They might seem worlds apart, but I think that running and yoga have a really special connection. They both help us move our body in a healthy way, connect deeply to our breath, and find that elusive state of flow. And there are some ways that yoga can make your performance as a runner even better!
Let’s check ‘em out.
You breathe better
As a species, humans have kind of…forgotten how to breathe. It’s sad but it’s true! Notice – what’s your breath like at this very moment? For lots of us, we might find that we’ve totally forgot about it, or are even holding it. Your breath is super important for running – as your breathing improves, generally so does your pace. When we learn how to control our breath and link breath with movement in a yoga class, we can take that knowledge with us off the mat, and into our runs.
You use energy more efficiently
Yoga teaches us so much about our bodies and our tendencies. I know that for me, when I’m struggling with a yoga pose, my jaw and my forehead tighten up. When I’m struggling with a particularly hard run? Same thing. My yoga practice has made me so much more aware of where I tend to hold tension in my body, and learn how to release it. This makes my energy consumption when I’m running way more efficient, because I’m not wasting it furrowing my eyebrows like I’m back in my Leaving Cert maths exam.
Yoga keeps you flexible
My one problem with running is what it does to our poor old hammies. But that’s okay, because while running might shorten our muscles, yoga lengthens and stretches them beautifully – which is exactly what we need to balance out all that pavement pounding. You’ll be touching your toes before you know it!
You build strength
As well as building flexibility, a regular yoga practice helps you strengthen your core muscles and stabilise the skeletal system. And as well as our core, yoga helps to strengthen and support our quads, hamstrings, and hip-flexor muscles – and all of this will help to strengthen and support your running practice.
Yoga makes you more mindful
When we’ve been practicing yoga for a while, we notice that yoga tends to bring a sense of mindfulness into the rest of our lives off the mat. We move more consciously, we’re more tuned into our body’s nutritional needs, and we just pay more attention. When we’re making healthy choices about how we’re treating our body in our everyday life, our body responds. The more nutritious food we eat, the better we take care of our bodies before and after a run, the more we listen to our bodies – the better our performance.
You get comfortable being uncomfortable
Yoga teaches us to focus on the present moment, not thinking about how long we’ve been holding a particular pose, or where we’re going next. We learn to focus only on the breath we’re in at this very moment. Taking this attitude off the mat and into our long run makes them so much easier. There’s a quote about running that I love, and it’s simply – Run the mile you’re in. I’m not sure who first coined it, but I have a sneaking suspicion they were a yogi at heart.
Yoga can help to prevent running-related injuries
I’m as guilty as pushing through pain to meet a goal as the next runner, but it’s not always a good idea. Listening to your body is so important, and that’s something that we learn from day 1 in a yoga class. Plus, when we have a regular yoga practice, we have incredible physical support for our bodies when we are in the middle of a tough training plan. Running is a high impact activity – just think about the pressure that we put on our ankles, knees, hips, quads and hamstrings when we’re pounding the pavement. Now think about how much we strengthen and lengthen those parts of the body in a yoga class. Getting that balance is key to staying safe and strong in our running practice.
Lots of runners utilise mantra and affirmation when taking part in a race, just like we do in a yoga class. Lauren Oliver said that:
Running is a mental sport, more than anything else. You’re only as good as your training, and your training is only as good as your thinking.
Our minds are so powerful – next time you hit a rough spot in training, try to incorporate a mantra that resonates with you and see if it makes a difference. Constant repetition of something like I am capable will seep into your subconscious, and your brain and your body will take note. Soon you’ll be thinking it without even consciously knowing, and your body will respond just the way you want it to.
There you have it! 8 ways that yoga can help to make you a better runner. Stay tuned for a future blog post on particular yoga poses that are AMAZING for runners!