Seven years ago, I discovered yoga on a whim.
Not only that, I also discovered that I had the upper body strength of a seven-year-old.
During the first few years of my running, I stopped stretching and doing push-ups and other strength exercises.
I was completely focused on improving my running time and performance. And I thought that running had all the answers, and boy, was I wrong!
How Yoga Improved My Running
Speaking from personal experience, the practice of yoga has changed my running in so many ways.
First, I became more conscious of my breathing—in fact, I owe most of the things I learned about breathing to yoga, specifically Pranayama and deep breathing practice.
Secondly, I believe that the regular practice of yoga has helped me correct some major muscle imbalances in my lower body—drastically reducing many of running pains, aches and injuries—including a reoccurring runner’s knee.
The list goes one and one, and the conclusion is:
“Yoga Can help Anyone.”
The 7 Reasons Why Every Runner Should Do Yoga
So today, I’m going to share with you the many ways that a regular yoga practice can invigorate your running—and at the same time promote overall health and well-being.
Here are the 7 reasons why every runner should be doing a regular Yoga practice.
1. Breathe Deep with yoga
Lung capacity is of paramount importance for athletes.
The more efficient your lung capacity, the more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles and circulatory system, which is the baseline for running strong and long.
But here is the baaaaad news…
Not all runners use their lung capacity to the maximum. Most runners rely mainly on the top portion of the lungs, ignoring (unintentionally) the middle and lower portions. This is what is known as chest breathing.
In fact, the majority of fitness nuts (not just runners) are chest breathers. This type of breathing is very inefficient and counterproductive regardless of the activity you are engaged in.
But here is the gooood news…
With a regular yoga practice, rest assured, you will learn how to use the full power of your lungs—upper, middle and lower portions.
Pranayama Enter the Picture
The first lesson I learned on the Yoga mat—and one of the first lessons you learn when joining Yoga class—is the importance of breathing for optimal performance and health.
You mainly learn “Pranayama.”
Pranayama is a practice that will increase your oxygen intake and teach you how to breathe properly.
This yogic breathing is all about slow, deep inhalations and long exhalations, thus making use of the upper, middle and lower portions of the lungs.
Plus, deep breathing can also help you better manage your mental state and reduce performance jitters. This is vital whether on the running field or when you hit the lowest points of life.
2. Yoga Boosts Total Body Strength
Running targets primarily the muscles of the lower body. For the most part, a running stride engages only the lower body and movement in one realm—forward and backward.
Consequently, some muscles become strong, while, on the other hand, other muscles get neglected and weak in contrast, creating what’s known as muscle imbalances—one of the leading root causes of running injuries such runner’s knee and IT band syndrome.
Not to mention the severe mobility issues that come with muscles imbalances such as hindered performance, high level of stress, and wear and tear injuries
On the other hand, a well-rounded Yoga routine hits the entire body.
In fact, with Hatha yoga, you might no longer need to hit the weight room again—especially if you are not pretty fond of the weight room.
Yoga Targets All of Your Muscles
A well-rounded Yoga practice involves using all the muscles in a variety of ways and poses. Even the muscles that are not used when running—specifically the shoulders, arms, upper torso, back, and abdominals—get strengthened with a regular yoga practice.
3. Yoga Increases Flexibility
Runners are especially prone to muscle tightness—a leading cause of injury and mediocre performance.
If you run regularly, then you are bound to suffer from tight glutes, calves, hamstrings, lower back muscles.
There is no way around it.
This unwelcomed tightness causes a plethora of problems, including mediocre performance (it takes a lot of energy to move a rigid body), and injuries (Studies show that overuse injuries like Runners Knee and IT band syndrome can be prevented by keeping a flexible and mobile lower body), and other health trouble.
It’s the perfect antidote to muscle tightness.
Yoga can help you release muscle tightness, and restore full mobility in your joints.
Yoga is especially ideal for runners since it can help you loosen and lengthen all of your muscles, thus reversing the muscle tightness caused by hitting the pavement.
4. Strengthen Your Mind with Yoga
Yoga will not only strengthen your lung capacity and muscles but your mind as well.
As you may know, a strong inner game—self-confidence, high self-esteem, you name it—is vital to winning the game of life.
Yoga “Destroys” the Ego
With Yoga, you can cultivate the mental focus needed for to conquering the “ego.” This ego that is always standing in the way of your success, telling that you don’t have what it takes to achieve something in your life.
Said otherwise, the regular yoga practice teaches you how to overcome self-sabotaging thoughts and self-limiting beliefs on what you can or can’t do.
Enter the Zone
Regular Hatha yoga practice will give you the keys to that magical land known as “the zone.”
If you have ever been on a long solo run, then you are already familiar with the importance of developing this inward and mindful state
Yoga also helps you tolerate more pain and gives you the necessary tools to manage pain and discomfort—all this using the power of your mind.
Yes, where the mind goes, the body follows. I hate to sound new-age, but it’s true.
5. Better and Faster Recovery with Yoga
Sure, some forms of Yoga—think hot yoga—can be very intense aerobic workouts.
But Yoga also has another compelling aspect.
Yoga as a Restorative Practice
Yoga has an amazing restorative quality. Some yoga asanas—mainly the restorative postures— have a great deal of soothing and healing powers that can help you deeply relax and consciously restore after a hard run.
This restorative aspect speeds up recovery, helping you become a healthier and stronger runner—both in the short and the long terms.
Yoga is the Best Form of Active Recovery
Yoga is also one of the best forms of active recovery that there is.
Active recovery is any form of light exercise on an off day, and Yoga is one of the best active recovery options you have.
That’s why, in my experience, recovery days are the perfect opportunity to slide in you yoga sessions into your schedule.
You can make the most out of this yoga restorative aspect by either opting for a post-run yoga routine or with alternating days of running and Hatha yoga routine.
Some of the best restorative poses to help you bounce back faster and keep you injury-free are Child’s Pose, Legs-up-the-wall Pose, Pigeon Pose and the lovely and awesome pose: Shavasana.
6. Yoga Improves Body Awareness
Running through pain, aches, sickness and injury is a common problem.
How many times you have refused to listen to your body’s feedback—signals of discomfort, etc—only to regret it later on?
If you are anything like me, then you are surely (and sorely) familiar with it and know what I’m talking about.
Yoga increases self-awareness and mindfulness of what’s going on in your body and mind.
By becoming more self-aware, you can grow your body’s inner ability to listen and re-adjust to signals of pain and discomfort, thus teaching you how long and hard can you go without hurting yourself.
Good Pain vs. Bad Pain
This skill helps you with your ability to differentiate between productive pain and unproductive pain.
Yoga also teaches you how to honor your body’s limits and safely push outside of your current comfort zone without running the risks of injury or burnout.
Yoga teaches you how to honor your body’s unique needs and limits on any particular day.
Every day is different, and our energy levels tend to vary as well.
Honoring this process is vital, but you can’t do that if you do not cultivate that inner stillness, the witness that can listen to it all.
7. Relax Your Body and Mind
The major lesson that yoga has taught me is the ability to use my breath and the Asanas to reduce the tension during and after running.
The Relaxing Power of Pranayama
When you relax your body and mind, you can manage your energy more efficiently. You also experience a superior range of motion and freedom, reducing muscle pain and tightness.
Pranayama on the Run
So next time on the run, use your breath to relax your body when you start feeling tense or irritated.
Post-run Stretching Routine
After you are done with the run, then dig deep into the tension by striking some yoga poses to stretch your entire body—especially your running muscles such as the calves, hamstrings, and glutes—and let consciously let go of any tension and achiness in your entire body.
Shavasana is where the magic happens.
So don’t miss out on the powerful relaxation aspect of yoga and finish off your runs with this powerful pose.
At the end of your training session, do 5 to 10 of deep relaxation in Shavasana to release muscle tension and relax your whole body.
Conclusion: Yoga is the Best Cross-Training Activity for Runners
Yoga provides a plethora of benefits—for runners and people of all creeds and backgrounds. The flexibility, mobility, and strength developed on the yoga mat can definitely enhance your running experience and take your running program to the next level.
So, in my opinion, Yoga is the best cross-training activity for runners. It can help you hone your running game on all levels: performance, speed, injury-free, mental toughness, you name it.
Here you have it. As a runner, I think I have covered all the reasons why you need to be doing Yoga on a regular basis, but now the ball (and the yoga mat) are in your court. You decide where to go from here. And hopefully, you make the right decision.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.
Feel free to leave your comments below
Image Credit – Luis Aldana through Flickr