By Carrie DuShey, 2019 Santa Clarita Marathon Ambassador
Yoga is a fantastic complimentary activity for runners, offering benefits for both the body and mind. Yoga practice helps runners develop muscular strength, flexibility, and balance, which helps reduce the risk of injury as well as improving mental focus and breathing efficiency for running. Running is also a great compliment for yoga enthusiasts because it can help increase cardiovascular fitness.
Yoga strengthens the key muscles used in running including the core, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors, which will help runners to stay injury free. Runners need muscular strength to perform exercise but also the flexibility to move with ease and efficiency. Yoga poses held for long periods of time create elasticity and loosen up the muscles, joints, ligaments and connective tissues that will ultimately help runners run with more ease. Increased flexibility also helps runners reduce the risk of injuries. The foundation for efficient movement in running is proper posture. Yoga teaches people to elongate the spine without adding any tension. Alignment is key in yoga, and as the practitioner learns to stand taller and stronger without tension they can transfer this practice to their running technique.
Breathing is one of the most important parts of yoga, as the breath nourishes and guides the asana practice. Through conscious breathing the practitioner is more aware of sensations in the body, learning that slower breathing is more relaxing and faster breathing is more energizing. When running either in sprinting or long distance runners can breath to bring about a more relaxed mental state or feel more alert and focused. Also, breath work will increase oxygen intake and can help reduce performance anxiety. Yoga helps people manage stress and control emotions, which is very useful in moments of discomfort. Learning to work through intense poses on the mat is similar to enduring a long or difficult run. Additionally, relaxation and meditation techniques in yoga help clear the mind of worry, encouraging a better nights sleep to allow for a clear mindset prior to and during a big event, run, or race.
Yoga is also the perfect recovery activity for runners. relieves soreness and tension in your hardworking muscles. A post-run yoga practice restores range of motion, so you can run better the next time you hit the road, track, or trail.
Yoga also helps you poop! Twisting poses, inversions, and forward folds massage your digestive organs, increase blood flow and oxygen delivery, aid the process of peristalsis, and encourage stools to move through your system. As runners, being able to poop prior to a run or race is very important. Doing certain yoga poses first thing in the morning, prior to leaving for a race, can help you avoid that emergency porta potty experience. And practicing yoga on a regular basis can result in regular, healthy bowel movements.
A Few Suggested Poses:
Stretches hamstrings, calves, and foot arches; strengthens shoulders
Low Lunge/Lizard Lunge
Stretches hip flexors; strengthens hamstrings and quads
Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine
Bound Angle Pose/Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Stretches the inner thighs, groins, and knees
Reclining hand to big toe
Stretches hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins, and calves
Releases tension and tightness in the hips
Reclining Cow face
Improves range of motion in the hips; loosens tight glutes and hamstrings
Reclining Spinal Twist
Relaxes the lower back and stretches the glutes
Legs Up the Wall
Relieves tension in legs, feet, and back; stretches hamstrings and glutes
Downward Facing Dog
Standing forward fold
Wind removing pose
Reclining spinal twist
The Yoga Journal website (https://www.yogajournal.com/) is a wonderful resource for explanations of how to get into the poses listed above, as well as other poses and sequences, pictures, videos, and other interesting information.