When it comes to improving running performance and overall health and wellbeing, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of daily yoga practice—regardless of your current physical fitness level and training goals.
What is Hatha Yoga?
In my experience, Hatha Yoga is vital for injury prevention, performance, relaxation and improving health on all facets—physical and mental.
Also, Yoga has a balancing effect. While running tightens your muscles up, a regular yoga routine can help you loosen them up, which can help them stay pain- and injury-free for the long haul.
Check this post for more on yoga’s benefits for runners.
Taking the First Steps toward a Runner’s Yoga Practice
For newcomers to yoga, trying it out for the first time can be really intimidating. But fret no more.
I remember my first yoga lesson. It was one of those YouTube videos where you follow along and hope for the best. It wasn’t the best start, but it was enough to get me hooked.
Of course, since then I started taking serious lessons, reading books, trying different yoga methods and my yoga practice has evolved drastically. And if truth be told, I have become a true yoga convert, and I’m proud of it.
The 9 Basic Yoga Poses For Runners
I came up with this yoga routine with runners in mind. You will need a yoga mat, a yoga strap, and of course your body. We need you to show up!
The basic yoga asanas—or poses—I’m going to share with you today is all you need to know about reaping the maximum benefits out of your yoga practice for better running.
This yoga routine can stand as a post-run stretching routine, but you can also do it whenever you like.
Hold each pose in relaxed and controlled manner and stretch your muscles slowly and gradually.
Of course, this list of poses does not even start to cover the whole catalog, but it will be enough to get you started on the right foot.
And please make sure to check the Yoga poses videos and proper form tips for a proper practice.
1. Low Lunge
Also known as “Anjaneyaasana” in Sanskrit, the low lung is a superior yoga asana that opens up the hips, the lateral thighs (IT bands), hamstrings, quads, and calves.
Start off this yoga asana in a lunge position with your left foot back first.
Then, put the right foot forward and lunge so that the front knee is over the front ankle and the back knee is down. Next, press back through the left heel to straighten the back leg, and lift the knee to engage the thigh. Bring your hands to the knee, and if steady, overhead.
Hold the position for 5 to 10 deep breaths and switch legs.
2. Downward-Facing Dog
Also known as (Adho Mukha Svanasana), this powerful yoga asana lengthens the back and stretches everything from arches up through the shoulders—especially the hamstrings and calves—keys muscles for running, so this is must pose.
Downward-Facing Dog also promotes a fluid range of motion and can help you ward plantar fasciitis and other running injuries. Plus, it also builds upper body strength and mobility.
Start in Table Top—on your hands and knees—with hands lined up just in front of the shoulders and knees hip distance apart.
Next, walk your knees back 5 to 10 inches, turn the balls of the feet to the floor, raise your hips up toward the ceiling, forming an inverted “V” shape.
Make sure that your palms are flat with fingers spread wide. To stave off wrist pain—which is very common in this pose—aim to firmly press into the index finger and thumb.
Last up; extend down through your heels, even if you couldn’t reach them to the mat. They will eventually with time, just don’t force them.
Also, make sure to stretch out your calves and hamstrings by engaging your quads, firming your thighs and pulling your kneecaps up.
Find a focus point—a spot on the floor to center on—and let your head and neck relax, releasing any tension in the neck and lower back. Hold the position for 5 to 10 deep breaths, then slowly lower down to Table Top
Also known as “Garland Pose” or “Malasana,” this asana stretches out the feet, calves, inner thighs and lower back—in other words, everything that tightens up from running.
It also promotes mobility for all of your daily activities.
Just keep in mind that this pose can be a bit challenging—not everyone can get into a deep squat with ease—so be careful.
Stand with the feet about mat’s width apart, with your arms at your sides.
To do Garland Pose, bend the knees and get into squat position, with your knees tracking over the toes, legs at a 45-degree angle from the midline.
Make sure to keep the feet as parallel, spine straight and shoulder relaxed as much as you can.
Next, press your elbow down the inside of your knees and bring your palms together in prayer position in what’s known as “Anjali Mudra,” then shift your weight slightly into your heels. If your heels are off the ground, then support them with a blanket or a folded mat.
Keep in mind that hip flexibility and mobility is a big issue here. So if your heels do not reach the floor, don’t panic.
Start with where you are at and build on that Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths then slowly straighten your legs and come back to standing position.
Also known as “Paripurna,” this is an essential Asana for strengthening your abdominal muscles, hip flexors and spine.
Though it might feel like a traditional crunch, Paripurna strengthens and targets the core muscles at a much deeper level.
The boat pose also protects your lower back from injury, which is a very common problem among runners by keeping your spine protected and in alignment.
Begin by sitting with knees and ankles together, soles of the feet on the mat in front of you. Next, lean back and lift to balance on your “tripod” of sitting bones and tailbone —the bones at the bottom of your pelvis.
Don’t overarch nor round your lower back. Engage your core muscles, pull the belly button to the spine and slowly raise and straighten up your legs and arms into a “V” shaped position. Keep the spine as long and straight as you can. Hold the position for 5 to 10 deep breaths and repeat five times.
5. Dancer’s Pose
Also known as “Natarajasana,” this asana is my favorite move when it comes to opening up the shoulders—vital for improving and keeping proper posture when running. It also stretches the quadriceps—AKA your thighs muscles—keys muscles for optimal running.
Plus, the Dancer also improves balance and proprioception —awareness of your body in space—all important keys for optimal pain-free running.
Begin by standing tall and bending your right leg back at the knee, the reach back with the right hand on to take hold of your inner ankle while extending your left arm forward.
Next, begin to bring your left foot and your right arm up toward the ceiling as your bring your torso forward. Stay focused.
Don’t let your mind wonder. If it wanders, bring your attention back to your breathing and gaze ahead at a fixed spot ahead of you. Or if you need it, you can hold onto the wall for balance so you can really focus on your back leg, and opening up your chest.
Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths and switch sides.
6. Upward Facing Dog
Aka “Urdhva Mukha Svanasana” this powerful asana strengthens the wrists, arms, and spine, opens up the hips flexors and stretches the whole front of the body, and can help you breathe better on the run by opening up your chest and shoulders.
“Upward-Facing Dog” is also a key pose for a healthy back, especially if you are a regular runner or if you sit too much.
What’s more, the move can also improve posture, by stretching and strengthening the anterior spine and the posterior spine.
Start off by laying face down on your mat, with the legs extended long and spread hips-width apart, then bend your elbows and place your hands on the mat in line with your lower ribs with fingers spread.
While keeping your chin low, straighten your arms, pulling your chest up toward the ceiling and lifting your torso up and legs off the floor on the inhalation. Make sure to press firmly through your feet and hands.
Also known as “Paschimottanasana” or “The Seated Forward Bend” this yoga asana is an excellent hamstring and groin stretch.
It also releases the entire back of your legs and promotes relaxation throughout the body.
Plus, it’s also a great mood-enhancer since it soothes the brain, calms the nervous system and helps ward off depression and anxiety. It also improves digestion.
Be careful with this pose. If you have ever injured your groin then you know that it takes a lot of time to heal—this is especially a bummer if you are a runner.
I can’t count the number of times I had to step back from running because I overdid this yoga pose.
Start on the mat with both legs straight and extended forward, then fold your right foot, and bring it as close to your body as possible while opening your knee out, right knee coming out at least at a 90-degree angle
Next, flex your left foot and reach as far as you can to reach for your toes. Use a towel as a strap if you have to. Make sure to fold forward slowly from the groin over your left leg.
8. Cow-Face Fold
The “Gomukhasana pose” is incredibly useful for stretching the piriformis, which tends to be a trouble spot for a lot of runners.
In fact, athletes are prone to suffer from tight piriformis, which always hampers performance and leads to pain and injury.
Plus, this pose is also a great hip over and stretches the IT band, an area that rarely gets stretched. That’s why this pose ideal for dealing with chronic knee pain off all sorts.
Start in seated position, bring your right foot back by your left hip, then take your left knee and it on top of your right. Next, grab your feet with your hands—right foot in left hand; left foot in right—and lean forward slightly, looking past the end of your nose.
Hold the position for 5 breaths, then switch sides, with the right knee on top this time.
9. Legs Up The Wall
Also known as “Viparita Karani,” or “leg drains” in the running circles, this is a great asana for finishing off your Yoga routine. You can also use it as a post-run recovery tactic.
Viparita Karani gently stretches the hamstrings—they get hammered a lot by running—and allows blood that has built up in the feet and legs to re-circulate in the body.
It’s also a gentle stretch for the neck, back, and calves. This pose can also calm the mind and the nervous system.
I first learned about the importance of leg drains in Chi Running book by Danny Dryer—a book that I highly recommend to runners of all levels
Lie on your back next to a wall, bringing your butt to the wall your knees into your chest.
Next, straighten your legs and place them straight up on the wall while wiggling your butt closer o the wall. If this troubles your hamstrings, then back away a few inches away from the wall, or use a folded towel or blanket under your lower back for more support.
For more stretch, extend your arms overhead, and release any tension you feel in your neck, shoulders and so on.
Close your eyes, breathe deeply and hold the position for the desired duration—nothing less than 5 minutes—then bend your knees, roll to one side, and rest, taking at least a couple of deep breaths before getting up.
Well, there you have it. The 9 yoga poses every runner needs for preventing injury and improving performance. So do them, and do them a lot.
Thank you for reading my post. Please feel free to leave your comments below or send me your questions if you had any.
Featured Image Credit – Amelia through Flickr.