Why Yoga Improves Running Performance
Updated: Apr 16
If you are into marathons, 10K's or simply enjoy running as a healthy exercise, then doing regular yoga practice will help your running more than you realise.
I began running about ten years ago, just in the park, a few times a week. I found it uplifting and energising being outside, taking in the fresh air and wonderful surroundings.
More recently I've enjoyed running half marathons and a one off full marathon in 2015.
I'm a yoga teacher and have discovered over the years that yoga has actually helped to revitalize my running…. giving me more stamina, strength and energy to run further without injury, whilst promoting overall health and wellbeing.
There are five significant disciplines in yoga that I consider have an impact on improving running performance – breathing, strength, mindfulness, intention, recovery.
As a runner and yoga teacher I understand the importance of the breath. In order to run consistently we need efficient lungs to deliver more oxygen to our muscles and circulation. This is the basis for running long and strong.
Breathing is one of the most important components of the ‘hatha’ yoga system.
The breath nourishes and controls the postures; ‘asanas’. It is through conscious breathing that we become more aware of our body sensations and we learn that slowing the breath induces relaxation and faster breath is more energizing.
As we run the breath helps to create a more relaxed state, especially for long distances. We use our breath to increase the amount of oxygen we take into our lungs and to keep our breathing pattern calm and steady. This helps to reduce any performance anxiety from arising.
Some runners don’t utilize their full lung capacity. They rely on the top part of the lungs and ignore the bottom area… not intentionally but because they are breathing from the chest.
One of the eight paths of yoga is Pranayama, a discipline of breath work where we learn how to use our full lung ability – upper, middle and lower, by focusing on deep inhalations and slow exhalations. Three-part belly breathing is one Pranayama exercise that teaches us to control our breathing pattern.
The idea is to take a slow deep inhale into the base of the belly, filling it with air like a balloon, then visualise the air moving into the chest and up to the top of the chest to the collar bone. Next take a slow exhale and control the release of the breath back into the top, then middle chest and down into the belly, so the belly completely flattens when all the air is expired. We repeat the exercise three to six times.
Consistent Yoga practice helps us to establish a strong stable core. A healthy core will improve posture; keep the back strong and steady, while helping to prevent injury. We need a strong body to give us running stamina and flexibility to deal with the impact of pounding the ground.
We learn yoga poses for balance and stability like plank, boat, chair, crow and dolphin poses, all of which challenge the muscles in our upper body. We practice moving sequences, sun salutations and how to lengthen the breath when we hold the postures, to improve flexibility. Such poses will give us all the strength and flexibility we require for safe running.
A discipline I practice every day is mindfulness meditation, another of the eight paths of yoga, known as Dhyana. Meditation has become the foundation for everything I do in my life and without it I would not be able to exist.
It has the capacity to bring stillness into our life. With regular practice we are able to switch off the chatter of our ‘monkey mind’ and just be in the moment. The effects are proven to reduce stress, blood pressure, and anxiety and to improve mental clarity and overall wellbeing. In relation to running it gives us everything we need to help us find balance and happiness in our performance.
In yoga we often set an intention before our yoga practice this can be anything that ‘you feel is true to you on the mat’ or ‘off the mat’. Simply put it could be just to feel chilled, relaxed or energised for the rest of the day. In this intention we're not attaching ourselves to a particular outcome.
We can use this philosophy in our running; our intention is directed to the process of the run as opposed to winning a race. This brings our awareness to how we set off, with the right frame of mind, perhaps feeling either relaxed or energized, giving us the potential to mentally pace ourselves and conserve or boost our energy during the run.
Yoga is the best form of recovery for post running. Sometimes the after process is all too often overlooked with just a few quick stretches. It is so important to warm down our muscles so they can completely recover.
There are a heap of poses available to warm down and stretch the muscles such as low lunge, forward bend, cat,cow pose, pigeon pose, child’s pose and savasana. Getting into the habit of giving yourself a good fifteen minutes of recovery exercises will make all the difference to restoring your whole body.
Rest days between runs are also perfect for a gentle ‘hatha’ yoga flow or perhaps even slower yin yoga practice, where poses are held longer to release and relax not only the muscles but the whole body and mind. These interlude days will give the body a chance to recover and recharge in preparation for the next run.
I feel assured that these convincing qualities have helped my mental approach and physical ability towards achieving either a park run or a marathon.
Happy yoga running days everyone!….
Annie is running the Royal Parks Half marathon on Sunday 14 October, raising awareness for Bloodwise UK, blood cancer research charity in memory of her son Tom, who died of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in 2014.
If you would like to find out more about Tom’s story please go to….
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