Marathoner and fitness enthusiast Pallavi Aga talks about how runners need to do yoga to marry constant movement with eternal calm!
Runners are typically ‘Type A’ personalities (ambitious and highly competitive) and are very conscientious about their personal and professional lives. Perfection and discipline are their second nature. Running is a high adrenaline driven activity and causes an adrenaline rush also known as “The Runner’s high”, which though beneficial at times, does cause stress on the body.
We live in an environment where we are constantly bombarded with signals that keep our sympathetic nervous system (it stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response) activated. Runners may face a heightened response to this stress, especially when preparing for an event. Terri Guillemets (an author from Arizona) once said, “Give stress wings and let it fly away”.
Yoga has the magical power to reduce stress and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes healing and emotional health. It adds the Yang to the Yin element always found in a runner’s life.
Introducing Yoga into your life.
Runners are initially sceptical of yoga as it’s difficult for them to sit still for prolonged periods as they are used to the constant movement. When I took up running, I was not interested in yoga myself. It was only later on that I realized that the constant use of running muscles led to stiffness and lack of flexibility which was the harbinger of injuries. It was at that point I understood the importance of yoga and decided on practising it. On further thinking, it hit me – yoga is the key to improving flexibility, calming the nervous system and distressing as its effects extended beyond the realm of the physical body.
Yoga has benefited me in so many ways – improving my flexibility, balance, body toning, strengthening my core and improving my breathing technique which in turn has calmed me down immensely. Today, I continue to practice yoga under the guidance of my guru Umesh Ji.
Yoga helps in stretching the stiff, tight muscles and lubricates the joints. The increased flexibility leads to ease of movement which is essential in preventing injury and reducing soreness. For example – the reclining and standing pigeon pose is excellent to stretch the iliotibial tract and the deep muscle pyriformis which are common causes of knee and hip pain in runners. The standing pigeon pose also helps in a deep hip stretch as well as adds to the balance and strength. The frog pose is important for a deep groin stretch. The only word of caution here is that never try to force extreme flexibility on yourself because as a runner this can be counterproductive too.
Surya Namaskar can be used as an excellent form of warm up before a long run. It has to be performed dynamically as pre-run static long stretches are not beneficial.
Balance and Proprioception (sometimes described as the ‘6th sense’)
Balance and Proprioception are very important for runners. A body imbalance increases your chances of stumbles and injuries. Having a balanced posture increases strength and also enhances your proprioception abilities. Standing postures like the Tree posture with eyes closed also increase the proprioception and reflexes.
Yoga is very helpful to build up the strength of unused muscles in the body. The muscles which are stiff and inflexible become weak and need to be relaxed and lengthened. Eccentric contraction of these muscles builds strength and stability.
Yoga also aids in building the upper body and core strength which is extremely beneficial for runners. Body weight postures utilize the whole body and not only the legs thereby strengthening the upper torso, arms and shoulders. It also increases the muscle tone causing less fatigue and less weight impact on the legs. A simple pose like Downward dog pose utilizes different muscle groups at the same time.
Yoga involves full command over your breath and breath with movement being an integral part. It promotes deep belly breathing which is beneficial when used during running prevents you from feeling breathlessness. Yogic techniques focus a lot on correct breathing and prevent the rapid, shallow breathing which can lead to oxygen depletion and toxin accumulation.
Complete body workout
Yoga poses involve all muscles and joints of the body in one pose alone. For e.g. the Toes pose stretches the Toes and the plantar fascia helping in the prevention of plantar fasciitis and foot pain.
The deep intrinsic fascia also gets stretched in long static holds which cause structural benefits to the joints. Chakrasana is one such pose which stretches the whole body.
Endocrine and nervous system
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system calms down the nervous system and brings down the cortisol level. High cortisol levels can cause breakdown of immunity and extreme fatigue and insomnia. Yoga practice makes a runner more mindful of this effect which in turn helps them to be productive in their runs.
Finding your edge
Runners should add yoga to their cross-training practice and they will observe a lot of benefits with the development of a healthy mind and body connection. It’s all about finding your edge and gently pushing into it so as to enjoy the sport rather than causing injuries and stress.
Combining yoga as an element to balance out your running will transform the way you feel, make you more agile and enjoy your running in a whole new way – with so many benefits to boot, it becomes important to include it as part of your cross-training.