Do you have a minute? If you’re reading this, I am sure you do. Do yourself a simple favor: Inhale as fully as you can and exhale completely. Do this one or two more times. Inhale. Exhale.
Now, take a brief moment and scan your body. Start at the top of your head and notice where you feel tightness, pressure, soreness, or any other sensation. That’s right: down the neck, your shoulders, the top of your back and your chest, your ribs and your stomach. Notice the hips, butt, quads, knees, calves. Check in with your ankles, your toes, the heel of your foot and the forefoot.
This is self awareness. Doing a full body scan and focusing on your breath allows you to reconnect with yourself. This sense of self and tuning out all other distraction is one of the many benefits of a yoga practice. There is a stillness within that self awareness that runners don’t quite access during their workouts.
In yoga, the breath is used to relax the nervous system, which in turn calms the mind. When the mind is still, yoga teaches, you have access to deeper wisdom from within, and both creativity and healing can take place. Just slowing the breath down and making it more regular begins to lessen the feelings of stress within seconds.
Think of what this means for the runner. A relaxed runner is able to hold a controlled pace in a tough workout, recover more successfully, and be ready for the push and difficulty of race day. Regular attention to one’s body through yoga strengthens the nervous system and allows the body and mind to fully connect.
There are many ways that yoga physically heals and promotes healthier running. Here is a short list:
The body is so artfully interconnected, that pain or discomfort in one area may be influenced by another. For example, back pain may be caused by tightness in the hamstrings. Or knee pain may be due to inflexible hips and misalignment of the shin and thigh bones. A consistent yoga practice connects the body in a healthy, strengthening and flexible way.
There are many different types of yoga. There is room to experiment with classes, teachers, and approaches. Ongoing sampling, however, can lead to a superficial understanding of yoga and won’t lead to the above listed effects as strongly. Once a style is selected, stick with it to deepen the benefits of it. Just as you would stick with a plan while training for a marathon: you don’t switch from a 5k training plan to a marathon plan and then a 10k plan. Use this same intention with your yoga practice.