The Running Boom
Over the past decades, running has become a popular activity. Some people start running to gain or maintain general fitness, some start running as part of their training routine in other sports, and some are keen to compete in running events.
There are good reasons to choose running as your regular fitness routine:
It’s cheap as you can easily do it without joining a club or a gym, and the trails and footpaths are free of charge. You only need to buy a pair of good shoes and maybe some functional sportswear (shirt & pants) to get started. You don’t even need a trainer.
Unwanted side effects
However, over the time, many runners experience back pain, hip issues, tight neck & shoulders or joint problems. This usually happens because of poor posture while running. The risk of developing hunched shoulders and sore backs increases with the duration of the run as the muscles that help holding your body upright become tired. The muscles and joints have to absorb the impact every time one of your feel hits the ground (technically, you jump from one leg to the other, many, many times during a run!). Holding a water bottle, keys or your phone in one hand whilst running doesn’t help your posture either…
So, it is certainly a good idea to complement your running routine with some form of exercising that helps building core strength and improves the alignment of the musculoskeletal system.
My go-to practice for that is – guess what – YOGA! Apart from the strengthening aspect, yoga has a lot more to offer:
WHY EVERY RUNNER SHOULD DO YOGA
#1 AVAILABILITY – As running, yoga can be practised everywhere. No yoga studio, gym, weights or other equipment is needed. A yoga mat is quite helpful though, but after a run you can still practise on the lawn in a park or in your driveway. These days, you can search the internet for free “yoga for runners” videos on YouTube or go to online portals like www.doyouyoga.com. However, even if you are a more experienced yogi, you greatly benefit from attending a yoga class on a regular basis to avoid bad (postural) habits to become engrained.
#2 BETTER ALIGNMENT – Yoga leads to greater body awareness as we move through a variety of poses at a rather moderate pace. Most of the poses are held for a few breaths, which means we need to stabilise our body to keep our balance. Especially standing poses as practiced in Ashtanga, Iyengar and Hatha yoga are great for that. Better alignment takes unnecessary pressure off the joints and ligaments, makes us move more smoothly and efficiently, which means that we get less tired and exhausted. As a result, we can run longer and faster with the same effort.
#3 BETTER CORE STRENGTH – A good yoga instructor will teach you how to activate your core muscles (mainly pelvis/hips and abdomen) to make you move safely and more efficiently through the poses. The idea is to lengthen and support the spine and the pelvis in all sorts of movements. You can find this particularly in Ashtanga yoga or similar styles but also in some Hatha yoga traditions. In running, the core muscles are essential for absorbing the shock of your steps. Strong muscles keep the pressure off the actual joints, which otherwise must bear the force of the impact through their cartilage (think spinal discs!).
#4 BETTER BREATHING – Yoga includes breath work. This can be a variety of breathing exercises practiced in a seated or standing position, but we also synchronize our movements with the breath, e.g. lengthen the spine on an inhalation, then contract the core and rotate on the following exhalation. While many people have only very little breath awareness, proper breathing helps us to move better and more efficiently. Better breathing also means a better use of our lung volume, which in turn means a better supply of oxygen in our body, which – again – makes us run better! To improve your breathing, you should try Kundalini yoga which comes with a whole lot of breath work, with and without movement. Kundalini yoga is also great for improving mental endurance (see #8: mindset).
#5 FEWER INJURIES – Greater muscular strength around the joints reduces the risk of twisted ankles and knees, which is especially helpful for trail/ cross country runners. A straighter spine and greater stability in the hips help to reduce the risk of back pain and other postural issues. Better alignment makes our body move more efficiently, which means less stress on the entire musculoskeletal system (see #2 Alignment & #3 Core strength).
#6 STRONGER FEET – Yoga is a barefoot practice. This helps to strengthen the arch of the foot, which is important for cushioning our steps – the first stage of the body’s in-built shock absorbing system. Strong feet are also necessary for balance and agility. When does a runner need agility? Think of an unexpected obstacle in your way (little dogs, …), gravel on the road, uneven ground – or the sprint at the end of the race when you notice that the other runner attempts to overtake!
#7 BETTER RECOVERY – Every athlete should do some stretching to reduce the tension in muscles and soft tissues around the joints. This helps to keep the muscles flexible. Especially repetitive movements – such as running – lead to increased muscle tension in the muscles used in the activity, which means that the muscles shorten over the time. This results in postural imbalances, stiffness and inflexibility, which can cause pain and discomfort. The connective tissue around the joints is equally affected. Long deep stretches as practiced in Yin yoga help to increase blood circulation in both connective tissue and muscles, which promotes the release of tension and the healing of tiny tears in the muscle fibres. Slow paced Yin and Restorative yoga make the body slow down and put more energy into healing and recovering after intense training sessions or competitions. Proper relaxation is an essential part of a sustainable training schedule!
#8 POSITIVE MINDSET – The release of muscle tension and greater body awareness goes hand in hand with the release of mental tension. Reducing stress makes us aware of the more essential things in life. Running results and distance covered per week are not everything. Running yogis enjoy running as a natural method of moving the body. The practice of yoga also helps us cutting back the selfish ego. Although we are certainly happy about winning a race, the main goal is that we do the best we can on the day and stay positive during the race, which we can learn in practices such as Kundalini yoga.
This list could certainly be continued, but I believe it is already clear enough that yoga has many benefits for runners of all levels.
Now, how can a yogi(ni) benefit from running?
Unless you are new to yoga or practise an intense, fluent style, you won’t get your heartrate up as much as you would need to for proper cardio training, which is for strengthening your heart and improving circulation.
Personally, I prefer the slow to medium paced yoga styles as I like the challenge of balance and holding the postures for a while. Therefore, I like a nice run, potentially including some fartlek (running at different paces) or uneven ground, which stimulates and flushes all circulatory systems and promotes physical endurance.
For me, this combination is perfect. One practice complements the other, I can address upcoming or potential issues with specific exercise sets, I can practice whenever and wherever I need, and it is fairly cost efficient, even if I decided to practice at a yoga studio.
Give it a go – try it!
Are you a running yogi already and would like to share your experience? Or would you like to learn more about how to complement your running routine with yoga? We can help you choose the best combination from our timetable and give you ideas for your home practice.
Get in touch – send me a message. I would love to hear from you!
Carmen Weghaus is a mum-of-four, yoga teacher for over 10 years, and passionate about educating people towards a more holistic approach on fitness and lifestyle. Apart from teaching and practicing different styles of yoga she loves a good run along the local coast lines and participating in running events. Together with her husband she runs Inner Smile Yoga & Health, based in Altona, Australia.