I know several runners who swear by yoga, but there are also several who think “No way, I’m a hard-core runner, I’m not doing sissy yoga!” But there are several reasons why a consistent yoga practice can benefit a runner, and you don’t even have to become a “crunchy-granola-yogi” to benefit.
Focus on Breathing
In yoga, there is a conscious emphasis placed on breathing. You slow it down and take very intentional breaths. Being aware of your air intake while running can also be important. If you are gasping for air, perhaps your body is trying to tell you something. Altering your breathing pattern can also be used to help you if afflicted with a side stitch. And being in control of your breathing can help as you transition through different paces.
It always seems like there is confusion about stretching in running. In general you shouldn’t do static stretching before a run, but some stretching after a run can help work some lactic acid out of the muscles to help keep your muscles more limber and flexible. A lot of typical running stretches are essentially yoga poses and if you get a simple short yoga routine designed for post-run, it can help to serve as a really effective cooldown for your body and brain.
We’re always told “Listen to your body!” and we often ignore what our body is saying. (Pushing through a training run, despite a nagging pain? Anyone? Anyone?) Yoga fosters a deeper connection with our bodies, encouraging us to slow down and pay attention to the subtle whispers. Remember, most of the time our bodies speak very gently to us until something is really wrong, then that shouting comes in the form of an injury!
Yes, as runners we need to work on our strength. (See Bailey’s post on the importance of resistance training.) With yoga you are not focused on working one muscle group at a time, it’s your whole body working together… kind of like the way your body works while running. And if you think yoga can’t make a real difference in strength training… well, just check out Adam Levine!
“Huh? Yoga is such a slow activity, how can it make me faster?”
Well, by slowing down and focusing you are developing a stronger brain and body by deepening your connection between the two. And that connection translates into running. If you can do something properly while moving slowly, then it will translate to the same movements as you get faster.
In running we so often focus on every little bit of data: paces, miles, repeats, intervals, increases, decreases, etc. That’s a lot of stuff to keep in our heads. Yoga allows you time to “chill out” while doing something good for you.
Just like with any workout, if something is completely new to you it pays to get some proper instruction. Check out a class with a good instructor before you try to contort yourself into any crazy poses you find online. People have been getting hurt by trying to do “too-much-too-soon”, which is another common runner personality trait!