Developing a consistent yoga practice is one of the best things you can do for your running practice! Cross training with yoga is a very effective way to tone and lengthen your muscles, help to protect you from injury, and develop a sense of bodily awareness. Running coaches often tell runners to, "listen to your body," to prevent injury or keep an injury from worsening, and practicing yoga will help you to do just that.
Yoga provides a full package of tools to round out your wellness routine as a runner. Here are three key ways that it can do so, if practiced regularly!
1. Developing Physical/Mental Awareness
As I mentioned above, the practice of yoga is one that engages the body, mind, and spirit, just like running. In practicing yoga, you teach yourself discipline, the ability to follow fine alignment, and to breathe through things that may be uncomfortable or challenging, all of which are necessary skills for a runner.
In learning what the body feels like when it is all sorts of different poses, your body will be more equipped to alert you when something feels "off" when you are running, allowing you to address it in the moment, reducing the risk of developing an injury over time.
Furthermore, the more you practice mindfulness on your yoga mat, the more you will practice it in your life off of the mat, which will affect (for the better) decisions you make about self-care, workouts, and your diet. I have never been more aware of what I was putting on or in my body that after I started practicing yoga. Now, I only eat, wear, or do things that I know will make me feel good. When your body is not over/under-worked, well-rested, and filled with nutritious foods, you will no doubt be performing and training at your best level.
2. Foot Care
The feet are what makes a runner run, so they must be taken care of. You have probably put a lot of thought and care into which shoes to buy, so be sure you’re out that same amount of care into your actual feet!
Yoga offers incredible benefits for foot care, not the least of which is balance. Yoga practitioners know how important groundedness and supple feet are in balancing postures, because without, you are sure to fall. Balancing on one leg strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the feet, legs, ankles, and joints. (Tree pose, eagle pose, extended hand to foot pose, warrior three, etc.)
Warriors 1 & 2 engage the entire foot and outer leg, stretching the elusive outer ankle and calf, and Achilles. Downward Facing Dog and Thai Goddess pose open the soles of the feet and prevent plantar fascistic. Performing self-massage (abeyanga) on the feet is another way to keep the feet open and supple.
3. Keeping Open Hips & Hamstrings
The most common area of complaint in my experience with runners is the hip flexors (fronts of hips) and hamstrings (backs of thighs). It is so important to keep these areas open through a balance of both active and passive (sustained) stretching. In a typical yoga class, you will move through transitional poses which are held for a very short time (ex: a half lift on your way from forward fold to down dog in a sun salutation, or even standing postures like a high lunge or warrior) which is a way of actively stretching as you engage the surrounding muscle groups. Then, as you settle into deeper, longer stretches at the end of class like half pigeon or a seated forward fold, the muscles have a chance to reaaaaaally let go thanks to prior active stretching.
For runners, half split and low or high lunge should be part of your daily stretch routine even in addition to in class, to keep these areas nourished and healthy.
Namaste and happy running!