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What is yoga, and how does it help running?

I’m baaack! No, it’s not like the ghost of Christmas past, or some plastic zombie from an 80s horror show. I regret that I’ve abandoned you, my fellow running enthusiasts, for so long. In my defense, it had to do with serial pregnancies, huge life changes, getting a new dog, and learning skydiving through trial and error.

…Okay, maybe not that last part. But we’ve all had parts of life that feel like that.

All that said, I’m finally back in the swing of things. The last Wyoming snows (at this elevation, anyway) stopped falling just over a week ago, and it’s nearly Memorial Day. I’ve been back to concentrated workouts for about 10 months, and decided it’s time to get my mind and rear end back into running.

So…where does yoga come in?

I will say that I’ve become virtually obsessed with yoga since last I posted. Absolutely love the stuff. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot more yoga coming out, and I’m actually in the process of finding some great resources for yoga specifically tailored to runners. In fact, I did find this one, which teaches a lot of the same things I’ve learned from an in-person teacher over the last several months, but for a LOT cheaper. Despite a bad left hip, I’ve seen drastic improvements in my running ability, thanks in large part to the additional challenges yoga offers.

Before I get into that too much, I figured I better stop for a second to explain a bit about what yoga actually is. This might seem silly, because I don’t know anyone in the connected world who hasn’t at least heard about it, and yoga is one of the oldest and fastest-growing fitness trends on the planet.

Beliefs I’ve encountered about yoga

Ever since I started yoga, I’ve had all sorts of responses about it. The biggest is, “Well, I like all but the spiritual side of it.” On the extreme side, it’s, “Sure you get fit, but you’re opening your mind to the devil.” Seriously. I’ve gotten these responses, and more than once.

If you truly believe that I’ve become a devil worshiper, then feel free to sign off and find a new running journal now. For anyone who has just realized that they don’t know much about yoga, read on.

Top goals in yoga

Okay, it’s true that people from all different belief systems use yoga, and that it’s often used to assist meditation. That said, there’s nothing inherently religious about the practice itself. It’s spiritual inasmuch as you might hear something different when you get your brain to shut up, but that’s not an essential part of the experience.

Basically, yoga works on teaching your mind and your body to play nice with each other. Have you ever thought, “Yes!! I am going to jump this ditch, run uphill 10 miles, and then go for a swim across heavy currents!” Then you get halfway to the corner of your own block, and your body says something along the lines of, “Haha. Yeah, right.” Sound familiar? The scenario doesn’t have to be exactly identical.

At any rate – yoga works on helping raise your body awareness so you know exactly what you’re doing, and what you can do. The various poses (asanas) and stages of poses help you discover where you are now. It then encourages you to relax and stretch just a little more, and hold the stretch just a little bit longer. Before you know it, your posture is better, your range of motion is better, and your muscles are all toned.

How can yoga benefit runners?

Obviously, having a stronger body is always a plus in running. That’s one. Runners also often suffer from a loss of range in motion, because you end up spending so much time on that one exercise that other fitness activities kind of get kicked to the outskirts. Finally, a huge number of injuries occur in and around the knee joint.

Yoga helps strengthen the muscles that surround and support your knees and ankles, reducing your risk of injury. The better coordination yoga offers helps ensure you won’t trip over as much (assuming you run in the daytime and with your eyes open) or can catch yourself better when you do fall. It increases your versatility on varying terrains for the same reason.

Finally, you have to learn to empty your mind in order to do well in yoga. This is also usually what it takes to get to your second wind, and get past the various stages of lactic acid burn during your run. Overall, you just have a lot better running experience.

So yeah, if you’ve never tried yoga before and don’t want to go to a teacher, try this program to get a head start. It gives you a lot more instruction on proper form than videos do, and it’s developed expressly for people who want to improve running.