About three years ago, my former co-worker Cheryl talked me into going to yoga with her. Since I hate to exercise and stretch and I am the least flexible person I know, I knew that yoga would be good for me.
But I had tried it before and never enjoyed it. Either the class was too slow (and I was bored) or it was too advanced (and I couldn’t follow along).
Thanks to Cheryl, at Heartspace, I found the perfect instructor in Lisa. She allows you to do things at your own level and she is very encouraging to everyone. Just love her.
For awhile I went to yoga class with Lisa faithfully every Wednesday after work. Sometimes with Cheryl, mostly by myself.
If the weather cooperated, I would run 2-3 miles before yoga.
Then I broke my ankle and couldn’t go for at least 6 months. I started back and had a stress fracture in my foot. When that healed, I re-started my weekly yoga with Lisa.
A Women’s Health magazine article by Nicole Kwan took five common running goals and asked the experts to devise yoga routines to help you run longer, stronger, and faster. (These are really good suggestions and moves that I have done in my yoga classes.)
1. YOU WANT: Total-body fitness (not just strong legs)
YOU NEED: Upper-body strength
The repetitive motions of running can lead to a lot of tightness in the neck, shoulders, hamstrings, and hips. “Yoga brings more movement into your body, much more movement in the hips, and a more relaxed face and shoulders [than running does],” says Barbara Ruzansky, owner of West Hartford Yoga in West Hartford, Connecticut. Yoga will also help develop your upper body to balance your already-strong legs. Try the following pose to give your legs a break and build arm strength. If anyone asks, you’re practicing a stealth spy move.
TRY THIS: Side plank pose (vasisthasana) This beginner version will help develop upper-body strength and awareness while also working the abs, says Sandy Blaine, codirector of the Alameda Yoga Station in Alameda, California. Start in plank pose. With palms flat, push yourself away from the floor. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and engage your abs. Then turn the left side of your body up toward the ceiling, bringing your left hand to rest on your left hip so your right hand supports you. Bend your left leg, placing your left foot flat on the floor in front of your right knee. Push your hips and right leg up away from the floor, trying not to sink. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Then switch sides. A strength move like this is best done 2 to 3 times a week to see improvement.
2. YOU WANT: Pain-free running
YOU NEED: Increased strength and flexibility
Yoga will eliminate the tightness that leads to pain by opening up your joints. But remember, safety first. “The tighter people are, the safer they need to be; especially with runners, who tend to be goal-oriented,” says Christine Felstead, owner of Yoga for Runners in Toronto. “The muscles you use for running are strong but [running] doesn’t use all your muscles. A yoga pose requires all the muscles work in tandem.”
TRY THIS: Cross-legged seated position (sukhasana)
Try sitting quietly in this pose to wind down after a run. “Sitting cross-legged is the simplest way to start opening up hips and increasing the lateral (outward) rotation of your hip joint,” Felstead says. Check to see if your hips are higher than your knees when you sit. If they’re not, sit on a rolled-up towel, folded blanket, block, or phone book. After a while you may feel fatigue in your spine but engaging your abs will add some core work while you stretch the arches of your feet, ankles, knees, and quads. Sit for as long as you feel relaxed and be sure to switch the foot that’s in front every few minutes. You might stay there for only 3 minutes to start but you’ll be able to sit longer over time, Felstead says.
3. YOU WANT: Injury prevention
YOU NEED: Perfect posture
“If you run and don’t do anything to maintain flexibility, chances are almost 100 percent that you’ll end up with a running injury sooner or later,” says Beryl Bender Birch, owner and director of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute in East Hampton, New York. “It’s just critical to maintain a range of motion and stretch out the muscles that get tight from running.” Besides keeping you off the bench, that extra flexibility and movement comes in handy other places too (think: the bedroom). So stand up—you’ll look taller too.
TRY THIS: Mountain pose (tadasana)
This simple but challenging stance will create better awareness of your body and improve your posture. Stand against a wall to find your postural alignment. This means you have to properly line up your body to the wall, which is harder than it seems. Bring your heels to the wall and tuck your chin slightly under. You’ll have two pockets of space at lower back and neck where your body does not touch the wall. Stretch your body gently upwards; you should feel taller. Then step away and try to maintain your posture. By stretching your spine from your tailbone through the crown of your head you can lengthen your body, ward off shoulder pain, and keep your joints healthy. Apply this posture when you’re waiting to cross the street, to pay in the checkout line, or anytime you find yourself slouching (like now). Straighten up!
4. YOU WANT: Agility
YOU NEED: Correct stretching
You stretch before you run, but practicing a few yoga poses afterward when your muscles are warm will make you feel a whole lot better the next day. “Think of yoga like a clay pot, if you just try to bend it, it will break. If you add warmth, you can bend into anything. When it relaxes and cools off it stays in shape,” says Mark Blanchard, founder of Mark Blanchard’s Power Yoga Centers. You actually strengthen muscles by making them soft. “The definition of health in a muscle is not hardness. Even though a muscle may feel hard it’s actually weak,” says Jean Couch, owner and director of The Balance Center in Palo Alto, California. Tense muscles don’t receive blood, so use yoga after you run to keep your muscles open for movement-enabling oxygen.
TRY THIS: Legs-up-the-wall pose (viparita karani), variation
Lie down with your right foot through a doorway and left leg up against the wall. Extend your legs without locking your knees. Hold for 5 to 10 full breaths for a good hamstring stretch, says Sandra Safadirazieli, instructor at the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California. As you loosen up, bring your upper body closer and closer to the door until you can put a strap around your foot for a stronger stretch. If you don’t have a strap, use a belt or sturdy scarf. The ultimate goal is to hold onto the big toe with your second and third fingers, but work your way up slowly.
5. YOU WANT: Faster recovery
YOU NEED: Consistent yoga practice
Yoga can help you recover faster by preventing a buildup in scar tissue. “Yoga uses the elastics of the body and breathing to move oxygen, which moves scar tissue so it doesn’t coagulate and settle in one spot,” says Blanchard. He recommends alternating days of running and yoga but practicing sun salutations every day. The flow makes for a good pre-run warmup to energize and focus your mind and body. But don’t cheat—it’s not a substitute for a full yoga sequence. Take 15 to 20 minutes for sun salutations pre-run, working at your own pace and following your breath
Check out this post and YouTube videos on Yoga for Runners…. http://deniseisrundmt.com/2009/09/03/namaste-for-national-yoga-month/
How has yoga helped me in the past?
- I don’t stretch after running. Yoga for me was an excellent cool down. (especially since I would always run before the yoga class.)
- Even after months of physical therapy, my screwed together ankle was still stiff. Yoga has helped a lot (though it still is not as flexible as the other ankle.)
- I have very tight hip flexors. Some of the poses such as this one really felt good:
- In yoga, we practiced diaphragmatic breathing or “belly” breathing (your belly—not your chest—rises and falls as you inhale and exhale). Diaphragmatic breathing allows for deeper, fuller breaths and better oxygen delivery so this type of breathing is supposed to help you during running (it is easy to do when lying down but hard when running).
- I also have to be careful about my achilles having had a strain before. Many of the yoga poses such as this really stretch out your achilles and hamstrings:
- I also liked poses that help strengthen your knees like this one:
- Most importantly, it was very relaxing. No worries about time, distance, pace…
- I have heard that it is also a good warm-up before running (my pre-run routine is throw on clothes and run out the door…)
Of course, injuries again got in the way and I stopped yoga. Then I re-started and just when I was in the groove, Lisa went out on maternity leave.
I hesitated going to yoga while Lisa was away. I didn’t want to try a new instructor. Then even though Lisa had returned, I still made excuses not to go. I would put it on my calendar and then cross it off.
LAST WEDNESDAY, I WENT TO YOGA!!
It was great. I’m still not flexible and have a hard time with balance but I felt so good afterward. In my class for the first time was a lady with whom I play tennis. After the class, she said to me: “See you next week!” and I said “Definitely!”
That being said, I’ll leave you with my favorite yoga pose:
Happy Running! Do you do yoga? If you do, has it helped your running?