I spent last week in western Canada presenting clinics on yoga for runners, hosted by prAna and Mountain Equipment Co-Op stores in Vancouver, Calgary, and Alberta. (For a complete rundown on the clinic content, check my blog.)
It's a real treat to get to sit down with active yogis and hear their questions about combining yoga and sports. The clinics felt like focus groups—I got to hear students' concerns, the areas of yoga that perplex them, what they love about yoga and what's unclear. These themes emerged from the visit.
Many students expressed concern about keeping their knees healthy as they continue in sports and in yoga. We did a routine that should help with knee health: stepping back to lunges from Mountain Pose, then returning to Mountain and balancing on one leg. By building strength in the hip and lower leg, we protect the knee; by increasing flexibility in the hips and thighs, we free the knee from stress.
More generally, yoga works to prevent injury by bringing balance into the body. We literally build balance in space, as well as balance between strength and flexibility, side to side, top to bottom.
What to Do, When
There is a time and place for various approaches to yoga, from vigorous group practices to gentle, restorative poses at home. Consider where you are in your training cycle, and choose a practice that supports your training, instead of loading more stress onto an already tired body.
You can also include yoga before, during, and after your workout. Flowing sequences beforehand will get your muscles firing; paying attention to alignment, breath, and mental focus during your workout will benefit you physical, mentally, and emotionally. A few standing stretches as you finish the workout can capitalize on your muscles being warm and give you a jumpstart on recovery.
My favorite question, asked in Calgary, was a big one: "Why do yoga and not just other exercises?" Here’s why: for the opportunity for presence. Certainly you can do yoga poses without awareness, just like you can do other exercise with full attention to your breath and a steady mind. Why do we run and train? For fitness, sure, but more than that, we do it to learn coping mechanisms. Training and yoga give us the skills to stay present in the face of intensity. They teach us our limits. They confer tools to manage life, moment to moment. We can learn this in many practices—running, golf, washing dishes. But not every practice has a culture of discussing these deep experiences. Yoga does. In yoga, we acknowledge that, talk about it, and embrace it—and by doing this, we feel connected.