5 Ways Practicing Yoga Makes Me A Better Runner
Before I discovered the art of yoga, I lived in the land of cardio — running, to be exact. I lived for my next race, upped the distance ante every chance I got and loved seeing those split pace statistics decrease day by day. I also ended up with a fair number of chronic injuries, thanks to overtraining and the lack of diversity in my fitness regimen.
But today, running and yoga are the yin and yang of my workout world. Most days, they feel like polar opposites in both intensity and intention, but that’s what makes them both so effective. When I initially leaned into yoga to help me heal, I never imagined how much more it could offer my mind and body. But wow did it deliver. Here are the five ways my yoga practice has made me a better runner over the years.
1. I check my competitive impulses at the door.
The need to push that much harder and be that much faster or better simply doesn’t exist in the yoga studio. All of the wonderful teachers I’ve had the chance to learn from have made it clear that the point of practicing yoga isn’t to achieve perfection or create the ideal shape with your body. It’s about connecting mentally to how you’re moving physically and feeling in sync with yourself. Once I experienced this kind of self-awareness on my mat, it naturally made its way into my free runs. And it’s the reason I can now treat running as a form of moving meditation rather than a grueling athletic feat 100 percent of the time.
2. I move through every plane of motion.
When you run, all of your bones, muscles and joints continuously move in the same direction — over and over and over again. There’s little exploration of lateral or rotational movements, which are key for strengthening muscles throughout the body, maintaining a sense of flexibility and, ultimately, avoiding injury. It’s no surprise that frequent running led me to repetitive stress injuries, and it’s no surprise that yoga was the perfect medicine for tending to those injuries. The practice has taught me not only how good it feels to move your body in every which way, but how important it is to achieve that balance on a regular basis.
3. I fix what I break.
Running overburdens big muscle groups while yoga activates the smaller ones that are harder to find. Running tightens everything while yoga is one big stretch fest. After a long run or an intense race, my body now craves time in the studio because it knows that’s how it will mend and return stronger for the next 10K or hill sprint session. Yoga rebuilds my body, making it stronger than when I first stepped onto my mat, which prepares me even better for when it’s time to run again.
4. I build mental stamina as much as physical endurance.
Any marathoner knows that just brute strength doesn’t get you across that finish line — it’s about how much your brain can take. And yoga is one of the best brain-training forms of fitness out there. Learning how to remain calm when you feel extremely uncomfortable — balancing effort with ease — is the only way you ever progress with yoga postures… and with the amount of distance you can cover when pounding the pavement. It’s my favorite form of mind control because you feel such a dramatic difference once you figure out how to harness it.
5. I connect with the power of breath.
See ya never, side cramps. Even if I’m stressed or dehydrated, I no longer have to fight my body as it tries to absorb enough oxygen and keep lactic acid at bay. That’s because yoga has taught me how to breathe — and I mean really breathe. It’s amazing how few of us actually take full inhales and exhales throughout the day, let alone when we’re exercising. But once you learn to use your diaphragm, magic happens. That hyperventilating sensation becomes a distant memory of your past, your nervous system syncs up with you and the activity you’re doing and you experience such a unique sense of control over your body. Seriously, as long as you’re breathing, anything is possible.