Tight hamstring, sore back, achy feet? Over the course of a 10 km run, our feet strike the ground more than 10 thousand times. It’s no wonder that most of us runners are familiar with muscle tightness, sore joints and other niggling aches and pains. Shortened muscles, strength imbalances and the threat of injury are an accepted way of life. While running and yoga may seem like opposites in the spectrum of athletic activity, they are highly complementary. Adding yoga to your running routine can reap many benefits from balancing the body to increasing range of motion and expanding mindful awareness during runs. Here are three ways yoga can improve your running and poses to try out this week!
1) Yoga strengthens particular muscle groups that may get neglected when we run. Running puts repetitive demands on our quads, hip flexors and hamstrings. Without opposing movement, muscular imbalances can arise, and underused muscles may become weak. As your body compensates for these deficits, your risk of injury increases. Yoga is a total body, multi-dimensional workout that enlists muscle groups ignored in sagittal plane activities. Furthermore, yoga strengthens the body’s core muscles such as the glutes, abdominal muscles, and postural muscles of the back. Building a killer core stabilizes the skeletal system and helps us keep our form during long training runs and races.
2. Yoga Improves flexibility and range of motion. Yoga helps elongate and release muscles. As we pound the road, our muscles act as shock absorbers. If they are not pliable, the body’s joints and tissues may be vulnerable to strains and tears. In yoga, joints are taken through their full range of motion as the corresponding muscles contract and stretch to support the movement. Improving mobility and flexibility ensures we can fulfil the running gait cycle, maintaining efficiency and avoiding injury.
3) Yoga teaches us how to breathe in a purposeful way, expanding breath capacity and focusing the mind. Pranayama, or yogic breathing, is a diaphragmatic breathing technique that involves slow, deep inhalations and long exhalations and uses the upper, middle and lower portions of the lungs. With practice, this style of breathing helps us extend our breath for longer durations, allowing for improved endurance due to the greater amount of oxygen. Body, mind, and breath integrate as the heart rate slows, and we become mindful of the present moment. This form of body integration and mindfulness teaches us how to listen and respond to our bodies’ messages. We learn to be present in our bodies, notice details such as body positioning and core engagement and intuit our need for rest and recovery. Being acutely aware of our breathing also helps us focus mindfully during a run rather than zone out. Mindful awareness can enhance the running experience so we can be present with the outdoors, enjoy the rhythmic drumming of our feet and experience the empowering joy of inhabiting and using our capable, resilient bodies.
Three Poses to Try Today
1. Bridge Pose:
Lying on your back, place your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart and a comfortable distance away from the sitz bones. Place your arms at your sides, extending toward your feet. Press the back of your shoulders and your feet into the floor and lift your hips up toward the sky.
Press the inner feet down actively and keep the knees from spreading out wide by engaging the inner thighs. If comfortable, walk your arms under your shoulder blades, clasp your hands and continue to extend your hands toward your feet. Slide your shoulder blades down your back and keep your neck neutral. To come out of the pose, release the arms and lower your hips.
2. Triangle Pose:
From a standing position step back with the left leg 3-4 feet and pivot your back foot so that the arch intercepts the heel of your front foot. Extend your arms to your side in one long extension, with your palms facing the floor. Reach equally through both hands. Look out over your right arm. Press into your feet, pull up the knee caps, keeping the legs strong. Reach out over the front plane of your leg, windmill your arms down so that your right hand comes to your front shin, a yoga block or the floor. Bring the arms into one straight line with the shoulders stacked on top of each other. Press the left hip forward and the right hip back. Lift slightly upward out of the right hip so as not to collapse here. To release inhale and reach the raised hand up towards the ceiling as you slightly bend the knees and press down into the feet using the whole body to lift back into standing. Repeat on the other side.
3. Reclining Spinal Twist:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet comfortably on the floor. Press into your feet to lift your hips slightly off the floor and shift them about an inch to your right. This is an important step because it sets your hips up to stack on top of one another when you move into the twist. Draw your right knee into your chest and extend your left leg flat on the floor. Cross your right knee over your midline to the floor on the left side of your body. Your right hip is now stacked on top of your left hip. Open your right arm to the right, keeping it in line with your shoulders. Rest your left hand on your right knee or extend it to make a T shape with the arms. Turn your head to the right, bringing your gaze over your shoulder to your right fingertips. Repeat on the opposite side.