Sunday, January 07, 2007

Yoga for Runners – How it Can Improve Your Performance

With yoga's current popularity and visibility in the media, there aren't many people out there who haven't at least considered taking a yoga class. What has kept many of those same people from actually attending a class is their lack of flexibility. Prospective students often come to me and say, "I'd like to come to yoga but I can't even touch my toes" as if this were some sort of prerequisite for the class. My reply to those people is often "Would you like to improve your flexibility?" to which they quickly reply YES! Well folks, you have to start somewhere. Just as you did when you began running, you first just had to get out there and run, the same is true of yoga and flexibility. Flexibility is a progressive process as well as a by-product of your yoga practice and is not a requirement to begin the practice. Just like anything else, to see real results requires your time and consistent effort. A consistent yoga practice can reduce your chances of injury, improve your mental focus, and lengthen those muscles that may remain contracted long after you've finished your run, leaving you feeling tight and stiff.

A lot of people tell me, "I stretch" but just what does that mean? It’s very important to stretch all the muscles of the body, not just those you used during your run so that you can create a sense of balance in the body. You may know a few common stretches for the hamstrings but what about the hips, the knees, the back and the chest? Lengthening and opening these areas simply feels good. The body was created with the capacity to be flexible but at some point, we stopped making the movements that sustained this flexibility. As a result of not making these movements, the body resists them. Consider how long it has been since you actually moved in a certain way that the body is resisting. Until the body becomes accustomed to making those movements again, or even for the first time, there will be resistance. Thus, it may be less than comfortable. But isn't running the same way? As your endurance builds and your lung capacity increases, the body becomes less resistant to running and you feel good. Stretching is best done after your run. To warm up before you run, simply walk briskly. Stretching cold muscles with static stretches is an invitation to injury. Always stretch warm muscles using the breath to help ease the resistance you feel. A supple, flexible body will be more resistant to injuries.

In your yoga practice, you are taught to breath through the nose, keeping the lips together. This allows the nose to do its' job. The nose warms, moisturizes and filters the air as well as affecting the nervous system differently than mouth breathing. I'm not suggesting you stop using the mouth to breath. What’s important is an increased awareness of the breath, a deepening and steadying of it, and taking the breath deep into the pit of the lungs. The richest supply of blood, which is used to transport the breath to the muscles where it becomes energy for you, is in the bottom of the lungs. Because the majority of us are chest breathers, we never really access the entire lungs. As we learn to do this, our lung capacity will increase which will automatically increase our stamina.

Yoga is a practice of paying attention to details. Each pose or sequence of poses asks many things of the body, all of which are important. To carry out all of these details requires focus and concentration. Each time we practice, we're not only practicing the physical postures but we're also working on that mental focus, keeping the mind on what it is doing and not off in the past or future where the mind quite often resides. As the mind becomes used to this time of focused energy, you find that you're able to extend that focus into other areas of your life and become more productive.

"Practice and all else is coming" is a quote attributed to Patthabi Jois, an ashtanga yoga master. Applying this simple suggestion to our lives opens many doors to our endless potential. Yoga will benefit you inside and out. It's up to you to explore these benefits for yourself. I hope to see you on the mat. By Suzanne Goldston RYT certified integral and ashtanga yoga instructor.

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