focus on patience. Yoga teaches you how to be mindful of your position (physical), your thoughts (mental) and your inner-self (spiritual), and how to control these three very important elements to your being.
It’s understandable that, as runners, we tend to be driven by what we can do to improve our physical abilities. So what are the physical benefits of yoga? Here are a few of the ones most relative to runners:
5 Benefits of Yoga for Runners
Improves balance and stability - good running form requires good running posture, and each yoga pose recruits muscles in a way that improves the body’s ability to distribute and control weight over each leg.
Strengthens upper & lower limbs as well as your core - yoga poses and movements target both arm and leg muscles simultaneously, much like running, and almost every yoga pose has an element of core strength.
Improves breathing - good yoga classes make breathing a central element in every movement. Some yoga instructors even go as far as to say that breathing is the most important element in a yoga class. Learning proper breathing technique is fundamental to running.
Promotes mental focus & determination - if you’ve ever stood on one leg for almost a minute, then you know what kind of focus that requires. The practice of yoga is especially adept at tapping into this ability to focus, despite being in uncomfortable situations. Sound familiar?
- A form of heat acclimation (hot yoga) - Hot yoga classes are held in rooms of up to 97℉ and over time, the body gets really good at cooling itself in these conditions. Perfect training for those hot & humid summer races!!
5 Common Myths about Yoga
It’s only for women - it’s for everyone!
It’s only for inherently flexible people - yoga works to improve your individual flexibility (or lack thereof) so there is no “perfect” starting point. You start where you are!
It has no real benefit for runners - see the 5 benefits above.
It can only be done one way (i.e. the “right” way) - yoga allows you to modify every pose, so you can make it as intense or as laid back as you want. It’s a practice that rests upon continuous improvement. You control your own practice and what you get out of it. What yoga is not is a competitive sport, so leave your ego at the door.
- It has to be done in a studio - yoga can be practiced anywhere, even at the beach!
5 Basic Yoga Poses
We can learn a lot from man’s best friend about how to properly warm-up during yoga. Even they know the importance of a dynamic warm-up routine.
To illustrate how important downward-facing dog is to the practice of yoga, this one movement not only stretches the shoulders, spine and legs (especially your calf muscles and Achilles tendons), it also builds “strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the immune system, digestion and blood flow to the sinuses, and calms the mind and lifts the spirits.” Pretty powerful movement!
Once you get going, here are 5 very common poses that don’t really require supervision and can be a great way to introduce yourself to the practice:
5 Rules of Yoga Class Etiquette
Just as in the gym, yoga studios operate on a basic set of rules, and knowing these beforehand can help ease your transition and reduce any awkward moments, the last thing you need when you attend a class.
Pick a spot, but mind your limbs - you may need to allow for your arms and legs to swing wide in certain poses.
Walk carefully - try not to step on anyone’s fingers or toes, especially in classes that are better attended and mats are closer together.
Be mindful of the next person - yoga classes are sweaty! Clean up the pond around you. If you borrowed a mat, wipe it down. Studios always provide cleaners and sponges.
Lower your volume - some people may already be in their practice before class begins, so be mindful.
- Less talking - especially while class is taking place.
Rhode Island’s Favorite Yoga Spots
Rhode Runner - yep, every Saturday at 9am!!
9 Attitudes (a video)
By Jon Kabat Zinn
In keeping with the mindfulness theme, these are principles for a better life, narrated by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I won’t do this video justice if I try to describe the principles in depth. You just have to watch it and then decide what to incorporate into your own life, based on what you feel is necessary and valuable to you. These are qualities that can be cultivated in everyday life.
Beginner’s Mind - having a fresh, new perspective on things.
Non-Judging - paying attention, purposefully, without judgement.
Acceptance - accepting things the way they are, as a first step toward taking the next step.
Letting Go - avoiding being fixated and clinging to things, as a gateway to personal freedom.
Trust - cultivating an intimacy also cultivates a deep sense of trust (ex. trusting in ourselves and in our own bodies)
Patience - cultivating patience so as not to miss the present moment in a hurry to get to the next thing. When we’re rushing to get ahead, we’re never where we actually are.
Non-striving - to simply be with the unfolding of life from moment to moment, without any agenda whatsoever. The longer the to-do list, the longer the non-doing time should be.
Gratitude - never, ever taking anything for granted.
Generosity - giving other people what makes them happy is a powerful thing.
Thanks to: Lori Frederic (CSCS, CMT) for content borrowed from her article titled “Be Open To Changes” posted on January 10, 2013, and for images from the book titled "Scientific Keys Vol. II: The Key Poses of Hatha Yoga"