Yoga + Running – Just For Posers?
Not just a play on words, the poses in yoga CAN indeed help your running. Nicole interviews local Milwaukee Yogi, Allison Cunningham, to dig deeper into the benefits of yoga + running. Allison is a Yogi by profession and runner at heart! Let’s hear from her!
How can runners benefit from Yoga?
Yoga can help tremendously with running. On top of increasing flexibility, which can prevent injury, yoga also helps athletes develop stability. The ability to balance, flow from one pose to the next, or move with ease on the mat all comes from the core. Even when it doesn’t look like core work, in yoga it’s core work! Because of that, yoga is such a great supplement since it’s our core that is the foundation of our strength and stability in running. Yoga can also help with the mental aspects of racing. The ability to be present, breathe deeply, and stay calm are all skills yogis cultivate in their practice.
When should yoga be practiced to have the most benefit for your running?
To see significant benefit, yoga should be practiced 3x per week, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a full 90 minute class each time. Something as simple as 5 breaths in down dog or 10 breaths in figure 4 after a run can help loosen muscles. Some is always better than none! Also, be willing to reframe your idea of what a yoga practice is. Sitting in meditation, working deep breathing, or even practicing mindfulness on a leisurely walk all fall under the umbrella of yoga.
If someone has never done Yoga before, how can they can get started?
The best way to get started is to look for a studio that is staffed with certified yoga instructors. While there are a lot of online and electronic resources that provide yoga, nothing beats taking classes from an experienced teacher. They can watch your alignment and keep you safe. Found a studio nearby? Check out their website. Most will provide descriptions of the classes offered. Some even host workshops or an intro series for beginners. If you are dealing with an injury or chronic condition, let your instructor know before class. Some poses have contraindications and your instructor can provide you with safe modifications.
Let’s say we’re limited on time, are there 3 yoga moves that most runners should practice?
1) Downward facing dog. This pose provides a total body stretch, but I like it specifically for the way it opens the backs of the legs. Know that the aim of down dog isn’t straight legs, it’s a long spine, so allow there to be a bend in the knees to send the tail higher. You should still feel a stretch in the hamstrings, calves, and achilles, but this will keep the weight shifted back so the wrists won’t fatigue. If your shoulders are tight, try taking this pose with the hands to a chair or even the wall.
2) Figure 4. This pose provides a deep stretch for the hips and glutes. These are large muscles so they take longer to open. Hold this shape for 1-3 minutes. Cross the ankle over the thigh. Try to work the knee away from the body so it’s in line with the ankle. For runners with tight hips, this might be enough, but if you aren’t feeling a stretch, guide the grounded leg into the chest by taking hands to the back of the hamstring. As the thigh hugs in, try to press the tail back down to the mat for a deeper stretch.
3) One legged bridge. While many of our yoga poses lengthen our hamstrings this one strengthens them. Many runners are quad dominant so I like this pose for the sneaky way it works our posterior chain. Start on the back, feet hip width distance apart. Draw shoulder blades together and lift tail into bridge pose. Take your hands to your pelvis. Trying to keep your hip points level, lift one foot off the floor. Hold for 5 breaths, place it back down, and switch sides. If you really want to go hog wild, extend the lifted leg up to the sky.
Anything else you’d like to add about Yoga + Running?
Be patient. While yoga can increase your performance in pretty much any other activity, other activities may make yoga harder. Runners are going to find that they are tight in their hips, hamstrings, and ankles. Maybe they feel like they lack upper body strength. But the beauty of yoga is its ability to adapt and meet you where you’re at. Also know that yoga is a really broad discipline. There are countless styles and each teacher is different. Took a class and hated it? Try a different one. Yoga has a place for us all.
Allison Cunningham, E-RYT-500, is a Milwaukee area yoga teacher who works with students in community, corporate, and clinical settings. In her classes you can expect a methodical sequence aimed at all levels, a good playlist, and bad jokes. Her favorite distance in the half marathon. She hates the full marathon but can’t stop registering for them anyway. Check out her class schedule at www.yogaonestudio.com