6 Reasons to Make Yoga Part of Your Running Journey
by Andima Umoren
Sure, flexibility is important for runners. Therefore, practicing yoga may seem like a no-brainer for those looking to improve flexibility in their training. However, as a yogi who runs, I’m here to tell you that developing a yoga practice can be beneficial to runners in many more ways. Get into these six important reasons why yoga should be part of every runner’s journey.
Pranayama or ‘the art of breathing’ is fundamental to yoga. While there are many yoga breathing techniques, what I have found most helpful is learning how love my breath. Many of us can be self-conscious about our breathing--think constricting our breath so we don’t throw off a co-worker with a deep sigh. When you practice Ujjayi Pranayama or ‘conqueror breath’ during a yoga class, you are instructed to breathe deeply and release with a deep, audible sigh. For runners, breathing provides oxygen, which in turn gives you energy. Next time you run, when you’re feeling depleted, these big belly breaths you learn in yoga practice can help you to feel re-energized.
Focus and Finding Calm
Yoga prompts you to practice relaxing during strenuous times when you might be holding a difficult pose. The mental and breathing work you do during yoga, translates to the running trail as well. When you’re feeling winded and pushing your body to the limit, it’s hard to feel calm, no matter your level of experience. However, mastering your emotions and finding your zen can actually help you shave minutes off of your half-marathon and marathon times.
Yoga is a form of toning and strength training that many people don’t think about. There’s a reason your muscles may shake a little when you’re holding a difficult pose. If you’ve ever done a vinyasa sequence (the right way!), you’ve worked your core. Likewise, if you’ve done wheel or back-bend you’ve strengthened your back. Holding up your body for extended periods of time is a form of strength training. The ASICS Runkeeper blog explains, “At a high level, a strong core can improve your running posture & speed...The main benefit of core strength for runners is increased stabilization in the torso.” Ultimately, having a strong core stabilizes you and aids in your progression as a strong runner.
A mindful runner is always learning and growing as a runner. When you’re practicing yoga, you’re prompted to focus on how your body feels, what your breath is doing and where your mind is drifting. This practice of constantly scanning yourself brings an awareness to your fitness that can be practiced during any type of exercise. Running is mental, so adopt a fitness routine that helps you become more intentional and aware of your body and it can change your entire running experience.
Many think yoga is solely about stretching, but yoga helps improve alignment, symmetry and balance as well. These three qualities happen to be key factors in preventing running injuries. What you do on one side of the mat, should be mirrored on the other side of the mat. The yogi flows through little self-checks:
“Are my arms balanced in Warrior II?”
“Are my feet aligned in this pose?”
This focus on symmetry works to restore balance to your body and can help develop balanced muscles for runners.
Embracing the Quiet
If you’re anything like me, you love to run with music. I have several running playlists that get me going, often feeling that I need music to run. One year, however, during the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in Washington, D.C., my headphones broke. I was surprised to discover that I still found my rhythm without my music. Likewise, yoga has taught me to embrace the quiet and occasionally skip the headphones.
Have you incorporated yoga into your running or race training? What benefits have you found? Be sure to share with us in the comments below.
Follow Andima’s journey on Instagram @andiu.
Andima Umoren is an aspiring yoga instructor and soon-to-be half-marathoner. During the day, she serves as the director of digital at Octane, a boutique PR firm in D.C. When she has extra time, you can catch her running, practicing yoga and making art.