If you are like most runners, finding the time to stretch, work on core strength, and properly recover can be difficult. What if devoting as little as an extra 1 – 2 hours per week could improve these three aspects of your running? Attending yoga class once or twice weekly can do just that by providing the important benefits listed below.
Yoga has been shown to improve recovery by decreasing blood pressure, reducing heart rate, reducing blood glucose levels, and reducing stress. These benefits signal relaxation to the body, thereby reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. As stress diminishes, inflammation also decreases, allowing the body to fully recover.
Improved Core Strength
Certain yoga styles, such as Vinyasa or Power Yoga, can double as intense core workouts. Many yoga positions deliver full body workouts, including plank, three-legged downward facing dog, Chaturanga, knee-to-arm plank, and chair pose.
While the jury is still out whether stretching before or after exercise definitively reduces the incidence of injury, no physiologist will deny that tight muscles can contribute to certain injuries, such as tendonitis or shin splints. When we run, muscles are shortened, which can lead to tightness, pulling and discomfort up the chain. Yoga helps to stretch and strengthen overworked muscles, such as calves, hamstrings, back, and hips. Prone to plantar fasciitis, tight calves, or hamstring strains? Yoga may help.
Improved Mental Toughness
One of the major tenets of yoga is unemotional observation of one’s surroundings. While it may be difficult to imagine how this correlates to running, consider the runner’s mindset late in the race or during a tough workout. Yoga can teach a runner to calmly take note of form, breathing, discomfort, etc. while creating a plan for action, instead of a mental breakdown.
Breath (also known as prana) is considered to be a major life force in yoga, capable of providing a person with energy. When we control our breathing, we are signaling to our bodies that all is well. Yoga teaches athletes how to provide themselves with clarity, calmness and energy through different breathing practices such as ‘the extended exhale’ where breath is drawn in for four counts, paused for two counts, exhaled for eight counts, and again paused for two counts before repeating the cycle. This form of breathing helps calm the parasympathetic system, which is directly responsible for relaxation — a trick that can be used late in a race!