Even a little yoga can reap big rewards for a runner

 

I grew up believing that if a workout wasn’t painful, it wasn’t worth it.

Which is why I had so much trouble believing in the benefits of yoga.

The thing about yoga is that is seems so different from any other athletic endeavor. It forces you to slow down, be deliberate and focus. That is pretty much the opposite of my life, and when I went to the gym, I pretty much looked to slow myself down by wearing myself out.

The hardest yoga concept for me to handle was the breathing. Just the fact that I was asked to be aware of my breath made me anxious. And trying to sync movement with my breath, well, I can multi-task all day, but don’t ask me to exhale deliberately.

It wasn’t until I began going to yoga a couple of times a week that I began to see what my frantic pace was hiding from me. Not only were the yoga poses helping me heal my body, but the breath control was actually helping me when I played sports.

When I had a sore neck or aching hips, a yoga class would often help alleviate the pain. And what I noticed right away was that when I did something difficult (lifting weights of any kind), I had a tendency to hold my breath. I know — not a good thing when your muscles are trying to impress everyone else in the weight room.

After yoga I was more aware of my desire to pant like a dog when I ran up hills. (And in case you’ve never done this, it is a sure-fire way to cause a side ache and make yourself light-headed.)

About a month ago, yoga expert Beth Shaw with YogaFit sent me “the top five yoga poses for runners.”

I am a believer in classes or private lessons. Especially if you’re recovering from an injury. You need someone to make sure you’re doing the poses correctly, and maybe alter them if they are too difficult.

But Shaw’s list of poses is pretty helpful. She suggests runners add these five poses to their cross-training schedule for benefits like improved flexibility, strength, mental focus, calm and relaxation. Remember, part of improving as an athlete is the ability to recover from particularly grueling workouts.

Her suggestions are dancer pose, upside down pigeon, forward fold, lateral flexion and butterfly pose.

Pictures of each pose accompany this story, but here is what I know about these poses from experience.

Dancer pose is awesome for balance. Running is methodical and frankly, we get lazy when we spend a lot of time on the treadmill or running on the road. The thing about balance is that you’re not aware you’re losing it until one day you fall and wonder when you became so clumsy.

The upside down pigeon pose is the best stretch I know for IT band issues. Sore hips and knees can be healed by correctly and consistently doing this pose.

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