Think about those runners you see winning races. What words come up to describe their gait? Smooth. Effortless. Floating. Gliding. Elite athletes are able to find the balance between strength and flexibility in their range of motion.
Isn’t that how we want to feel in our bodies when we run? Smooth. Floating. Graceful. But often, we train ourselves to the point that our bodies feel stiff and sometimes crunchy and our movement becomes constricted or sloppy.
I believe a lot of this tendency to overtrain comes from a lack of connection to and awareness of our bodies. We take pride in following through with our training plans no matter what. We run through thirst and hunger and fatigue. We hit our mileage and our splits sometimes at the cost of tearing something or ending up in a boot. We tune out from our bodies because we believe that our bodies can only hold us back.
Becoming connected with our bodies and the information that we receive from them can only make us better runners. Yoga encourages the practice of paying attention to the impact of small alignment changes. In yoga practice, you will learn to pay attention. Where do you feel challenged? Where do you feel stable? Where do you feel this stretch? What is your breath doing? Increasing this body awareness increases running performance by helping build an awareness of thirst, hunger, and proper pace so that you can react accordingly and quickly. By building the habit of noticing changes in your body, you will notice the first twinges of discomfort or injury and be accustomed to making adjustments to find a more comfortable pace or stride.
Yoga provides balance in our physical bodies. In running, the body naturally redistributes effort in places of weakness. Smaller muscle groups will take the brunt of the force if you have weak or injured hamstrings. On the other hand, yoga keeps your attention and focus on specific muscles. By seeking proper alignment, you will begin to strengthen weak muscles and get back to the natural distribution of energy and weight over muscle groups. This balance between muscle groups and overall strength is one of the keys to injury prevention.
Yoga also helps increase stability and balance. You will build an awareness of your feet and what is underfoot for time spent on trails. Running in town or on paved paths also presents hazards such as cracked pavement, acorns, and other things we don’t see when we are lost in our heads or chatting with our training buddies. By building an awareness of where your body is in space through yoga, you are better able to respond to what is underfoot during a run. Your body will have built the practice of seeking stability, and your feet and leg muscles will be more accustomed to finding balance.
Is your sport of choice something other than running? Are you a walker or just starting to run? Do you spend a lot of time on your feet? Is your job super stressful? Yoga can be for you too. Body awareness and balance can benefit most of us. In future articles, we will talk more about the emotional and stress-reducing benefits of yoga, how to fit yoga into your training cycle, and specific poses for after your run.
Krissie Bentley completed her 200-hr yoga teacher training under Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga in Nashville, Tennessee. She believes it is possible to create a world where we are at peace with our bodies. With kindness, we can care for our bodies through movement because we love them, not because we want to change them. Expect to find peace and challenge in each practice. Bring your own mat. Props are provided. Beginners are always welcome. Classes are $10 prepaid each ($11 at the door) and packages are available. Pre-registration is encouraged. Current schedule (September 2015) is 7:30pm Tuesdays at South Ashland. Friday morning and Sunday evening classes will return in April. More information about Krissie and classes she is teaching at JRWS is available on her website.