Runners are always moving, as the art of running requires constant motion. Whereas yoga encourages more stillness, introspection, and body awareness. Linda Sparrowe has been quoted as saying, “Yoga begins where I am- not where I was yesterday or where I long to be.”
As a lifelong runner, with a hip surgery under my belt, yoga has gifted me with a sense of body appreciation. I might never run the times I did when I was younger, but I am so grateful to still have the ability to run the times I currently am.
Incorporating yoga into your weekly run routine has become increasingly popular. There are physical, mental, and even spiritual benefits of consistent practice. But you must know and respect your body’s limitations. Years after my hip surgery I decided to train for a marathon. I was running increased mileage and teaching or taking up to seven yoga classes a week. My old hip injury started to flare up. My orthopedic surgeon shook a plastic hip skeleton at me and suggested that I choose running or yoga, stating that both have the potential to destabilize my hips. After additional research, I realized I could continue doing yoga (less of it) and avoid certain poses (pigeon in my case). I have been able to continue to enjoy training for marathons and yoga practice.
One of the indications of a good yoga instructor is the ability to give you a verbal or physical adjustment or alternative pose if the position you were led into is uncomfortable or painful for your body. Before practice, I recommend telling the instructor any known physical limitations or injuries you’ve had. As your practice progresses, you will know the poses that do not work for your body and can adjust accordingly. As a beginner, NEVER be afraid to back out of an uncomfortable or painful position and ask for an alternative asana (yoga pose).
The physical benefits of yoga, which translate into running are breath, flexibility, balance, strength, and posture. In yoga, breath awareness is usually emphasized, through Ujjayi breathing which means ‘oceanic breath’ in Sanskrit (the language of ancient yoga). Deep inhale and exhales through your nose, that hit the back of your throat like an ocean wave. When your breathing gets shallow during a race, this method calms your system and allows the whole body to relax. Runners are typically an inflexible group, using the same muscles over and over again tightens up the hip flexors, hamstrings, and shoulders. Yoga poses lengthen these muscles and strengthen other muscles not predominantly used in running. The poses also make the yogi more aware of posture which translates into shoulders back, spine elongated and a gaze toward the horizon.
The mental benefits of yoga include increased focus and patience. I have had teachers hold a warrior two pose long enough that my shoulders feel like they’re going to fall off. The patience to continue to hold the pose, breath, and stay relaxed gives runners an extra edge during a particularly rough spot in a run or race.
Finally, on some level, yoga translates into a spiritual level. Many yoga teachers believe in ‘oneness’ with the universe. This may just lead the yogi to be more aware of nature on a run, such as a sunset, or appreciate the shape a tree makes. Could also lead to an increased awareness that each person you pass on a run is part of something larger, dealing with problems to the best of their ability.
I have shared some of my running and yoga journey with you. Now I hope you’re equipped to start your own.
By Lauren Shaffer
Lauren Shaffer is a certified RRCA run coach, and yoga teacher. In her personal endeavors, she is working with a run coach towards a sub-3 hour marathon finish. When she’s not running or teaching yoga, she’s walking her two rescue dogs in Pittsburgh, PA.