How Yoga Helps the Runner's Body
Ana Forrest once said, “I don't teach yoga to help people to transcend. I want people's spirits to reside in their body.” I’ve come to realize that’s how I, too, approach teaching my yoga class for runners class. We learn about our bodies and ourselves through our bodies. In many ways I have an easy task as a yoga teacher for runners, as good number of runners and athletes come to yoga for the physical benefits– to lengthen their hamstrings, stretch their calves, and strengthen their core. And indeed yoga as physical culture is a wonderful complement to running for better pace, form and injury prevention.
In a yoga asana class the arches of our feet and ankles are strengthened and become better shock absorbers by working barefoot. We correct uneven foot patterns through samasthiti (equally placed and weighted feet), while one-legged balancing poses align our feet, knees and pelvis while strengthening the inner quads. Our hamstrings and calves lengthen with each downward dog. Standing warrior postures are great for hip stability while they strengthen the gluteal muscles to prevent unwanted pelvic movements that can lead to pain in the low back or IT band. And, of course, seated poses, twists and restorative postures performed with deep healing breathing help undo muscular tension. They also help us regain range of motion that we lose through the repetitive and imbalanced muscle action that we develop from clocking up the miles.
Beyond the Body
Yoga for runners offers more than just practicing postures. Yoga asana practice teaches us a deep physical awareness and provides us with knowledge about how our body works like a machine. And if we know how something works we are better able to look after it, and know how to fix it when something goes wrong. Yoga’s emphasis on staying in the present moment also helps with running-- long distances in particular. Looking ahead to the marathon finish at mile 3 can lead to starting too fast and burning out. Looking back at how far you’ve come at mile eighteen can be draining. Be where you are – it’s where you are meant to be or you wouldn’t be there.
Yoga can also help us get past disappointments in a goal-oriented culture and learn to appreciate the rewards of pure process. What’s the point of a sub 3:00 marathon time if you wrecked your knees forever to get there? The Bhagavad Gita teaches us that “the wise man lets go of results whether good or bad and focuses on action alone.” Yoga is skill in action! During a race, as yogi runners we can focus on doing our very best work rather than racing the clock only to be slowed by tension.
So to get back to my dad’s question: Yes, as Patanjali teaches us, “Yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind”, but that surely means the restraint of the useless, disruptive fluctuations that break our concentration on the present, and not silencing the cognitive abilities needed to listen and respond to reality and physiology. As yogis we learn to tell them apart. Through our practice we can develop strong and flexible bodies, good posture, and a clear, calm but attentive mind …and from there we can start to tune into the soothing, repetitive, rhythmic qualities of synchronized breath and movement, and enjoy the more peaceful, meditative aspects of running – whether there’s a medal at the end of it or not.
Marathon and Yoga Training Program
As a yoga teacher and marathon runner myself, I always incorporate yoga, pranayama breathing, and cross training into my schedule. I’ve now put together a marathon and half marathon training program that mixes running with some of Yogadownload’s practices for body conditioning, balance and preparing the mind – including some of the free 20 minute classes which are great for fitting in around your running. By Laura Denham-Jones
Laura Denham-Jones began practicing yoga in the mid-1980s and has been teaching for over 10 years. A keen marathon runner and triathlete, she teaches specialized Yoga for Runners and sports classes in London, UK. Laura has also written for several yoga and fitness magazines, and contributed to the books, Real Women Run and Triathlon Made Easy.
Yoga for Runners – Dawnelle Arthur
Yoga for Back Pain #2 – Jackie Casal Mahrou
Hip Opening Flow – Lisa Richards
Stay tuned for Yoga for Runners #2!
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