Yoga is the perfect complement to running. Muscle tightness and structural variations in the body can lead to obstacles when exercising. Practicing yoga will help to address the muscle tightness and bring alignment to your body. How can yoga help? Read below.
Strength and balance
Many times an injury or chronic pain while running is caused by an imbalance in your body. One quad is stronger than the other. Legs are strong while core is weak. You have more flexibility in one ankle. Your knee hurts and so you start to shift your weight unevenly. Running has forward movement along one plane using mostly the muscles in the lower body while yoga moves in all directions involving muscles in many parts of the body. Yoga helps to bring your body into balance, alignment and symmetry. In yoga, you strengthen your muscles while creating stability.
Running tightens and shortens the muscles and is high impact. Yoga is all about elongating the muscles and softening the hard parts while being low impact. In yoga, you also continuously work toward increasing your range of motion.
Body, mind and breath
Both running and yoga require integration of body, mind and breath. The breathing pattern in running involves quick, shallow inhalations and exhalations. Yogic breathing focuses on slow, deep inhalations and long exhalations using all parts of the lungs. Practicing this type of breathing will lead to greater lung capacity. More oxygen to the lungs means more oxygen going out to the cells in your body and removal of carbon dioxide and toxins. Employ these same principles while running and you will find that your mind will be at ease which will in turn, help you relax, releasing tension, tightness and stress from your body.
Practicing relaxing, restorative poses can help runners recover faster after long races and hard workouts. It will also help prevent the soreness caused by the buildup of lactic acid. Yoga is great for releasing toxins from the body.
So, what type of yoga should you do to complement running? For the amount of running that we do, I believe that we are getting a good amount of cardiovascular exercise and so yoga for runners should be more about stretching and restoring. I love Hatha and Restorative yoga for these reasons. Hatha is great because you are holding postures for a set amount of time. You are contracting muscles for a set period of time and it is strengthening the muscles along with connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). Restorative is my favorite! You can use props to stretch muscles out a little more than what your body weight would do and it is especially helpful in building strength and stability in your body.
Now, let’s get into some postures. Each posture below should be held for at least 5 full breaths. In yoga, we focus on a 6 second inhale and a 6 second exhale so 5 breaths should take one minute. Breathe in and out through the nose. Use active movements in these postures. What I mean by that is that you will use the muscle strength to move you deeper into the posture rather than using a hand to pull something closer/push something out. Also focus on using the muscles to move you rather than momentum. These are some of my favorites.
Sitting on your mat, bring the bottoms of your feet together. Place your hands around your feet and sit tall without the back rounding. Actively try to bring your knees closer to the floor. For deeper stretching, lean forward while keeping the spine long.
Come up onto your knees, crossing the right leg over the left—knees are tight together. With the ankles out wide, sit down between them making sure your sitting bones are on the floor. Interlace your fingers through the toes. Spine stays long. For a deeper stretch, flex your feet, squeeze your legs together and keeping the spine long, start to lean forward. Repeat on the other side.
Intense Leg Stretch
Sitting flat on the mat with the legs stretched out in front of you, bend your knees and then adjust so that the fleshy part of the glutes are out from under you. Sandwich your chest against your knees, grab the big toes with your peace fingers and with the spine long, start to lengthen the legs forward.
Hero Pose/Reclining Hero Pose
Come into a kneeling position with the knees at hip width. Bring the heels wider than the hips and start to lower your hips down between the heels. If this feels ok then bring your elbows down to the floor and start to walk your elbows forward until your shoulders reach the floor. Raise your arms over your head and grab opposite elbows. An advancement in this posture is to bring the knees closer together.
Come onto all fours, squaring the body off with the wrists below the shoulders and the knees directly below the hips. Bring the right knee forward to the right wrist and slide the right heel over in front of the left thigh. Slide the left leg back until the hip is over top of the heel. Bring the elbows down to the floor, lengthen your arms forward and then place your forehead on the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Come into a kneeling position with the knees and feet together. Lower the hips down to the knees. Fold at the hips and bring the forehead to the mat. Bring the hands back beside the hips and start to bring the shoulders closer to the floor, opening up the upper back.
Separate Leg Forehead to Floor
Step the feet apart wide. Feet are parallel to each other so heels out and toes slightly in. Bring the arms out wide parallel to the floor. Lengthen through the spine and fold forward at the hips. Bend your knees and grab the feet from the outside bringing all fingers underneath the feet. Pull the elbows in close to the shins, start to straighten the legs and lift the hips. Spine should be long and neck is in line with the spine. Bring the weight forward to the front of the feet for a deeper stretch. You can also engage the quads to allow the hamstrings to lengthen even more.
Separate the feet hip width distance. Fold forward at the hips. Once you are down as far as you can go with straight legs, grasp each elbow with the opposite hands. Allow your head to hang.
Step the left foot back and place it at a 45 degree angle. Right foot points forward. Legs are straight. Reach your arms behind you and grab opposite elbows. Keeping the spine long and the legs straight, start to pivot forward at the hips. Stop pivoting if you feel the spine start to round. Neck is an extension of the spine. Repeat on the other side.
Lie down on your back with the heels together and the toes flaring out. Arms are at the sides of the body with the palms up. Chin is tucked slightly so that the neck is long. Close your eyes. The only part of your body that is moving is your belly rising and falling with your breath.
I challenge you to incorporate a little bit of yoga into each day. You can do it anywhere. Stuck on a phone call at work? Close your office door and break out your mat. Watching TV at the end of a long day? If you aren’t using your foam roller, do a few of these poses. Before you head out to lunch, take 15 minutes to complete the poses listed above. Here is a great website that you can use to get in tune with your breath while you practice: http://doasone.org/.
Enjoy and Namaste!