When I first started teaching yoga fourteen years ago, and writing about how it can benefit athletes, my running buddies were skeptical. But in the years since then, yoga has become mainstream, specific classes for runners are on the rise, and yoga and running are no longer mutually exclusive activities. Whether it’s through greater breath control, increased leg strength, better posture, relief of post-run tightness or simply a deeper awareness of the way our bodies move, yoga is a great complement to any type of running training.
Since YMC is participating in the RBC Run For the Kids on Sept 21, I’ll be posting a series of articles over the next few weeks outlining yoga tips, exercises and poses to help you with your running training. Whether you’re joining us for the 5km run, walk or stroll, or whether you’re training for something different, check back regularly to see how you can “yoga your running.”
Breath is energy, and breath control can help us run to our full potential. Breathing is something we often overlook until we’re literally “running” out of breath. When we feel out of breath it means the body is craving more oxygen to be delivered to the muscles. It’s a signal to ask ourselves: Are we intentionally pushing the limits of our body to increase our fitness level or performance? Or do we need to slow down our pace and breathe a little more deeply on this particular run?
Having an awareness of the breath can help us distinguish between the positive effects of challenging the body and the negative effects of overexertion. When our breath becomes shallow our heart rate increases. Naturally, if this continues over a long period of time it can be taxing on the heart and the muscles of the body. On the other hand, by being conscious of our breath and learning how to control it, we can bring energy to the body, reduce muscle tension, and encourage a deeper sensitivity to the body’s signals.
The physical act of running places the body in a position that encourages deep inhalations; it is the exhalations that we need to be more aware of. (It takes more abdominal strength to control the exhalation).
To strengthen and increase your breath control, try this exercise at home:
This exercise can be done lying on your back or sitting upright. Place your hands on your stomach just below your ribcage. Take a few breaths and feel the ribcage and stomach expand and release as you inhale and exhale. To start the counting breath, breathe in for the count of four, hold the breath for the count of four, and exhale for the count of six. If this seems easy, increase the count for each. Repeat 10-20 times.
To incorporate a variation of this exercise into your runs, aim to make your exhalations at least as long as your inhalations when running. (For example, inhale for the count of two running steps, exhale for two or three steps, etc.) This will keep you aware of your breathing, and will also keep you focused on something other than how long you’ve been running!
For more training information, go on over to Sweaty Mummy’s blog for fitness and nutrition tips for running, check out my poses for Happy Hamstrings if you're chonically tight, and read about how to practice yoga safely.