It took me a long time to first step onto a yoga mat. I spent years as a competitive athlete, I couldn’t touch my toes and I had no interest in chanting or smelling like incense. I thought yoga was silly and I could not imagine that it could benefit me in anyway. Five years later…I’m hooked. I fell in love with yoga–the physical, mental and emotional benefits have been endless. I went from yoga skeptic to yoga teacher and now I get to share the perks of yoga with others.
Many runners feel the same way that I used to; they shy away from yoga, feeling as though they are too inflexible or that yoga just isn’t for them. In doing this, they are missing out on so much. Yoga can help runners by loosening their muscles, strengthening their joints, assisting with preventing and recovering from injuries, and improving focus and concentration.
Two of the biggest things I hear from runners who take my classes are that their hamstrings are tight and their hips are sore. Below are three yoga poses that focus on stretching the hamstrings, opening the hips and strengthening the legs.
Downward Facing Dog
This is a basic yoga pose used in most types of yoga classes. The idea of this pose is to place the body in the shape of an upside down V. Beginning on hands and knees, tuck the toes and lift the hips nice and high, with the hands shoulder width apart and the feet, hips width apart. The focus should be on grounding down into the hands, with the fingers spread nice and wide and an opening across the upper back. The head and neck should be relaxed. Runners may notice that their hamstrings are tight and may feel more comfortable with a subtle or deep bend in the knees until the backs of the legs begin to open up. As the hamstrings begin to loosen, the heels will begin to drip further towards the ground.
Warrior 2 is a basic lunge with the body, specifically the hips, opened out to the side. The back foot should be parallel to the back on the mat, with the outside edge of the foot grounding down into the mat. The front leg should be bent at a 90* angle, with the knee lining up with the front middle toe. If a line was drawn from the front heel to the back foot, it would intersect with the instep of the back foot. The ribcage should line up over the pelvis. The arms extend straight out from the shoulders with the shoulders relaxed down the back. The gaze should be out over the front middle finger.
Double Pigeon/Ankle to Knee Pose:
Starting in a seated position, place the right shin parallel to the front of the mat. Flex the right foot and activate all of the muscles of the leg. Place the left shin on top of the right, left knee on top of the left ankle, left ankle on top of the right knee. For runners with tight hips, there may be a large space in between the ankle and the knee, if this is the case, place a rolled up towel in the space to prop up the leg. Place the hands next to the hips. If you would like to go a little further, you can walk the hands out in front of the legs and begin to release into the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Want to put it all together? These three postures can be linked into a short yoga sequence. Starting in downward facing dog, take 5 breaths, then step the right foot forward, drop the back heel flat and sweep up into warrior 2. Stay here for 5 breaths. Place both hands on either side of the front foot, framing it with the hands and step back to downward facing dog. Take 5 deep breaths. Then step the left foot forward, sweep up into warrior 2. Remain here for 5 breaths, then frame the front foot with both hands and step back to downward facing dog. Step the feet forward through the hands coming into a seated position. Set up for double pigeon on the right side. Stay here for 10 breaths. Come back to a seated position and switch sides. Remain for 10 breaths.
Working in hip and hamstring opening exercises like these into your weekly routine is an easy way to begin to loosen up the body and improve your running. So get on your mat…or livingroom floor…and start to soak in the benefits of yoga for runners!
Want more? Come out and take a class! Patricia teaches yoga in Philadelphia Wednesdays at 7 pm and Saturdays at 9:30 am at Shanti Yoga Shala (www.shantiyogashala.org). She is also available for private individual sessions or group lessons. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.