Enhance Your Running Practice with Yoga

by Editor on June 27, 2011

Did you know that if you run one mile, your feet hit the ground in excess of 1000 times at two to three times your body weight?

Holy joint pain Batman!

For some (present company included), minimalist running is a great way to prevent or alleviate the joint pain that can result from this kind of impact. I’ve been a yoga practitioner for more than 13 years and a yoga teacher for almost five. I started running this year, and regular running shoes caused me joint pain beyond belief. Reducing both the weight and heel rise of my shoes (which, with training, is much of what minimalist running is about) helped considerably. It didn’t happen overnight. I made efforts with my brain and my body. That’s where yoga really makes an impact – yoga can help your running, sans shoes or with them.

Running pain is typically caused by imbalances and overcompensation. Running uses muscles throughout the body – many only subtly, but it uses them nonetheless. Just breathing can be so beneficial and can return you to yourself. Pranayama (or breath control) is a valuable tool that yoga teaches. It may be the most valuable tool, because anyone in any condition can learn and use the breath to their advantage. Yoga teaches and cultivates this skill, among many other things.

Do an Internet search on yoga for runners and you’ll find a multitude of yoga asanas (stretches or poses) that will assist your running practice. From grade school, we were taught to stretch before and after exercise. We know that it helps. It warms and loosens the muscles and prepares for what’s to come. Stretching alone is one thing. Yoga is not altogether different, but it goes far beyond stretching. Here are a few other aspects of yoga that will enhance your running program:

AWARENESS Being mindful while running can reduce pain. Yoga cultivates awareness! It cultivates awareness first on the mat as we focus on various aspects of our body in a pose. It moves beyond the mat as we grow more aware of our tendencies and ourselves through our yoga practice.

RELAXATION Yoga initiates the parasympathetic nervous system, our “rest and digest” mode which is opposite of “fight and flight”. Actively using and understanding this system through yoga gives us greater freedom of movement because we are better able to manage our energy.

BALANCE Yin to the yang! That’s what yoga is all about. We never do a pose on one side of the body without doing it on the other. Yoga cultivates balance both on the mat and off. Physically it helps us find our natural center of gravity.

MENTAL TOUGHNESS Yoga cultivates discipline. Running requires discipline. Observing the breath, managing it and staying with it can get us through anything. Certainly, you’ve heard of Lamaze for childbirth. Need I say more?

BREATH AWARENESS Yep, breath again. It is so powerful. The more oxygen we take in and use appropriately, the better our overall health becomes. Using and cultivating a breathing practice enhances single-pointed concentration and takes us more deeply into ourselves. It moves us beyond thought and into being.

FLEXIBILITY Yoga increases range of motion and flexibility. The greater our flexibility, the less we overcompensate with our muscles to make up for it. Overcompensation causes imbalance and pain. If you have a “no pain, no gain” mentality, do yourself and favor and build flexibility. Your body will thank you (instead of cursing you) later.

STRENGTH We build muscles and physical strength by holding poses for longer periods of time as we grow in our yoga practice. We build mental strength by watching our mind and tendencies as we hold them.

CONCENTRATION Yoga builds our ability to concentrate for longer periods of time. Balancing poses assist with it and allow us to notice times in which concentration is difficult.

PROPER ALIGNMENT Any good yoga teacher knows that a pose starts with the feet. Proper grounding in a pose is important so we feel safe and supported as we move through practice, and so that the pose can unfold from this place of safety and support.

MINDFULNESS Over time, yoga cultivates mindfulness on and off the mat. Mindfulness is key to running so our thoughts don’t get the best of us.

These basic ten aspects of yoga will enhance your running – and there was no mention of a pose! Convinced yet? Try it today. Start slow, listen to your body, and let it be the judge.

Heather Church, Yoga Pro & Minimalist Runner

Heather Church is a yoga teacher, writer and web strategist.  She teaches at a local college and writes passionately about sustainability, minimalism, yoga, yogic philosophy and mindfulness. Heather also works for a rockin’ location independent technology company where she develops websites, provides web and social media strategy and writes in all forms. Beyond the professional labels, her passions include outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking, rollerblading and minimalist running. When not on the mat, putting pen to paper or on an adventure quest, Heather is happiest at home living a quiet simple life with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Find her at namaste*heather,  and connect on Facebook and Twitter.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Samantha July 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I’ve just started Hatha Yoga a few months ago and it has helped me incredibly for my running. It helped me recover from my IT band syndrome and from some lower back pain I’d had for months. I am so much more aware of my body and its aches and pains AND when it needs a rest.

Heather Church July 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Yay for you Samantha! Keep it up. Yoga is fabulous beyond words and you don’t really “get it” until you practice. I’m happy it’s helped. Thanks for reading and feel free to connect w/me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/namaste.heather

Joe Sparks July 18, 2011 at 11:14 am

Hi Heather,
Great article !
I am a Sivananda yoga teacher and Certified Pose Method Running coach in Perrysburg, Ohio. I love teaching yoga and running. Both are skills that need to be taught properly.
Gravity plays the major role in running. Learning how to use gravity to your advantage, will prevent most running related injuries.
Yoga makes it easier to interactive with gravity, especially the awareness you develop by doing the poses barefoot.

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