Running season is officially in full swing and there’s an abundance of runs to choose from on the calendar; road -fast and flat; hilly and off-road; short and sweet or, long and enduring! It’s pretty much a given that if you run, and that’s all you do, eventually you’ll get injured. Running is: addictive euphoric, stress releasing, endorphin pumping and good for the soul, body and mind, but it’s a ‘load’ on your body and like most things we love to do, we can sometimes over-do it! This is something we have done so many times in the past, ignoring warning signs, pushing through pain and continuing to run – the outcome has not been good and resulted in stress fractures, shin splints, hamstring tears, Achilles tendonitis, ITB issues and sore knees – all of the most common running injuries. What I’ve listed are things that all runners may experience, and there are more, including plantar fasciitis and calf strains.
So how do we stay healthy and ‘keep on running? There are a myriad of ways, but Yoga is a good place to start. In its basic form, it’s an exercise program, which when practiced regularly will strengthen the body and increase flexibility, but the great thing about yoga is that you get some added bonuses, such as meditation, increased lung capacity, breath control and healing.
Because of the slow speed of yoga and the emphasis on breathing and directing the breath and energy to different parts of the body, it becomes like a moving-meditation. Alongside all of this is the increased flow of blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body, greatly accelerating the healing rate. Indeed, some of the hot yoga postures are all about compression and stretching – ‘damming’ the blood for seconds before letting it rush into areas that need it most, like knees, hips, elbows and shoulders.
Also, if you do hot yoga, there will always be competition between the muscles and skin for blood: you need to send blood to the muscles to keep exercising and blood to the skin to cool you down, so your body senses there is not enough to go around and creates more plasma. That increase in blood volume will stimulate the heart and increase the oxygen capacity of the blood, creating a fitter body overall and resulting in more cardiac output, more power output at lactate threshold and more aerobic power. You will no doubt get quicker in your cold temperature runs, too!
Yoga at its core is ‘breath-work’, encouraging you to breathe mindfully as you move through some of the postures, teaching you to coordinate your breath with each subtle movement and also to breathe through postures where your leg and/or arm muscles are burning; ‘staying’ in the posture when your mind wants to come out of it, and using the power of your breath to keep you there one more second! The end result is that your body, mind and breath become integrated in all actions in the yoga room and outside! All of this breath control will translate into each and every run you do, keeping everything moving smoother with fresh oxygenated blood.
As a runner, when you start doing yoga, it can be such a great ‘wake-up call’, allowing you to notice where there is imbalance. Most injuries from running are not from the running itself, but from imbalances that running causes and exacerbates. Yoga can help make you aware of these and balance them out.
There are 20,000 nerve endings in the bottom of your feet and depending on how restrictive your shoes are will determine how much disconnect there is between your brain and your feet – that disconnect will control your physical balance as you run. Shoes are like big pillows for your feet and yoga helps to strengthen everything from the feet upwards and stretch everything from the shoulders downwards. If you struggle to stand on one leg for 1 minute and you are a runner, then yoga should definitely be part of your training programme – it’s an opportunity to get barefoot and strengthen your toes and feet.
Whether you are in Warrior (lunges which mimic your running stride), Seated Pigeon (great stretch for piriformis and ITB), Chair (strengthens ankle and calves to help prevent shin splints) or Tree (isolates one side of the body and shows up your imbalances, whilst teaching balance), there are so many running enhancing benefits that yoga has to offer. Just one class a week will make a difference and make you a better runner with fewer injuries.
The more yoga we did, the more ‘present’ we became on our runs, noticing where we held tension and relaxing those muscles that we did not need to be tense. We started managing our energy better, especially on those long runs. It’s pretty powerful being able to control your breath on a run and scan your body to find the most efficient way to distribute your weight so you can move smoother and finish your run pain free.
Give your body a present, a ‘time-out’, some therapy and you’ll never look back! You’ll never regret doing a yoga class and if you add some heat, it will improve your overall endurance. It’s a win, win, win!