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Why Yoga Is So Crucial For Runners
Plus four poses to add to your post-run stretch session.
It’s no secret that yoga is one of the best activities you can do for your health. Practicing yoga even once per week can decrease stress, reduce inflammation, promote better sleep and improve flexibility (just to name a few benefits). And it makes you happier!
Perhaps no group can reap the benefits of yoga quite like runners. Why? Because yoga loosens those tight spots (hello, hamstrings) that are often associated with running. The two ancient practices are intertwined like that—a yin and yang—and doing both can really help increase your range of motion and overall performance.
Any kind of yoga is better than none at all, but the best yoga poses after running are the ones that develop strength in the core, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors. We’ve put together a primer for runners on the best yoga poses to start practicing now.
Besides increasing flexibility, yoga helps strengthen muscles, which is key for running faster with less pain. “Runners who do yoga will see less injuries,” says yoga instructor Anne McHargue. “If you’re a runner, your hips, hamstrings and psoas are usually tight because of the repetition of movement and impact. Strengthening and lengthening these muscles is key.”
Yoga is all about balance, both for the nervous system and for the structure of the body itself. “In order to have a complete and healthy nervous system, you need to incorporate practices that restore the body’s organs and tissues,” says yoga and mindfulness teacher Raquel Jordan. “In runners, yoga helps prevent chronic pain like knee injuries, shin splints, sprained ankles and aching backs.”
In addition to structural imbalances, Jordan says that running contributes to lactic acid build-up in the muscles and tissues. “You need to stretch muscles that are contracting,” she says. “This helps flush lactic acid and ensures your muscles don’t become overly tight. When we’re asking the body to move one specific way for long periods of time, we have to use functional movements like yoga to counteract that.”
“Yoga can help you find rhythmic breathing, which increases your ability to fill the lungs with long, slow breaths,” says McHargue. “This helps create a meditation within the movement, which will keep you focused for longer runs.”
Some call this kind of moving meditation a “natural high.” It can be achieved in both yoga and running, which is why the two practices are so complementary. Syncing up your body, mind and breath will take your performance to the next level. “Long-distance runners can get into flow-like states,” says Jordan, “which helps with stress management. Both practices encourage you to lean into some discomfort while maintaining a regulated breath and calm mind.”
Like yoga, running helps discharge stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. It also helps increase circulation to assist the lymphatic system in releasing toxins. “The aftermath is a huge release of endorphins,” Jordan says, “which are the ‘feel good’ chemicals.”
Maybe that’s why when you see someone post-run or coming out of the studio in their yoga gear, they’re usually in a good mood.
Yoga is a breath-based practice. Strengthening your relationship with your breath will help with endurance and performance. “Your breath is your pacemaker and sustainer,” says Jordan. “Breath work in a yoga practice strengthens the diaphragm and trains the mind-body connection of syncing breath with movement.”
“Less oxygen equals more physical stress,” says McHargue. “This is why taking deep, long, slow breaths in both running and yoga will help the body relax. And then that’s when you’ll start to receive all the benefits each activity has to offer.” Adds Jordan, “Breath regulates the heartbeat, oxygenates the brain and body, and sends a message to the nervous system: I am okay.”
Because yoga is all about balance, it makes sense that many of the best yoga poses for runners (done on the feet) are done on the floor. “A little yoga goes a long way for runners,” says McHargue. ”If you’re just starting out, look for slow flows, restorative yoga or yin.”
Here are four poses to get you started:
Low Crescent Lunge (opens up legs and hips)
From downward dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Lower your left knee to the floor (keep the top of your foot facing down towards the floor). Lift your torso upright and sweep your arms upwards. Draw your tailbone down and lift your chest.
Supine Pigeon (stretches hips, back and hamstrings)
Come onto your back with your knees bent and thighs hip-distance apart. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Flex your front foot so the center of your foot lines up with your kneecap. Pull your right knee towards your chest and thread your left arm through the triangle created between your legs. Clasp your hands around the back of your right leg. After several breaths, switch legs.
Warrior 3 (strengthens glutes)
From a lunge position, stretch your arms forward with palms facing each other. Push into your front leg and lift the back leg. Straighten your front knee and think about pressing the head of your thigh bone back. Position your arms, torso and raised leg parallel to the floor. Square your hips and hold. Release back into a lunge and switch legs.
Half Splits (stretches lower back, hamstrings, calves and feet)
From a low lunge, straighten the front leg and bring the hip directly above the back knee. Inhale halfway up, pulling your shoulder blades down your back and moving your shoulders away from your ears. Find length from the crown of your head to your tailbone. Hinging at the hips, fold slightly down towards your front leg. Take a few breaths, then switch legs.