By Tania Fréchette
I love teaching yoga for runners. As a runner, my personal yoga practice often includes poses that compliment my running such as hip openers and hamstring stretches. Yoga is a great cross-training activity for runners. Let’s explore why.
Our lifestyles often lead to poor posture and tight muscles. Most people spend a lot of time in a seated position at work, in their car, at home, or sleep with their knees bent. Sitting for long periods of time shortens, tightens and weakens our muscles mostly the knee and hip flexors, low back, chest, shoulders and upper neck. We need to stretch regularly throughout the day not just when we feel pain or experience problems. Stretching improves overall performance by creating more energy-efficient movements. Flexible joints require less energy to move through wide ranges of motion.
Along with tight muscles runners also experience micro tears and scar tissue in their muscles from repetitive motion. The tears and scar tissue may eventually cause pain, and restricted motion. Scar tissue must be dealt with before strengthening an area because it prevents a muscle from fully contracting. Yoga uses opposing movements to running to help restore, elongate, and loosen your muscles and prevent scar tissue build up.
Holding challenging poses for several breaths can be quite demanding. Remaining calm in uncomfortable or demanding poses requires will power, determination and positive thinking.
Core exercises help us gain strength, endurance as well as good posture. For example, plank pose requires us to support our own body weight and strengthens our core stabilizing muscles. On a more subtle level core work activates the third chakra, or solar plexus which is the seat of well-being, strength, commitment and will power. By working our core physically we cultivate these qualities.
Breathing exercises are an important part of yoga. Proper breathing can improve energy levels by increasing the amount of oxygen and the nutrients to all areas of the body. Conscious breathing also soothes the nervous systems and relaxes the entire body making it easier to remain calm under pressure.
The endorphins released while running can potentially mask pain and make it easier to ignore the body’s signals. Yoga quiets the mind and brings body awareness enabling us to know where we hold tension and stress and allowing us to listen and respond to the messages our body sends. When practicing asymetrical poses, when one side of the body does something different than other, we discover our imbalances. Once aware, we can work with our imbalance by strengthening and stretching our weak or tight muscles. The mindfulness we cultivate enhances our awareness when running and in other areas of our lives.
Now that you are well informed you can put your knowledge into action. Stretch a few minutes daily. You can download and print yoga sequences at www.yogaland.ca under the Resources section. If you have a mac device that supports apps you can download a Yoga for Runners app via iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/yoga-for-runners/id431296818?mt=8. The app includes a pre and post run yoga sequence as well as recipes for energy bars and smoothies from VEGA.
Have fun on the road and on your mat!