My friend Gina and I occasionally run together on the weekends. She helped me push my pace and suck it up when we hit hills during my MCM10K training, was part of the 2012 iteration of Team Jimmy J, and now we're both working toward the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler!
Gina at the MMRF 5K at National Harbor in November.
Sure, we both love running, but we're also both yogis! (Gina also has her yoga teacher certification, and she's da bommmmb!) We've shared many a chuckle during our weekend jaunts about avid runners we know who refuse to try yoga and only consider the spiritual, intellectual side of yoga practice, rather than the very practical good it can do as part of a runner's cross-training routine.
I began practicing yoga around the same time as I ran my first race, and now that I've begun to run longer distances, I find that yoga is an integral part of a well-rounded training plan.
Here's how yoga helps me be a better runner
1. Yoga helps me build strength in my leg muscles. Sure, it takes strong legs to run 3, 5, or 10 miles, but can you sustain a Warrior I or II and not feel the burn? As all runners know, focusing on strengthening our legs is the best way to avoid injury, particularly in your knees.
2. Yoga has improved my flexibility ten fold. When I began practicing, I could not touch the floor in a forward fold. Now, my hands lie flat on the floor in this pose. Poses like pigeon and pyramid stretch out hip flexors and hamstrings, two of the muscles that get tight and sore for runners putting in a lot of time on the pavement.
3. Because of yoga, I'm more aware of my breathing when I run. I used to have huge problems with cramping because I had a hard time concentrating on my breath and its cadence while running; now I rarely cramp up, since yoga cultivates a practitioner's connection of movement to the breath. Yoga's effect on my breathing extends into my daily life as well. When I'm feeling stressed, tired, or moody, I take a few yogic breaths and immediately start to feel better.
4. Yoga is wonderful for recovery after a brutal run. Yesterday, as I ran six rather painful miles, I envisioned not only my post-run omelette as I usually do, but I thought about how good it would feel to get a good stretch in after my run. One of my favorite post-run poses is legs up the wall , which allows the blood to drain out of your tired legs, stretches your hips, lower back, and hamstrings, and in general is just super juicy and relaxing.
5. Lastly, yoga has allowed me to be more aware of myself and in tune with my body. I know when something doesn't feel right, and I know when my body needs rest, which are some of the most important signals we should heed as healthy individuals.