Runners are trained to be competitive and push past pain; yogis are trained to be accepting and loving to the body they have to work with in the moment. While the two activities seem counterintuitive on the surface, they're actually the perfect "yin-yang" balance that will enhance every runner’s performance—and keep runners moving forward for the long-haul.
Here are five reasons every runner should take up a regular yoga practice.
1. It will keep you running. As a marathon runner, I had many preconceived notions about yoga simply not being “hard enough.” Having taken dance until my teenage years, I knew that stretching was important, and I’d make a halfhearted attempt to develop a practice at various yoga studios. I’d try to stay positive, but about thirty minutes into the practice, my mind would always start to wander to thoughts of how much more “productively” I could have spend that time running on the treadmill. Then, one month before my debut at the Boston Marathon, piriformis syndrome took ahold of my running. Not only did that stabbing pain in my rear and hamstring plague me during runs—I could hardly bear to sit still in the car during my commute. Thanks to an amazing masseuse and a lot of Icy Hot, determination and faith, I was able run and set a new “PR” at Boston. But it was clear that if I wanted to keep running, I had to be kinder to my body.
For three years, I took a hiatus from endurance running and focused on yoga. I now practice and teach vinyasa flow daily. I completed my first “competitive” half-marathon one month ago—and finished in my best time ever. I owe it all to yoga.
2. It will improve your focus. When you learn to truly quiet your mind and breathe into discomfort, you add an amazing gift to your running arsenal, particularly during those grueling long runs when you just can’t find your groove. You also start to appreciate the sport of running more when you learn to be present in your races, appreciating the sights, sounds, smells and sensations that only an endurance event can offer, instead of doggedly watching your watch to break a “PR.”
3. You’ll find a supportive community. I love the energy and spirit of runners, but yogis possess a sense of calm and positivity that is just infectious. (If you don’t believe me, go to a yoga workshop or retreat for a weekend and see how much nicer you feel during and after it). By surrounding yourself with people who have learned to find joy in each present moment, you too, may find a new appreciation for the gifts you have been given—even on the “bad running” days.
4. You’ll understand your body better. Yoga has a way of brining your strength and weaknesses to the forefront, no matter how much you choose to ignore them during running. The saying in yoga that the pose you hate most is the one you should probably spend the most time on, and is a great philosophy to bring to your running, too. If you hate sprint drills, body awareness can help you to understand why that is —and how to work past it. Maybe it’s not the sprint drill that’s causing the problem, but rather, tight hamstrings or hips that are resisting when you pick up the pace. When you become aware of your body’s biomechanics, you can adjust your training and take care of them properly -- before injury sets in.
5. You’ll develop strength. Many runners wrongly believe that running in and of itself builds lower body strength, and therefore, they forego any strength training. As a result, muscle imbalances develop, and eventually, injury occurs. While the act of running will develop muscles to a degree, you will see noticeable improvements in your running power and pace consistency when you train it to endure balance challenges, core strength and the simple “burn of holding”. What better place to find all of the elements than on the mat?