The word yoga means union. Usually it signifies the union of the mind/body/spirit. It is certainly more than mere stretching, but can it become a union with runners? I find it confounding that so many runners seem to dismiss yoga as a valuable addition to their regimen. I hear runners say they don’t have enough time to do both, or they already stretch, or they don’t know how to look “a la mode” wearing streetwear clothing, or they like to get out and move, or that yoga is boring or weird.
Although somewhat understandable, these sentiments miss important benefits of combining yoga with running. Running and yoga complement each other and any serious runner should add yoga as a regular part of their training program. Some runners will maintain a resistant posture regarding yoga, but they might be convinced if they fully understand the value of yoga. Here are five benefits of yoga for runners.
Running is high impact. Every stride jolts a runner’s body, impacting the spine, joints, hips and feet. This often contributes to injury, strain, alignment issues and fatigue. Yoga is therapy for the body that gets abused by running. It loosens muscles to relieve tension caused by impact and misalignment. Yoga helps restore posture alignment so that the spine and hips aren’t out of place, which puts strain on muscles and causes pain. Impact often results in inflammation in the joints. It helps relieve that inflammation. Ultimately, it helps your body endure the pounding running causes and keeps your body supple so you can stay on the road.
Yoga helps your blood circulates better, your food is better digested, you breathe more freely. Breathing better improves cardiovascular fitness which most people don’t attribute to yoga. When your body functions better, you run better, breathe better and feel better. All of these things help runners run and helps overcome some of the conditions runners experience.
Running is a wonderful activity, but it can cause your body to tense up due to stress on the body. This can hamper your inner bodily functions. Yoga can relieve these conditions caused by or exacerbated by running. Remember, your body is a sophisticated and complex system of integrated parts. Running helps maintain cardiovascular and muscular fitness, but it can also be taxing on important components of your body. Small muscles and tertiary organs need love too. Yoga helps create the complete body fitness that running neglects. Yoga helps them all work together, which improves running beyond flexibility.
A great thing about running is how it gives you time alone (me time). During that time, you can delve into your innermost thoughts and find yourself along the path. However, running often converts to racing. Even if you are not racing another runner, or in an organized race or fun run, racing against the clock is normal. We try to beat or best time or set arbitrary goals in an attempt to improve our pace and personal bests.
Yoga is not timed. Yoga is deliberate and slow. There is no race. When we practice yoga we become more present in the moment and that transfers to our time on the road. When we are patient with our running we are less likely to overdo it, or strain ourselves. This is good for our health, but it is valuable to our enjoyment of the activity. If we enjoy running more, we are more likely to make it a lifetime activity. We are also more likely to experience happiness after a good run instead of stress and discontent because we are particularly slow some days.
Yoga is a great way to restore the imbalance that can come from small muscle compensations while running. Often, we don’t notice that we favor one side or the other due to a slight strain, stride, physical imbalance or inflammation. Yoga strengthens the body evenly and restores balance. This helps runners run, but also helps the body stay adjusted and avoid injury. It also improves stability, which helps avoid injury due to being off balance.
Runners stretch. This is normal, but they often go about it incorrectly. Stretch, one, two, three, okay, go! Yoga is stretching, but that is not all it is and it should be understand that it offers more than mere stretching. The body limbers up with some light stretching, but yoga stretches the whole body and does it in a holistic way. If you merely stretch the muscles related to running, your other muscles will be out of balance and pull your bones in a manner that causes things like hip-tilt issues and spinal curvature. With yoga you stretch the whole body, including hamstrings, calves and quads, so you get the runner’s stretch, but you don’t do it in a way where the rest of your body is still tense and forcing imbalance.
The union between running and yoga is natural. Runners benefit greatly from doing yoga and not just for their running. Yoga is a holistic way to create strength, conditioning, flexibility, health and mindfulness and all of these attributes improve a runner’s ability to run, enjoy running and stay healthy. Considering all of this, it is astounding that any runner wouldn’t want to do yoga.