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If you can’t remember when you last exercised with shoes on, it’s time to give running another shot. The good news? Your body is ready. Lace up for our 10-Day Endurance Primer, starting May 20 on Instagram, to pick up tips on stride, recovery, and more. Bring on the sweat!
Whether you have caught the running bug, are looking to add some cardio to your fitness regimen, or have recently accepted a challenge to sign up for a race, way to go! While yoga provides a wealth of benefits, most of us don’t practice asana at an intensity that truly challenges and increases cardiovascular capabilities the way that running does. And the good news is you don’t need an all-out sprint to reap the metabolic rewards; even relatively low-intensity running creates change on a cellular level by enhancing the body’s ability to break down nutrients into usable energy more efficiently. While embarking on your first (or first-in-a-while) endurance training program might seem intimidating, as an active yogi, you’re actually far better prepared than you might think. Here are some pointers for putting your existing yoga skills to use when you hit the track, trail or road.
1. Your core is already strong.
Running is not just about the legs. It’s a coordinated whole-body effort, which means that core stability is a major factor. A strong core provides the foundation for efficient, economical movement in the limbs, and is therefore critical for injury prevention. Stable hips allow for a powerful stride and keep excess strain out of the knees and ankles. Similarly, the pumping action of the arms contributes to forward momentum, as well as balancing the movement in the legs. Many runners find their back and shoulders tensing up as mileage increases, so upper body strength is essential for keeping these actions easy and smooth. A yoga-strong core keeps the whole body moving smoothly as one unit, facilitates fluidity throughout the gait cycle, and keeps you healthy as you rack up more miles.
To step up core strength and hip stability in preparation for running, practice standing poses like Eagle Pose (Garudasana) and Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). And since running is very much a dynamic effort, controlled transitions between poses help promote whole-body coordination. Try flowing between Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) and Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana), making the transition as fluid as possible. You could also practice moving between Plank and Side Plank (on either hands or elbows); focus on keeping the hips and low back from sagging and maintaining a firm core and active shoulders throughout.
See also Yoga for Trail Running
2. You are already tuned in to your breath.
The breath awareness yogis practice on the mat is a valuable skill when it comes to endurance training. The breath is a natural gauge of intensity, and hitting a rhythmic sweet spot brings a decidedly meditative vibe to your run. Body and mind connect, and there’s an effortless quality to your movements. If this sounds like the calm focus that can sometimes be attained during yoga practice, that’s because it is! Runners refer to this state as being “in the zone.” Luckily, yogis have a solid head start on getting in the zone, thanks to established mindfulness habits and honed body awareness.
Head out for a run and letting your breath be your guide, just as it is in asana. When it’s strong and full, you are most likely working sustainably within your limits. A shallow, short breath is your cue to dial your speed back to a more manageable pace.
See alsoThe Yoga Guide For Runners
3. Running is basically a meditation.
If you rely on upbeat jams to push you through the extra mile, this will take some getting used to: Try ditching the music. Hear us out: Running is a mechanically complex and psychologically satisfying endeavor—and music is ultimately nothing more than an unnecessary distraction. The aim while running is to immerse yourself in the present moment and connect to your body as you move. Additional sensory input takes your focus outside of the body. In much the same way that we adjust our bodies in asana to balance steadiness and comfort, successful runners also micro-correct their gait to find ease in the midst of physical effort. Eliminating unnecessary tension in this way enables you to run for longer and avoid repetitive strain injuries, too. As good a reason as any to leave the headphones at home!
Next time you head out or a jog, try turning your attention inward. Observe your body in action, noting if your movements feel efficient. If you’re wasting energy on over-striding, hunched shoulders or a clenched jaw, it’ll be obvious.
4. You already know exactly how to rehab your tight muscles.
Even though it can be hard to give up the exhilaration of vinyasa, fun arm balances and deep hip openers, your body will thank you for taking your practice down a notch or two as you step up your cardio training. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, since you’re already getting plenty of yang energy in running, there’s no need to pile on more in your practice. In fact, exerting yourself in yoga class will not only feel strenuous but may impede muscle recovery or even sabotage your next run.
As you progress in your training, you’ll also notice muscles getting tighter, particularly in your legs and hips. This is normal and not a bad thing. Repetitive motion tends to make muscles shorter, and runners need some stiffness for stability. Subsequently, it makes sense to use your time on the mat for releasing tension, maintaining range of motion, and generally unwinding to counter the effects of training. The key is balance.
After you’ve started running, try slower movements on the mat to explore tight nooks and crannies and discover the best ways yoga can complement your training. Chances are, you’ll find it far more enjoyable to spend a few more breaths in a mellow stretch than to blast through another vinyasa.
ABOUT OUR WRITER
Jenni Tarma is a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher, runner and CrossFitter. She is certified in teaching Yoga For Athletes (via Sage Rountree), is a RRCA Distance Running Coach, and is currently studying with Tiffany Cruikshank for her 500hr Yoga Medicine certification. She loves to move, and believes yoga is the athlete’s key to form, function and focus! Find her on Instagram: @jennitarma and www.jennitarma.com.