In my role as a yoga instructor, I've been able to help numerous runners who are seeking to cross-train, improve flexibility and alleviate pain they experience during and after running.
"I tried your yoga class because my left hip was so incredibly stiff that I was taking six Advil before I ran each day," said yoga student, Helene Cohen. "I'd tried the chiropractor with zero results. After years of high-impact activity, primarily running on a daily basis, I found that I was doing more damage than good. I am by nature extremely driven, focused, and time-conscious. Yoga has allowed me to continue running (Advil-free), take a deep breath and truly enjoy my workouts. The first time I did pigeon in your class I cried. I counted the breaths and couldn't wait to be done. I've come a long way!"
Cohen's experience is not uncommon. Runners often suffer from overuse injuries because of the repetitive nature of the movement in one plane of motion. Over time, this process causes imbalances in the muscles and joints. For instance, tight hamstrings and hip flexors will cause the body to recruit from other joints, joints not intended for bearing extra loads. Running tightens and shortens the muscles and joints without corresponding lengthening and flexibility.
Common running injuries include those involving the illiotibial band (ITB), knees, hamstrings, hip flexors, and shoulders. Often, these injuries are directly linked to lack of flexibility, poor core strength, and misalignment. Yoga is the perfect remedy.
A well-rounded yoga practice includes dynamic flexibility training, core stabilization and strengthening, and balance work. Yoga not only helps you relax tight muscles, but also calm anxious and overstressed minds. By focusing on these vital elements, yoga can help you recover faster after workouts, open up the tight areas that hinder performance, improve range of motion, and develop mental focus and concentration.
A simple way to integrate yoga is to perform your short sessions pre- or post-run. These are three of my favorite poses to open up your hips, hamstrings, and torso. Try them!
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon)
This pose is probably the best hip opener in yoga. It opens the deep muscles of the hip and the hip flexors.
Start in Downward Dog. Lift your right leg up and sweep it through to your mat, folding it and placing it on the mat. Keep your right foot flexed to protect the knee. Your left leg is straight behind you with the toes pointed. Keep your hips square and level, with the left hipbone pressing toward your right foot. Inhale and press your hands into the mat, getting as much length in the spine as possible.