Historical evidence suggests that yoga may have been with us since 6000 BCE but the first time we see written evidence of its existence is in Hindu texts from 2000 BCE. The practice of yoga strives towards finding a higher self but runners can benefit greatly from just taking two small segments of yoga and using them to improve their running, namely postures (Asana) and breathing techniques (Pranayama) which will help endurance, balance, flexibility and strength. Sage Rountree, the author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga, says, “Yoga helps runners balance their bodies right to left, top to bottom and front to back, to prevent injury. But the deepest benefit is in mental focus as we learn tools of endurance and breathing that directly apply on the roads and trails.”
DIFFERENT KINDS OF YOGA PRACTICES
There any many different styles of yoga, the following are suggestions for those that are beneficial to runners. It is noticeable that runners tend to forget how to stand up straight after years of pounding the tarmac. Yoga makes you aware of your posture and it strengthens your core, thus encouraging a more upright running position.
Bikram yoga increases flexibility in the body. It stretches tight muscles which encourages greater movement in associated joints. The increase in flexibility means less stiffness and fewer aches and pains during and after a run. Bikrim yoga is practiced in a heated studio which encourages ease of movement and gentle detoxification.
Iyengar is particularly beneficial to runners who are recovering from an injury and for trail runners who need to improve their flexibility and balance. Breathing is emphasised and poses are held for longer periods of time, thus encouraging new levels of balance. Learning to concentrate on your breathing enables you to push through those difficult times on the road or trail and helps you feel grounded and centred.
Sivanada encourages meditation and is a good introduction to yoga and its techniques. Sivanda classes include chanting and breathing exercises.
Kundalini helps with the mental preparation of a race. The idea behind it is to draw the energy at the base of the spine upwards through the body.
If you have never done yoga before, it is wise to go to classes initially to ensure that you learn the correct way to do the poses. Yoga studios usually provide all the equipment you need, but some do ask that you bring your own mat and towel. If you decide to do yoga at home, you will need loose fitting clothing, a blanket, a mat, a towel, some blocks and a belt or tie.
GOOD POSES FOR RUNNERS
- Vasisthasana – the side plank pose. This pose assists in maintaining all over body fitness while working your core and upper body.
- Upavistha Konasana – seated wide angle forward fold. Great for your hamstrings and calves, and strengthens and lengthens the spine.
- Tadsana – the mountain pose. Strengths and stretches your body.
- Virabhadrasana – Warrior III. This pose is great for your cool down and strengths and stretches the whole body.