As an avid runner, I have to say that in my first ever yoga class, I was the student who placed her mat in the back of the room, hoping that no one else would notice how inflexible I was! Years of running without much attention to stretching had left the muscles in my legs out of balance, without symmetry, and stiff, almost like each little fiber was tightly knotted. Needless to say, I was definitely not the "bendiest" person in class that day! But, I remember the amazing untightening of my legs that I felt after just one session of yoga. It was enough to take me back to class, particularly when my muscles started to feel as though they were knotting up again from all the miles I'd run.
Yoga truly can be the perfect compliment to running and something all runners can try. I once had a yoga teacher say, "if you can breathe, you can do yoga." Wow, everyone breathes, right? So then, does that mean everyone, including the tightest, most inflexible runner can do yoga? I kind of believe that to be true. After all, that was me not so long ago. But, through my own training, and study of yoga, I've found that with so many styles available, there truly can be a style for everyone. The hardest part, though, is coming to mat. But, once you've conquered that barrier, you're well on your way to quelling any skepticism you may have had with regard to the practice, as well as reaping its many benefits!
Here are some of the ways yoga can help runners:
1) Flexibility improvement - A consistent practice over time can help increase muscle flexibility and restore range of motion, both of which can be limited by running due to its repetitive nature. Yoga can offer a perfect recovery to a long run or speed workout as it helps to soothe the soreness out of the muscles while also relieving tension. Remember that yoga is for every body type, and best of all, you don't have to be flexible to start a practice. In fact, the stiffest of runners (like me) likely have the most to gain from practicing yoga regularly.
2) Addresses musculoskeletal imbalances - Again, running, because of its repetitive nature (ie. the one foot in front of the other for mile after mile), can cause muscle imbalances over time. What yoga can then do is help restore balance and symmetry. Yoga allows us to work on strength and balance of each side of the body independently. Through our practice, we work first one side and then the other. As we rotate between sides, we are able to notice differences between each. This allows us to focus attention on improving our strength or balance where needed.
3) Improving strength - During our yoga practice, we use our own body for resistance, working against gravity to gradually improve our strength over time. A lot of our work focuses on improving our core strength, which ultimately improves our posture. Having a strong core lowers our risk of injury.
4) Improving our energy levels - As we run, we typically only use the top portion of our lungs breathing in quick, shallow breaths as we inhale and exhale. Our yoga practice, however, allows us to use the entire lung, not just the top portion. This slow intentional breath, practiced over time can lead to increased lung capacity, endurance, and performance. This conscious breathing performed during yoga increases oxygen circulation throughout our bodies, thus leading to increased overall energy levels.
Now that you're armed with some great benefits of yoga for runners, maybe consider giving it a try yourself! I recommend finding a vinyasa flow class in your local gym, community center, park, or yoga studio. Sign up for a class and see what you think. Remember, there are many different types of yoga and each teacher has his/her own style. Find one that resonates with you. You may have to try a few different classes at different venues before you find the right one for you. But, once you find it, you'll know, and you'll be hooked! Best of luck to you as you discover the amazing benefits of yoga for runners.
Namaste and Happy Trails!! : )