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!
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?