I love yoga with a passion. I also love to run with a passion. I used to feel like a traitor to my treadmill when I was on my mat and not a genuine yoga lover when on my treadmill.
Thankfully, over the years, as I've dedicated significant amounts of time to each practice while enjoying and becoming more adept at each, I've come to recognise that these two favorite activities of mine are 100% mutually supportive. They are not at all contrary to each other. What a relief!
Now I enjoy running at least three times a week, with a Saturday morning 10K etched in stone in my calendar, and I practice a very energetic style of yoga at least four times a week. Sunday mornings are dedicated solely to my yoga practice.
Here are five ways that I have found yoga and running to not just support, but also to enhance one another:
Injury prevention: Running is a high impact activity, and our quads and hamstrings can get very tight both immediately after a run and long term if you're a frequent runner. Continually stressing tight muscles can lead to injury. Combining running with a regular yoga practice is an excellent strategy for easing the tension of tight muscles, improving muscle length and toning. Yoga will complement the strength and power developed through running, and will help maintain mobility and stability within the joints. This will all help to support running and other activities.
Breathing: This sounds silly perhaps, but yoga teaches you how to breathe. Not just that, yoga teaches you how to breathe in an efficient way so that you can actually breathe through some level of discomfort. Yoga reminds us that we can focus on our breath when doing something active like running, and make it into a type of moving meditation. This is part of, what runners refer to as, getting into "the zone” and being able to just keep on keeping on.
Challenge: Many beginning yogis have quite possibly encountered a challenging pose and thought there was no earthly way they could do it. But with a regular practice and good guidance, one day they found themselves able to do that once unattainable pose, and to do it fluently to the point that they experienced that euphoric buzz of having faced a challenge, met it head on, and done what it is they set out to do. I think that those experiences in yoga teach us how to face other challenges in our lives too. This includes our goals in running; whether we want to run faster, run longer, or run more regularly.
Toned body and mind: Running is, of course, a great cardio workout, but we know we’re also meant to work on whole body muscle tone and strength building to stay physically balanced. A very fitness oriented style of yoga, such as power/vinyasa/fit yoga, certainly offers a toning workout. In this style of yoga we maintain challenging poses and "all guns are firing" to support us. And of course the meditative effects of the yoga movements, and the treat of relaxation at the end of a yoga session, contribute to the mental health benefits we need to balance the physical fabulousness of our running and yoga practices.
Recovery: The body does need rest to actually reap the benefits of the physical and mental activities that we do. Muscles need a chance to recover and the slower, more nurturing segments of our yoga practice encourages the muscles to let go of tension and metabolic waste while holding on to the positive effects of our work. A regular yoga practice also helps us to establish good sleep patterns and other healthy habits.
Time and again I've seen new students, soon after starting a yoga practice, begin to feel that "bursting with health" feeling. Of course, they then want to start adding other healthy habits to their lifestyles in order to enhance that feeling. In short order, I see new students eating more healthily and committing themselves to getting more sleep. All of these are elements of a yogic lifestyle which help the body to recover, from running and other hard core activities, while retaining all of the healthy benefits of their practice.
So as contrary as they may seem, I’m sticking with running and yoga. With the abundance of health benefits from each practice, and their mutually supportive nature, I see no end in sight for either one.