In ancient times, yoga was a sacred art practiced by the solemn and devout in their high monasteries and age-worn castles. Nowadays, it’s practiced by your mom wearing sweatpants in her living room.
To say that some of the austerity surrounding the art of yoga has been lost would be putting it mildly. Of course, not every ancient tradition has the luxury of enduring into the modern age. Despite losing some of its po-faced sense of gravitas, yoga has carved out a fairly significant place in today’s world.
Besides, it’s not just your mom who practices it.
There’s a few good reasons why we recommend yoga for runners.
Indeed, yoga is practiced by many people from different walks of life. Yoga has helped millions worldwide find balance and improve their health, from actors and musicians to corporate executives and lawyers
Runners, in particular, may find that even a basic yoga routine can help them recover after a particularly long run and improve their mobility and overall strength.
- Hold On – What Exactly Is Yoga?
- What Are The Main Benefits of Yoga For Runners?
- Why We Recommend Yoga For Running
Hold On – What Exactly Is Yoga?
Most people have a pretty good idea of what yoga is. It’s the practice of contorting your body into grotesque shapes to achieve ultimate enlightenment. Or something.
It may surprise you to learn, however, that this isn’t all there is to it.
Like all the best things, yoga originated in the ancient East, specifically the majestic subcontinent of India, some 2,000 years ago. Our understanding of yoga comes from the pages of the Yoga Sutra, a tome collated by an Indian sage, Patanjali. The Yoga Sutra contained 195 statements that continue to serve as a philosophical guideline for understanding yoga today.
But that doesn’t answer your question, does it?
Yoga combines physical exercises (through poses), breathing techniques, and meditation. Despite the perceived emphasis on the various poses yogis practice, yoga was not originally intended to improve your physical well-being alone. The main aim of yoga is to improve your focus. It wasn’t until the western world adopted the practice of yoga that physical enhancement became the primary focus.
Nowadays, yoga is mainly practiced with the express intent of physical and mental improvement. There are several branches of yoga that certain people tend to gravitate towards.
Ashtanga yoga is pretty simple to grasp but difficult to practice. It involves rapidly chaining together an established sequence of six poses. Think of it like trying to pull off an insane combo or juggle attacks in Street Fighter, and you’ve pretty much got the gist.
Practicing Bikram yoga is like relaxing in a hot steam room, only without the relaxing. Rooms are heated to 105 degrees and 45 percent humidity, which does wonders for one’s skin. Bikram yoga consists of 26 different poses and two breathing techniques.
Hatha yoga is about as generalized as they come. Any form of yoga that consists of poses can be considered Hatha.
If all the previous forms of yoga were various subgenres of rock, then power yoga is heavy metal. It consists of various poses and techniques based on Ashtanga yoga, with the express purpose of physical improvement.
All of this just shows how much variety the world of yoga offers. The type of yoga you gravitate towards will depend on various factors, such as your experience, fitness level, and goals. Don’t be scared to experiment, however. Every form of yoga has something to teach, and you may have to try them all out to find one you truly like.
What Are The Main Benefits of Yoga For Runners?
There are plenty of benefits to yoga for runners. It’s immensely popular for a reason, after all.
Not only does yoga improve your strength and flexibility, but it also helps to reduce stress – which should be great news for runners training for their next marathon.
Not only does running impact your joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons, but it also has a great way of putting you on edge. Believe us when we say that we’ve met enough high-strung, tightly-wound runners to say this with absolute certainty – the most intense runners are also the most stressed.
On the other hand, because of the emphasis on breathing and stretching, yoga can unwind even the most tightly coiled of runners. It also has the added benefit of improving your mobility, range of motion, endurance, and focus, all of which are essential to running.
With all that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper and explore how yoga can benefit your running.
Yoga Improves Muscle Strength
Running is about as simple a sport as they come. Simply placing one foot in front of the other may work wonders for your thighs and calves, but it may not do much else for the rest of your body.
Unfortunately, many hardcore runners tend to neglect the parts of their bodies above their hips. This neglect can cause several issues, including a great deal of stress on the musculoskeletal system. A lack of balance in physical exercise can cause the neglected muscles to become much weaker, leading to chronic pain and increased susceptibility to injury.
Naturally, you’ll want to do your best to avoid that.
Fortunately, yoga provides the perfect solution. By performing various positions, yoga engages all the muscles in your body, allowing you to cross-train much more effectively.
Yoga can also strengthen the hips and trunks, which are essential for runners. And if all of that wasn’t enough, yoga also lengthens muscles that have been shortened due to neglect.
Yoga Improves Your Flexibility
Flexibility is important for several reasons, including preventing your muscles from tearing after too much exertion. You should stretch before partaking in any strenuous physical exercise, and running is no exception.
Flexibility is also important for improving your speed and lengthening your stride. However, remember that overstretching can cause a few issues.
It’s best to practice yoga after a run, rather than before one.
See our dynamic stretching guide for the best pre-workout stretches.
Yoga Teaches You How to Use Breathing Effectively
Breathing is actually crucial for running and, indeed, for the general pursuit of staying alive! Most experienced runners may already know how proper breathing techniques can benefit their performance, but regularly practicing yoga should make the improvements even more apparent.
Although most people think about yoga as mostly funny poses, there’s much more emphasis placed on breathing than you may have thought. All yoga breathing exercises teach you mindfulness through meditation, which, surprisingly enough, is immensely useful for runners.
Of course, no one expects you to start “om”-ing during your next marathon. However, simply becoming aware of your breathing may be just what you need to improve your running. Conscious breathing can help reduce your anxiety before a big race and help you conserve your energy over an especially long one.
Yoga Allows You to Rest (And Recover)
It may surprise you that most running-related injuries aren’t due to poorly positioned rocks or the occasional twig. In reality, most injuries that runners endure result from muscle imbalances.
As mentioned, yoga targets different muscle groups across the entire body. A well-planned routine for runners allows you to stretch certain muscles you may have been neglecting. Moreover, if you find yourself injured, yoga is a great way to keep active while you recover, so long as you attempt the right stretches.
Yoga Trains Your Mind as Well as Your Body
Although running may seem like a rather straightforward affair, anyone who’s competed in a race or run a marathon will likely tell you otherwise. Running is as much about the mind as it is about the body. Negative thoughts can and will make themselves known, and every fiber of your being will urge you to stop while running a marathon.
To this end, having a strong mind is important if you plan on running professionally. Luckily, practicing yoga is a good way to develop your mental focus, allowing you to push yourself further even when the going gets tough.
Yoga Is Versatile Enough to Suit All Runners
Finally, it’s important to remember that runners come in all shapes and sizes. Different athletes will want different things out of their yoga exercises. Luckily, the art form is versatile enough to accommodate everyone, allowing you to reach your goals even if you aren’t a huge fan of posing like a dog or a crow.
Why We Recommend Yoga For Running
Indeed, running and yoga are great ways to improve your fitness levels and strengthen your body.
When combined, the results they yield – while subtle – are significant enough to make even a non-believer bow their head in supplication.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that yoga isn’t for everyone. It requires consistency and patience, which may be hard to find in these athletes (they’re always running everywhere). However, putting aside the initial awkwardness and mindfulness exercises, yoga is worth a try, at least for a few sessions. Getting started is as easy as finding a guided session on YouTube.