I recently ran across a heated forum discussion on runnersworld.com debating the benefits of yoga and running. Some people were clearly offended by the thought of doing yoga and wanted to destroy anyone’s interest in doing yoga as cross training. I can understand choosing not to do yoga for whatever reason, but to try and discourage yoga for people who want to do it – well, this I just cannot understand. Naysayers sited the lack of science proving that yoga has benefits for runners.
I agree, no real scientific studies have directly examined the correlation between yoga and running performance. Most of the benefits are based on conjecture, logic and empirical evidence. I can’t tell you how many runners have told me that they have been side-lined by injuries that only yoga helped relieve. I truly believe that the focus, mind-body awareness, core strength and balance that yoga provides helps me power through the last miles of a marathon and protects me from injury.
While yoga and running may seem like distinctly different activities, including both as part of your fitness routine can help ensure a well-rounded, injury-free body. Runners sometimes shy away from yoga because they “can’t” go that slowly and crave the rush of adrenaline only found out on the trail. Other runners may avoid yoga because they are so tight and unbalanced that they find it hurts. These very objections are just a few of the reasons yoga is an invaluable resource to runners in promoting mental clarity, body balance and ultimately, more pleasant running experiences. Although yoga offers dozens of benefits to runners, three primary ones should be enough to encourage you to get on the mat:
- Balance: Balance refers to the symmetry of the body, not the ability to stand on one leg. Runners tend to experience extreme pounding, tightening and shortening of the muscles, without giving their bodies time to lengthen and loosen. The body compensates by further tightening tight muscles – particularly hip flexors, quads and hamstrings – while weak muscles – low back, erectors and core – simply become weaker. Yoga offers a chance to elongate and undue sport-specific tightness – increasing range of motion and diminishing the negative effects of one-dimensional workouts.
- Mental Clarity: Running, especially long distances, requires a special ability to be mentally clear. Yoga trains you to focus on breathing in the moment and to sustain discomfort. It also teaches you to distinguish between challenge and true physical pain. Runners need to stop when true pain occurs so as not to exacerbate an injury to the point of forced rest.
- Stress Relief: For some, the endorphins produced during running offer stress relief. However, the constant pounding and physical exertion puts physical stress on the body. Yoga offers an alternative way to de-stress and focus on the moment. It also offers a way for the body itself to recover – calming the adrenals and the muscles so you are ready to hit the pavement at full capacity on your next run.
This information is available to folks who are members of the running club at the Lifetime Fitness in Colorado Springs, where I will be teaching a workshop focusing on “Yoga for Runners” this weekend. For the forum debate, go here: http://www.runnersworld.com/community/forums/training/training-essentials-workouts/should-doing-yoga-but/.0