Sunday, January 29, 2017

5 Reasons Why Runners Should Practice Yoga


This post originally appeared as a guest post on the blog Nymph in the Woods.  


Having worked for almost a decade for the YMCA, I've dabbled in my fair share of yoga classes. I would even incorporate age appropriate yoga poses into my preschool curriculum, but I never truly appreciated the benefits of it until I started running. 

When I started training for my first half marathon, I would practice yoga on the days I didn't run. It was more than just stretching for me - it taught me to appreciate my body and, most importantly, to listen to it - something that as runners we don't always do.

So, without further ado, here are 5 reasons why I think all runners should practice yoga.

Improves Flexibility

This one seems like a no-brainer to me.  Isn’t this the whole point of yoga?  As a beginner, you can barely hold any of the poses but over time you are all pretzeled up like a true yogi, right?  Why do runners need to be flexible?  To begin with increased flexibility reduces the risk of injury.  It also helps improve posture and increases blood flow to your muscles. 


Protection from Injury

According to Ashlee Willaman, a certified running coach and yoga teacher, “"Yoga does a great job of pointing out imbalances that can indicate injury is not far away." Yoga can help a runner identify issues such as muscle imbalance.  Overuse of one muscle, and subsequently underuse of a complimentary muscle, can lead to overcompensation which opens the door for injury.  Yoga addresses all muscle groups which allows a runner to tune-in to their body to see what changes need to be made.  While a runner may complain of knee pain at the start of a yoga class, by the end she had learned the pain actually stems from the hip.  Certain poses can then be done before a run to open up the hips and reduce the risk of injury.  Learn how to identify pain and then work to fix and reduce it.  Don’t push yourself through it! 

Improves Balance

The practice of yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance.  For runners, better balance means fewer falls (oh, it does happen).  It also means less knee and back pain. 

Boosts Your Immune System

Contracting and stretching muscles drains your lymphs (a colorless fluid containing white blood cells, that bathes the tissues and drains through the lymphatic system into the bloodstream). Regularly doing this helps the lymphatic system fight infection and destroy cancer cells.  Who doesn’t want to do that to their body?  And if you are a runner training for a big race, you can’t afford to get sick! 



Relieves Stress 


This one is near and dear to my anxiety-ridden heart.  The breathing techniques taught in yoga teaches your body to slow down and relax.  It lowers your breathing and heart rate and lowers your blood pressure too.  It also lowers your cortisol levels which helps anyone suffering from adrenal fatigue (the reason why I wake up at 2 AM wide awake and ready to party).  Your body releases cortisol when it senses an acute crisis.  When cortisol levels remain high, it can compromise your immune system and over time lead to brain damage.  Stress is dangerous - do yoga. 

There you have it – my top 5 reasons for why runners should practice yoga.  What do you think?  Are you ready to try?  Remember, you don’t have to go crazy when first starting off.  As a busy working out of the home mom, I rely on DVD’s for my yoga practice.  If you are not ready to commit to that then just incorporating a few poses such as “Pigeon Pose” (see picture) after a run will help your body.