Happy National Yoga Month! I bet if you’re reading this, you’re probably a runner and maybe dabble in yoga or just don’t do yoga at all. BUT you know you should incorporate more yoga into your training but just don’t have time or don’t know what to do. Or you probably think, “I’m not flexible to do yoga or I’m not good at yoga.” So stop right there; let’s first break down some myths of who can and cannot do yoga.
Everyone can do yoga! I bet you thought, “I can’t run 20 minutes!” when you began to run. Now you’re running 5ks to 10ks to halfs or full marathons like that thought never entered your mind. Why not apply that same frame of mind to yoga? We all start somewhere whether that’s putting on shoes, cotton sweatpants and stepping out to jog one foot in front of the other. With yoga, it’s the same thing. You put on some comfortable clothes, go to a class or watch a video or listen to a podcast. You try it out, get a little curious and try some more. Now you’re going once, twice or even thrice a week! Maybe not thrice, but just giving it a shot once a week during your training is a great big step, even if for just 10 minutes.
Runners, we’re a type-A bunch, aren’t we? Easily frustrated when we perceive we’re not “good” at something, think why do something if we’re terrible at it, and in yoga, not flexible to do it. Well what a bum way to go through life and not do something because you PERCEIVE you’re “bad” at something. I’m not the world’s best/fastest runner. I’m downright old and slow in my run group. BUT I have had great fun in becoming a runner, meeting wonderful friends and traveling to all sorts of places to run marathons or explore trails. The best thing about being type-A, you’re only going to want to learn more about yoga! And you’ll benefit from the yin to the type -A yang through focusing on breath and mindfulness in action.
Yoga has been around for ages, created for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you can reach your toes or not. There’s no judgment in yoga of what you can do or what thoughts enter in and out of your mind. Everyone, in a class, is bent, twisted and too focused on themselves to stare and judge you as you settle into a pose. As the phrase goes, “It’s not yoga perfect, it’s yoga practice.” Every race isn’t perfect either; it’s always practice for the next one even if you achieve your goal. That’s the beauty of being human, we’re always learning.
Last spring I listed some yoga poses for after you finish running. They are listed below along with a few more. Of course, you know your body. The great benefit of the physical (asana) practice of yoga is that it helps build body awareness. If you feel any sort of pain or funny aches, back off the posture or stop doing it.
1. Breath. All yoga begins with breath. I can’t tell you how much I focus on breathing in a race whether to occupy my mind or breathe through a side stitch or keep in more useful positive thoughts. Anyways, sit up, kneel or lie on your back. Breathe in through your nose, filling up with air in all directions, through your rib cage, shoulders, belly, back. Exhale through your nose, letting your belly contract, rib cage knit together. Maybe put your hands on your stomach and watch your hands move apart as you fill up with air and come together as you contract. Breath is life. If you’re not breathing, you’ll probably stop running mid-race. Why not practice the mindfulness and calmness that cultivating a steady breath can bring?
2. Ragdoll pose. Step your feet hip-width distance apart. Roll on down over your legs. Belly can rest on your thighs. Keep a little bend in your knees. Shift forward in your feet as if your hips are almost over your ankles. You can rest your hands on the ground. Or you can interlace your arms. Feel your low back open and hamstrings begin to lengthen.
3. Downward facing dog. From a table top position, hands are shoulder width distance. Knees and feet are hip width distance apart. Tuck your toes under, lift hips high as heels reach low (no, heels don’t need to touch the ground). Put a slight bend in your knees. Reach your chest towards your thighs and relax your neck and head. Focus on your spine feeling long. Inhale hips high, exhale heels reach low. Peddle out your feet if you’d like. Breathe in and out through your nose. This stretches your calves, hamstrings, hands and arches. It even helps you relax.
4. Plank pose. From your downward facing dog, you can shift forward onto your hands, lower hips to neutral. Think reaching your chest forward so shoulders are over wrists. Now you’re like a board, a plank! You can always take forearm plank and stack shoulders over elbows. Or you can always step feet back from a table top position. Strengthen your core and glutes with planks as runners are known for weak butts, a root of some common runner aches or injuries. Planks can be done from the knees and on your side.
5. Standing Half Moon pose. Stand tall on your feet, legs together. Reach your arms up, interlace your fingers with your index fingers pointing up. Firm through your feet as you inhale, point and stretch straight up. Then exhale as you reach up and over to the side (as if you’re going over a big beach ball). Feel as if you’re between two panes of glass. Biceps by ears. If you feel your shoulder on top roll forward, gently roll it back. Feel side body stretch and and open chest. This feels great after all the hunching forward that happens when running or at a desk job. This pose expands your chest and shoulders, strengthens ankles and increases hip mobility. Do not do this if you have hip or back pain.
6. Supine Pigeon pose. Lie on your back, knees bent. Stack right ankle over your left knee. Interlace fingers behind your left hamstring and pull knee towards your shoulder as you press your right knee forward. Keep both feet flexed to enhance the pose and stretch feeling. Switch ankles. This will open and relax your hips. Oh yeah!
7. Bridge pose. Lie on your back knees bent, hip width distance apart. Feel as if your finger tips can barely brush your heels. Press arms down, palms face down along the sides of your body. Press into your soles as you begin to tuck your pelvis and lift your hips and spine off the ground. Chest reaches towards your chin. Press firmly into your feet and arms/palms. This strengthens your back and glutes opens up your hip flexors and improves digestion.
8. Legs up the wall/Waterfall pose. Lie on your back and bring your legs up as if you’re in a “L-shape”. Feel free to scoot up to some wall space and put your legs right up against the wall for extra support. I seriously recommend this posture for after your long runs and that you stay in this one for five minutes. Close your eyes and breathe and relax. This is a gentle stretch that relieves the feeling of heavy legs. It also aids in regulating blood pressure.
9. Reclined Bound Angle pose. For a lay person, think butterfly position on your back. Lie on your back, soles of feet together, and knees open like a book. If you have knee issues, feel free to stack pillows under your knees to support them.If you feel any knee quirks or pain, stretch your legs out long and just lie on your back. This stretches the inner thighs and groin area and relieves anxiety.
I hope these poses help you as you continue to train or as you begin running.
While you can read a bunch of articles on the internet on the physical benefits of yoga for runners, I can only tell you how my experience with yoga has helped me as a runner. Beyond the postures that aid in balancing out the pounding effects running has on my body, the emotional benefits of a physical practice help a lot too. By concentrating on my breath with movement, my mind peels away distraction to allow better introspection. I tend to have more patience with others and myself. I tend to feel more focused in the present moment of a race. I can adapt or shift my mindset without dwelling. I’m better tuned into my body and how it feels (and knowing when to seek professional advice for strange aches). As my body leaned out and became stronger, I felt that physical balance translate into a stronger spirit that I can take off the mat into races and other arenas of life. It’s not always easy, but neither is running, so all you can do is try and breathe.
Meggan is a yoga instructor at the Calhoun Beach Club and is behind Outdoor Yoga at Lake of the Isles. She is going on her 10th marathon this fall despite thinking she’d only just do one. She is happy to answer any questions, or work with you, your run group or your friends. Feel free to contact Meggan at TheYogaGarage@gmail.com or find her on Facebook or Twitter.