When I first started running on a regular basis (some 10+ years ago), I quickly noticed the tell-tell signs of being a runner - calf tightness, increased low back discomfort, and I kind of walked like an old lady after I had been sitting for awhile.
I just couldn't quite understand why I was feeling so stiff because I *was* stretching after each run. But what I didn't realize was that what I was doing was not enough. Those 1-2 minutes of quad and hip flexor stretches after a run, when I was tired and sweaty, just didn't cut it. My body needed more.
It wasn't until I got back into a solid yoga practice that I finally found some balance in my body from the increased running miles. It took a couple of months of twice weekly yoga classes before I really noticed an improvement in how my body felt on a daily basis.
Yoga taught me how to be more efficient in my movements, how to reserve energy, and how to NOT push myself when I felt that my body was not at it's best.
Wait, WHAT?!?!?!? Don't push yourself???? That seems counterproductive as athletes. But I'm telling you, getting to know how your body responds and backing off from your training is an incredible way to prevent injury and increase your ability to continue to run.
So that leads me into WHY runners (and joggers, hikers, and walkers) need yoga. So let's jump into it.
Reason #1: Improved Breath Control
Yeah, breathing is pretty dang important for running, haha. Yoga helps with breathing by asking you to stay focused to your breath during stressful and challenging times, by taking deeper and slower breaths. You become more efficient in your inhales and exhales, which leads to better oxygenation and running performance.
Reason #2: Mental Clarity
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the breath control. If you can clear your wandering thoughts (and bring them back to the breath), you can stay more aware of how your body is feeling, you become more efficient in your cadence and pace, and you stop wasting energy. In a yoga class, at times you will be asked to hold a pose for what feels like 40 breaths(it's usually only 5-10) - but this is a learning opportunity on how to settle into the uncomfortable situation, reassess your body's reaction, and make slight adjustments to improve your mental response.
Reason #3: Building Strength
I teach Yoga for Athletes. I will tell you that despite how strong or powerful a runner is, there will always be some aspect of yoga that student finds incredibly challenging. A lot of our yoga practice uses small muscle groups that aren't used in everyday life and we also ask the body to move in different ways that aren't just running related. By asking the body to be more useful, it becomes easier to run faster and further, and to stay away from injuries.
Reason #4: Injury Prevention
No one wants to be injured, hurt, or have to stop running while your heal. Yoga can help prevent and reduce that downtime by stretching accessory muscles, increasing flexibility, improving mobility, and learning when your body needs to take a break. In my yoga classes, I often talk about how to "listen to what your body is saying" and "if it hurts, stop doing it." These aren't traditional statements you hear when talking about athletes. There is a stigma about pushing past your limit. Yoga gives you the tools and permission to take things easy when your body really needs it. Read that last sentence again.
Reason #5: Balance
Yoga strengthens your physical balance (such as standing on one leg) but it also gives you mental balance. Knowing when to push vs when to back off from a pose (or a run) is so helpful if you want to run for years to come!
I encourage you to try a yoga class. It doesn't have to be a 60-90 minute class, sometimes a short class will be just as helpful. Wherever you're at in your yoga and running journey, give yourself grace. Our bodies change from day to day, from morning to night.
I would love to know of your experiences as a runner and if yoga plays a role in your training. Send me an email at email@example.com or join me for a class, the schedule is on the website.