Yoga for Runners (Part 1 of 2)

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape!” (author unknown)

Two topics can be counted on to crop up in any conversation between two runners.  First, there will be juicy details about the latest run.  This will likely be followed by commiserations over the most recent injuries or nagging pains.  After all, anyone putting in enough miles can count on experiencing their share of stiff hips and tight quads.  Fussy hamstrings or tight calf muscles.  Low back tweaks or a random hitch in their gitty-up.  Many of these issues are directly attributable to repetitive use; runners get used to living with overuse injuries.

When considering an off-season or cross-training activity, runners might want to take a serious look at adding a yoga practice to their weekly schedule.  Although not intuitively obvious, yoga and running have more in common than initially meet the eye.  Both require discipline, persistence and concentration. Each link the breath with the body, and both require minimal gear and only as much time as one’s willing to put in.

So what, specifically, can yoga bring to your running?

Attention to balance, posture and alignment:  With a focus on the spine, hips and shoulders, yoga provides an opportunity to develop an understanding of not only how and why running can leave us feeling tight and kinked, but also ways to counter the less desirable effects running has on our bodies

Foot wisdom:  Yoga is practiced in bare feet.  Bare feet are engaged feet.  Engaged feet connect solidly to the earth with the arches actively lifted.  Unlike what happens when donning (choose one or more adjectives: cushioned, plush, impact absorbing, stable or supportive) running shoes, specialized sensory receptors in the feet, ankles and lower leg are allowed to practice the task they are meant to perform – that of adjusting to minute-by-minute sensory input about where in space the body is and responding to changes in position.  Healthy feet also provide protection to the joints directly above them – the ankles, knees, hips and spine.

Flexibility on the mat and on the trail:  While hyperflexibility of joints can actually create problems for runners, the tightness that results in the particular muscles used in running (e.g. hamstrings, calves, hips and quads) can eventually lead to injuries.  Yoga provides a perfect antidote to the “contracting nature” of running by increasing flexibility.  A regular yoga practice can also teach runners to react to normal discomforts that pop up on runs with calmness.  With practice, one learns to focus on a calm breath, relaxed face and fluid gait and to experience equanimity on the trail.

One way to cultivate a yoga practice is to join a weekly class and consider it cross-training.  If taking a class isn’t an option, you can incorporate a few moves into your post-run cool-down and still reap some of the benefits of a practice.  The postures that follow have been selected with consideration for a runner’s special needs.  This article will break down the Squat Pose and Low Lunge, and next week’s will follow up with 3 additional poses meeting the particular needs of runners.

Squat Pose: This pose helps open hips and inner thighs, and stretch ankles and feet.  Use caution if you have knee problems.

  1. Standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing slightly out, squat down and place hands on the floor between your legs.  Figure 1.
  2. Place elbows or upper arms on the inside of the knees and, with palms together, gently press against the inner legs to feel a stretch in the hips and thighs.  Extend the spine by sinking hips toward the floor and lifting the crown of the head toward the ceiling. Figure 2.
  3. Hold the pose for 30 – 60 seconds.  To come out of the pose, place hands on the floor and roll slowly up to a standing position.

Notes: If your heels don’t reach the floor, place a rolled towel or blanket under the heels for support, with the “lift” supporting the heels at the lowest position possible.  If balance is an issue, squat with your back against a wall for support.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Low Lunge: This stretches the quads and hip flexors.From a standing position, step back with the right leg while bending the left knee and placing both hands on the ground for support.

  1. Lift up onto fingertips as you check alignment of the front knee (it should be directly over the front foot) and extend strongly through the back leg.  Depending on the length of your initial “step back,” you may need to wiggle the right foot back a little further.  Figure 3.
  2. Once in position, gently shift weight forward while continuing to support yourself on fingertips to increase the stretch on the back quad and hip flexor.  (With the bodyweight supported by the hands, the left knee can safely move in front of the foot.) Figure 4.
  3. Hold the pose until a comfortable stretch has been achieved.  To come out of the pose, keep both hands on the floor, give a little “push” off the back foot to return it alongside the front and roll slowly up to a standing position.
  4. Repeat leading with the other leg.

Notes: This pose may be modified by facing a wall and placing the toes of the left foot against the baseboard.  With hands lightly on the wall, step directly back with the right foot and gently lower the body until the left knee touches the wall.  Extend strongly through the back leg.  Use the hands for support against the wall.  Because the body is more vertical in this modification, it may be more comfortable on the lower back to gently place the forehead against the wall. Figure 5.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Next week’s post will break down the Standing Wide Angle Forward Bend, Reclined Leg Stretch and a Hip Stretch.

© Cathy Larripa and KissWorkouts Blog, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cathy Larripa and KissWorkouts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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Filed under Health, Running, Training, Yoga

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