Namaste: Finding My Runner Zen

Ginkgo

Ginkgo

Meggie has written 68 posts on Salty Running.

Non-profit event planner, self-help author, newlywed and mommy-to-be who tends to be quite the klutz. Weimaraner-loving long distance runner with a passion for dark chocolate & good red wine.

yoga

 (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

I’ll admit it. I used to be one of those people. I was a skeptic of the whole downward dog-loving, lululemon-addicted, tree-hugging yogis that wandered around with their expensive yoga mats and were actually “smiling” without a drip of sweat after their “work-out”. Yes, I thought yoga was for wimps; for people who didn’t like to sweat; for flexible thirty-somethings who found a source of relaxation in the whole Vinyasa routine.  I was a runner, after all. I liked to pound that pavement, test my heart to the max and get those endorphines flowing. Then, I gave yoga a try.

And I loved it. And I felt like a judgmental hippocrite. Woops.

I’ll also admit it: I was petrified of giving it a try. I danced for 18 years growing up, did gymnastics and cheerleading, but once I got to college and beyond, my hobbies gravitated strictly to running. I also tend to ditch the pre- and post-run stretching routines now that I run mainly on my own and cram it into whatever little time I have (let’s put it this way, I’d rather be able to run an extra mile than touch my toes and stretch out those hamstrings. Not that I’m endorsing that or anything). Also, yoga was so quiet and serious. What if, God forbid, I was bloated and let something slip? What if I got the giggles and started laughing uncontrollably during the final resting pose, the Savasana. I’d never forgive myself! Oh, the embarrassment.

So when I first got talked into giving yoga a whirl, I was scared I’d be judged by the other flexible, strong and perfect yogis! People would laugh as I did all the modified “easy” poses and struggled to balance on my own two feet. I had NO idea what the heck a child’s pose was, a vin – what?, an inverted triangle? FOREIGN LANGUAGE, people. I highly recommend tagging along with a friend the first time you give it a try. It made it way less intimidating for me, and I knew I could laugh with my friend Becky if I fell over or did anything embarrassing.

I’ve dabbled in yoga for years since that first time but more recently, thanks to Rosemary, my sister and I have gotten into a weekly routine and attend sunset yoga every Thursday evening throughout the summer. Being outside makes for an even more relaxing atmosphere, where you’re literally one with the Earth and I’ve learned, seriously,  no one is judging. Yoga is the one place where I’ve found comparisons really don’t matter. You’re not trying to win a race or a game. You are trying to stretch out your body and feel GOOD. And let me tell you, there ain’t nothing wrong with that!

Tree Pose: helpful for balance and inner concentration.

Tree Pose: helpful for balance and inner concentration.

Chair Pose. This helps strengthen my quads and again helps with balance when I do the modified "on the toes" version.

Chair Pose. This helps strengthen my quads and again helps with balance when I do the modified “on the toes” version.

Downward Dog with extended leg and hip flexor stretch. It might look a little weird, but gosh it feels so good.

Downward Dog with extended leg and hip flexor stretch. It might look a little weird, but there’s no judging.

 

Before I delved into the whole yoga thing, I wasn’t sure if it would negatively affect my running. I had worried that I could pull something or twist an ankle, or fall on my head. To be sidelined from running for something other than a running injury (like poor Mint) would just be too much. But, after a little research, I’ve found that yoga is actually the perfect complement to long-distance running. Kind of like peanut butter and jelly. Or coffee and biscotti. Or cheese and broccoli. (Sorry, I must be hungry.)

Let’s face it: a typical runner experiences  pounding, tightening, and shortening of the muscles. For example, a one -mile run takes typically 1,000 steps to complete. You can do the math, but a 20-miler is certainly going to be a whole lotta steps and taxing on one’s body.  This is where restorative, elongating, and loosening work comes into play. Insert yoga. Without opposing movements (like stretching/yoga, in addition to the running), the body will compensate to avoid injury, and this compensation puts stress on muscles, joints, and the skeletal system.

Muscle rigidity can occur when runners become enclosed in a cycle of “sport specific” actions. Training runs and repeat miles over and over again, day after day, with focus on external technique.  This repetitive sports training or any specific fitness conditioning may actually result in a structurally out of shape and excessively tight body. Basically, it’s good to mix it up a little, according to an insightful article by yoga teacher and personal trainer, Baron Baptiste.

Yoga’s internal focus centers your attention on your own body for a hot minute rather than on an external outcome, which is a really great thing! Running  is a mental sport and yoga is too. Runners can use yoga to balance strength, increase  range of motion, and train the body and mind. Breathing exercises are key to yoga practice and such focus on the breath has helped me incorporate better practices in my long runs. After my Thursday yoga, I feel a sense of calmness; a sense of mind, body and spirit all centered into one. And, no, I’m not a total hippie now (okay, maybe a little bit). Through consistent and systematic Asana conditioning (more on that in a second), you can engage, strengthen, and place demands on all of your intrinsic muscle groups, which support and stabilize the external skeletal system, so important to running. And, according to Baptiste, this can offset the effects of the runner’s one-dimensional workouts.

Yoga comes in many shapes and forms. I prefer Vinyasa yoga. I’m not sure about Bikram. Seems hardcore.

After overcoming my initial skepticism and fear of embarrassment, I think yoga is going to be part of my running routine for life!

Do you practice yoga? Would you give it a shot if you knew it would benefit your running?

3 Responses to “Namaste: Finding My Runner Zen”

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  1. Rebecca says:

    I am with you – I think yoga goes extremely well with distance running! I started practicing regularly two years ago while sidelined with a running injury. I was extremely intimidated, thinking I wasn’t flexible or coordinated enough to do it, but was encouraged to try it by my massage therapist. As she said, everyone is so focused on working out their own issues during class, no one notices what anyone else is doing! Now I go to class at least once a week (I like vinyasa best too), but usually incorporate at least a few poses into my pre- and post-run routines as an effective and fun way to stretch, and this has helped my running a ton.

  2. Amanda says:

    I used to think yoga wouldn’t help my running but now I’m totally sold. I’ve been practicing yoga along with running for over 6 months now and I love it

  3. Rachel says:

    I don’t know how I missed this when it was first posted, but I just started going to yoga two mornings a week and agree it’s the PERFECT complement! Not only that, but otherwise I would probably never get in any stretching since I’m super lazy about doing it before/after runs (I just find it boring! I know that’s bad :)) and I actually ENJOY yoga. I don’t know how one activity can be so relaxing and so energizing at the same time. It’s the perfect start to my day. And although the “type A” side of my personality loves the objective and quantitative nature of running, I think taking time for an activity like yoga that is so calm and introspective and NOT measurable is really mentally healthy. I always feel great about myself afterwards.

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