Yoga – A Secret Weapon for Runners (and non-runners)

Flexibility is not my strength - but gains are so fulfilling! Flexibility is not my strength - but gains are so fulfilling!

When my world was turned upside down & things seemed hopeless, I found myself walking alone, a lot. I would spend many hours on the beach, hearing only the waves crashing in my head. It’s amazing how therapeutic the ocean can be, but when I left its calmness, the world became hopeless again. Running helped, but I needed something else to substitute for the sea.

During the chaos, a dear friend in Malibu asked me to join her at a yoga class. She was so supportive & I felt I needed to comply if only to repay her for her unwavering support. I always had this preconceived notion that yoga was about sitting with your legs crossed & chanting. I wasn’t prepared to experience the same pain I once felt from extreme workouts in my racing days.

I know I looked foolish trying these new poses. The teacher was constantly gravitating to me, offering gentle advice and assistance. It was the balance, or lack thereof, that threw me for a loop.  Wow, was I clumsy & humbled thinking, dammit, I’m an Olympic athlete. This shit should be easy. But nothing motivates you more when you literally fall over into the guy posing next to you. It was time to take this seriously & perfect it I thought.

Little did I know at the time that you never truly perfect it. You never stop learning with yoga. I loved the challenge of trying to get better though. Running came so easily and naturally for me, but not this. Progress on a new pose felt like running a personal best to me. The high felt amazing and my body was changing as I was seeing more definition in my abs & arms. I had no idea that yoga was ALL about core.

Most importantly though, this was having a significant affect on my mind. Each breath I took in class brought needed relief to all the craziness swirling in my head. Why didn’t I find this sooner? I thought of the injuries I may have avoided, the stress that drove me to darkness in the first place. During my competition years, I did the supplements, the cross training, the ridiculously painful cross friction therapy, but how did I miss out on this?

So don’t be afraid to try yoga. I find it to be of such great use in conjunction with my running and I think you may as well.

It can provide greater flexibility. Think that might assist with injury prevention or a limited stride?

It makes you stronger, focusing on muscles that are neglected. You all know how important core is to running, right? Yoga just MIGHT be of assistance here!

The emphasis on breathing can carry over to your running as well. You will learn to breathe more efficiently & effectively. Getting more oxygen to our muscles enables us to run stronger. I have seen so many runners who simply don’t know how to breathe correctly.

And finally, here’s the greatest benefit. Do you think the mind plays a part in successful running? Yeah, just a bit. One of the reasons many of us are drawn to running is the constant mental challenge it throws at us. If you do it right, you’ll learn to find a peace & calmness in your body when the poses get extremely tough to maintain. It’s a practice of blocking out pain & substituting it with an inner peace. Once you get it, your mind should be clear & focused on breathing. It takes a lot of practice, and I’m certain years of running helped me find it quicker than usual, but once you get it, WOW!

One more important piece of advice when it comes to yoga. You MUST let go of your ego when practicing. Otherwise it will frustrate you to no end. Yoga is not about what OTHERS can do. Don’t compare yourself to what the gal next to you is doing (picture a human pretzel). This is difficult to avoid, but if you can be satisfied with your own progress, you will benefit so much more. This really is one time where it’s all about YOU.

Here are three classic poses that I would recommend for runners along with links to give you a bit of instruction if you are not familiar with them:

  1. Warrior 2: http://www.myyogaonline.com/poses/standing/warrior-ii-pose-virabhadrasana-ii
  2. Downward Dog: http://www.myyogaonline.com/poses/forward-bends/downward-facing-dog-pose-adho-mukha-svanasana
  3. Plank: http://www.myyogaonline.com/poses/stabilizers/plank-pose-phalakasana

Namaste, Suzy Favor Hamilton – YogaWorks Certified Yoga Teacher