Back to Basics

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My coaching client Dave Dirito, a well-balanced ultra-marathon runner, begins the run leg of the Beach2Battleship Half Iron-Distance race. Note his steady form: knee over foot, hips and shoulders level and neck long.

Have you ever seen someone running with their chin jutted forward, shoulders hunched, and wildly swinging arms and feet? Sometimes you wonder how they don't fall flat on their faces let alone finish a race. While they may be able to cover ground, I guarantee they're not doing it efficiently. Poor alignment in running, as with any sport, forces you to expend more energy to perform basic biomechanical actions and puts undue strain on other parts of your body, all the way up the kinetic chain. In short, you're not performing your best when you're misaligned, and you very well may be putting yourself at risk for injury.

Yoga offers tremendous lessons for fixing even long-held poor alignment patterns. And a great place to start is with the basics. Let's take Tadasana (Mountain Pose), standing steady and aligned. It teaches ways of holding your body in space that you can then apply to any other asana as well as your sport. And on a metaphorical level, learning how to stand in your strength, aligned with your core, is critical for performance under pressure. Memorize the right alignment in Tadasana, and you'll be able to come back to efficient form on the mat, on the trail, on the field, on the golf course, or in the water.

Let's build the pose from the ground up. First, check that your feet are aligned under your hips, where they would fall when you run. If you are used to practicing with your big toes touching, try a slightly wider stance for mountain pose and see how it works for you. Knees face over toes, and the hips are balanced over all of the legs. This gives you a broad, grounded stance, a base of stability from which you can grow upward toward the sky.

Your pelvis must be in a neutral position--not tilted forward, not slumped backward. For many of us, finding neutral involves dropping the tailbone and pulling the belly button in slightly. When you do this, you should feel transversus abdominis, your deep core muscles, engage. Get to know this feeling and you'll be able to come back into core alignment throughout your asana practice and your sport training. Using this engagement will help you stabilize from the core outward, fending off lower back pain, hip problems, and even knee and foot issues.

Higher up, your lower ribs and your shoulder blades should move toward your spine--don't let either of them wing out. Lower your chin and slide it back a little as the crown of your head lifts upward. Breathe, and see how it feels to be stable, steady, and grounded.

Now try changing something: lift a leg, or both arms, or rotate around the central axis of your spine. Can you use this light engagement toward center to return to that same grounded, steady, stable feeling even as you move parts of your body? Once you can, you'll be able to come back to this efficient form whenever you find yourself getting tired or sloppy. It's here, waiting, solid as a mountain.

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Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher, endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of The Athlete's Guide to Yoga. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online at Yoga Vibes.

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Caption: My coaching client Dave Dirito, a well-balanced ultra-marathon runner, begins the run leg of the Beach2Battleship Half Iron-Distance race. Note his steady form: knee over foot, hips and shoulders level and neck long.