For anyone who’s stretched after a run before, you’ll know just how important the sweet relief is in aiding your recovery and preventing injury. When you run, you’re often tightening your hips, IT bands, glutes and calves, so stretching these muscles can leave you pain free and improve your stride. But stretching our muscles is only one part of the formula to optimising your running with yoga. Let’s dive into the benefits of yoga for runners that goes far beyond the old hip stretch.
The intricate maps of yoga offers us a scientific and time-tested system to understand the body and how to optimise it for health and performance. Here are three reasons why yoga is great for runners, beyond just stretching.
Meditation - your mind is your greatest weapon, learn to harness its power.
Have you ever experienced that feeling of stillness in the mind, while your legs are running a million miles on the ground? Well, it’s likely you were experiencing the beautiful thing called a ‘flow state’. Some runners even get to the point where they are so at peace with the movement, the running becomes their version of meditation. That being said, deliberately making space for a still meditation practice ahead of your run can increase the likelihood of finding that flow state during your run. More so, meditation provides us with the ability to master our minds, so that when we want to give up, we actually keep going. Majority of the time, our minds like to psyche us out long before we’re genuinely ready to stop. If we can master our mind, we can master the miles!
Meditation (typically, depending on the style and intention) is a practice that brings the nervous system into a deep state of rest and causes the parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest response, to activate. When you settle into a mediation, you are actively relaxing your muscles and allowing your mind to drop into deeper brain waves states. In this relaxed mind-body state, you can release stress and tension from your body, achieve greater clarity of mind and create a stronger connection to yourself.
Breath - unlock the power of your inhale and exhale.
One of the most profound aspects of yoga is the skillful practice of breathing. Breath can be taught as Pranayama (breathing) practices, or conditioned throughout a flowing sequence of postures by linking breath to movement. Pranayama goes far beyond the simple inhale and exhale, and teaches you how to unlock your superhero powers of breath that can instantly influence your explosive power, deep rest and recovery. A great place to start is bringing your awareness to breath during exercise, which can reduce tension in your body and help to utilise your energy more efficiently. Moreover, yogi breathing techniques soothe your sympathetic nervous system and can assist in reducing anxiety before a long run, or pre race nervousness. As the ancient yogis teach us, “by regulating the prana, we regulate our minds, because the two always go together. If one is controlled, the other is automatically controlled as well.” - Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
So - the secret to mind control and overcoming that marathon grind? Your breath.
Tapas - harness your inner drive.
Tapas is a yogi term that translates traditionally as ‘austerity’ or ‘discipline’, derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’.
Basically, it’s the grit that gets you over the finish line, and more importantly the self-discipline that takes you from the couch to a training session. When holding challenging poses in a yoga flow class, we experience the burn. This burn not only builds muscle but also strengthens your tenacity which translates perfectly in enduring a long run. We learn how to engage muscles properly, cultivate stability in one legged balancing poses, regulate breath, and more importantly control the response of our nervous system. Harnessing your tapas will give you the extra juice and drive you need on those long runs.