Hatha yoga for runners
So, you’ve taken the plunge and signed up to run a marathon. It’s been loaded on your bucket list for years and something has made you insane enough to finally pull the trigger. As you will soon come to learn, cross training and rest days will become just as important as those days you spend building up your mileage. I’ve been a runner and racer for years, and for me there is no better cross training activity than yoga. Whether you opt for the heating effects of Bikram, or the more spiritual focus of Hatha style, practicing yoga will prepare you in many ways for the big day.
Oxygen is key to running long distances. Running is entirely aerobic; so, your body needs all the nutrient-rich oxygen it can get moving through the blood supply to keep the lungs functioning at maximum capacity. Hatha yoga considers breathing properly an integral part of the practice and there is much to be learned by runners from this focused breath.
In the process of pranayama, the lungs slowly intake oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Doing it deeply, slowly, and rhythmically provides a healthy boost to the circulatory, lymphatic, and nervous systems. As a result, runners can meet and increase their aerobic capacity without easily being fatigued, which, after mile 16, is definitely a must.
Although running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, it does little to support flexibility or to strengthen the muscles not used while running. In fact, pounding the pavement over time leads to tightening and shortening of the leg muscles and joints. Practicing asanas however, will lengthen and loosen, doing wonders to counteract the stiffness associated with overused knees and joints. Furthermore, certain yoga poses target under-used muscle groups in the thighs, abdomen, and back. This muscular balance paired with increased flexibility works well to support injury prevention: a necessity when tallying miles on your feet.
26.2 miles. Twenty-six point two miles. As you will learn, running a marathon is so much more about one’s mental stability than their physical. To reach that finish line, you need a strong, sound mind.
Most Hatha Yoga teachers start a class by asking the students to set their intention; big or small, there should be something around which to center awareness. During a race, a simple mantra that you repeat to yourself until the end is hugely effective; in my last half marathon I completed (in March), my intention was perhaps the simplest it has ever been. I said to myself at least 500 times that race: “I am running.”
The best part of a mantra is that it forces you to stay present. Instead of focusing on crossing the finish line, pay attention to your body like you would in a yoga class. Be curious about your shoulders, your knees, your toes, as you run. Meditate over your body and how each of its parts is connected. Before you know it, you’ll be over that finish line.