Why Runners Should Do Yoga
About a year-and-a-half ago, I decreased my work hours and found myself with a significant amount of extra free time on my hands. I was already running a good amount and felt I needed to add a little something extra to my workout routine. My local Y offered multiple yoga classes that fit in with my schedule and I started doing yoga several times a week, generally as a “cool down” to the runs I would go on before class.
After a while, I started to notice changes. I started to run a bit faster and feel like I had more endurance during runs. My body started to change, too. I started building muscles in places that surprised me and my former Olive Oil arms started to have some shape and tone. My butt and thighs gained muscle and I noticed I wasn’t sore anymore after long runs. Outside of an ankle sprain following a fluke fall, have had no injuries since regularly practicing yoga. Prior to this, my hip and my knee would nag at me on-and-off, likely the culprit of an angry IT band.
Last weekend, I ran a 25k trail run (15.5 miles) and was not expecting much as I didn’t have any time to train and hadn’t ran more than 6 miles most of the summer. I also didn’t have anyone to run with and was a bit nervous about getting into my own head with no one to distract me as the miles started to get tough. Those variables, combined with the uneven trail terrain, made me anxious over what I got myself into and a bit upset that I didn’t make the time to try to train at least a little.
Surprisingly, I did well and finished faster than the year before, when I was making time to train for an upcoming half marathon and had a buddy to run with. The last 2 miles of this year’s race was tough as I got stiff and tired, but overall I felt happy and strong. As the miles ticked by, I couldn’t help but think that it had to be the yoga that was getting me through and had changed not only me as a person, but also me as a runner. As I was running through the woods, here is what I noticed and why I think all runners should be adding yoga to their routine:
Like I mentioned above, my pace has increased. I don’t work that hard at getting faster and overall am not a fan of speed training, so I can only attribute this to doing yoga. I think my muscles are stronger and my increased flexibility has helped increase my speed.
Focus and Mental Presence
In yoga, there is something called a Drishti, or focal point, that can be used to assist during balance poses and to remain mindful during your yoga practice. I’ve noticed I feel more focused and present during my runs and use a focal point as a goal to run to (as in, I see that tree up there- I will keep running to that tree and then if I need a break I will stop). During my solo 25k, I felt happy and present. I noticed the trees, the sky, the sun, and the dirt. It felt good to be by myself and present, and I enjoyed my own company which hasn’t always been true. (Real talk: I once got worried that if eternity was a thing I would be stuck with my own internal thought process FOREVER and that scared the shit out of me.)
Using a mantra, or a phrase, is a popular meditation technique and is often incorporated into yoga classes and a yogic lifestyle. When a run gets tough, I turn to repeating a mantra to get me through. Sometimes its a simple as “you’ve got this” “you are stronger than you think you are” or “keep going” and sometimes it can be something more traditional. This past weekend, I found myself repeating “Aum Namah Shivaya” which is one of my favorite mantras to use during meditation. In her book, Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the translation of Aum Namah Shivaya to be “I honor the divinity within me,” while others say it translates to bowing/adoring to the Hindu god Shiva. Whatever it means, it got me through, and I think using a personal mantra can be a powerful tool for anyone during any type of struggle, running or otherwise.
Acceptance and Listening to Your Body
When a run starts going bad, the battle becomes you vs. yourself and winning that battle can get tough. Anyone that has struggled through a run knows that dark place that you can fall into where your legs are toast and your mind keeps taunting you with “this sucks. quit. do it. quit.” This is where the mental struggle trumps the physical struggle and where the yoga mind helps. Acceptance and listening to one’s body are concepts frequently touched on in yoga and cross over easily into running. You can accept that sometimes running is painful and hard and that you will feel tired, but you can get through. Just as you would accept discomfort during a yoga pose that stretches your muscles past their comfort zone, you can accept that feeling of being pushed past your limits during a run. You accept discomfort and focus on the breath. With acceptance comes listening to your body and accepting that if your heart rate is up or your legs need a quick break its okay to walk those hills and run again when your body is ready (or don’t, and let that be okay, too.)
Of course, this is my experience and highly anecdotal, but I think I am on to something. I challenge you to step out of your own fitness comfort zone and give yoga a try as part of your cross-training if you haven’t already.