Yoga is for everybody, including Runners! Part 2 - Starting to explore the benefits of Yoga

I would like to start today by saying, yoga is for everyBODY, but not necessarily for everyONE. It would be crazy to think that every single person can share the exact same passions or hobbies. So, just like I have no interest in tennis and have made the choice to not play tennis; you might make the choice to not do yoga. This is a choice. This is your choice.

The title “Yoga is for everybody” is to emphasize that there is not just one type of person who should be doing yoga (the typical stereotype), but rather that anyone (who expresses the desire to) can do yoga.

So, now that you have a little more insight into what yoga is (read Part 1: What is Yoga?) and (maybe) realised that it’s not only physical. If you choose to add yoga to your training (or recovery) program, it is important to note that not all yoga classes are appropriate for everybody, all the time. You will experience different benefits from a wide range of yoga styles and thus, need to find the class (or teacher) that best suits your preferences, schedule and ability.

In terms of yoga styles there are the slower, more meditative, so called more “stretchy” yoga classes that include: hatha, yin, Iyengar and restorative. These yoga classes tend to be more accessible, due to the slower pace and encouragement of props (such as blocks, straps and bolsters). But, don’t fool yourself, ‘slow’ does not necessarily mean easy, they require a lot of focus and thought work!

Then, you get the more fluid flow like yoga styles like: ashtanga, vinyasa, flow and power yoga that are a bit more physically demanding and may cause you to sweat.

Although yoga classes can be categorised as above, as yoga evolves in the west, the lines are becoming blurred and styles have begun to merge. So the only way to really know what style (or style like class) is best suited to you, your abilities and expectations of yoga is to try!

As a runner, the style of yoga you choose will depend on what you are wanting from it and whether you choose running a part of your training program, recovery program or both. A recent article (Caren Lau et al. 2015), demonstrated that 1 hour of yoga per week for 12 weeks lead to favourable effects in cardiorespiratory functions, muscular strength and flexibility. So although, training should be specific for optimal outcomes, i.e. you need to run, to be a better runner; Yoga may bring in opportunity for variability, balance, enhanced awareness and even enhanced cardiovascular capacity. Let alone, the strength and flexibility of mind!

In the next few blogs we will be exploring some of the benefits runners might experience from yoga; lets start with these two:

1. Move from imbalance to balance

Many runners or athletes make the mistake of only running. This often leads to muscle fatigue, imbalances and (eventually) injury. If you only ever use a few muscle groups (particularly the quadriceps and hamstrings for runners), other areas of the body end up a lot weaker and more prone to aches and pains. Yoga is comprehensive and this whole body strengthening (including the strengthening mind) can impact positively on your running. Running biases the sagittal plane of movement – flexion/extension or forward/ backwards and neglects movements in the transverse (rotational) and coronal (abduction/adduction) planes. This makes moving in other directions, i.e. laterally or diagonally or rotationally, difficult, or even foreign to you - potentially increasing your risk of injury on the odd occasion you do step wide into a lateral lunge.

Interestingly, Dan John explains that “the benefit of an exercise decreases as your expertise increases”. So basically the more you do something, the less effective it becomes. This is based on the SAID and progressive overloading principle. So who’s racquet arm will benefit more from an hour of tennis - you, or Serena Williams? Definitely not Serena. Yoga may provide you with opportunity for variability and a different approach to movement. Ultimately, balancing the imbalances within your body.

Okay, so without a doubt you can easily target the above by including yoga like movements, stretches or full body workouts as part of your program and probably reap similar benefits. But what does stand out in yoga that is not found in a gym is the focus on breath.

2. Breath with more ease

Although most people hear yoga and immediately think “physical postures”, one of the greatest benefits for runners comes from Pranayama practices. Pranayama is the forth limb of yoga and is encouraged in most yoga classes (this should be something you look for, when seeking a yoga class as a runner). Pranayama is loosely translated into the “control of life force” or “breath control”.

In yoga, we practice pranayama to:

1. Establish a sense of internal focus,

2. To regain conscious control of our (often unconscious) physical functions and

3. To optimise the capacity of our lungs

Despite breathing being something we do all day, every day, most people are nowhere close to inhaling and exhaling what their body is capable of or are even aware of how they breath – this inefficient breathing style not only disconnects mind and body but impacts movement patterns and efficiency.

The stressful world in which we live has led to a population of very shallow, uncontrolled, fast, irregular breathers. Most people’s breath is so rigid that you don’t even see their chest and belly moving as they breath. If you watch a small child or dog, you will see their whole thoracic cage and belly expand as they inhale and draw in as they exhale – this is “normal breathing”. But society does not like us to protrude our bellies so our breathing has become very stiff and less effective.

Deep rhythmical breathing as encouraged in yoga, creates a pathway to a deep centeredness, establishing a platform for heightened mind body awareness. As a runner, this centeredness established through breathing links mind and body in a way that enhances your ability to feel, creates a smooth pathway for calibrating effort and has shown to illicit enhanced control and precision.

Further, your breath is happening right now. So, stop, take a moment and feel your body move in response to your breath. The breath is one of our most accessible tools for focus, for steadying the mind, for being present.

According to Taoist belief: “To breathe fully is to live fully, to manifest the full range of power of our inborn potential for vitality in everything that we sense, feel, think, and do.”

Week 2 task: breath awareness

Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair, spine tall. Close your eyes as this helps to bring awareness into your body. But of course, if you’d prefer you can keep them open with a gentle gaze. Simply begin to observe your breath. No need to change it, judge it or think about it, just observe it. This is not easy for us “busy” humans, but keep at it. Simply observe your inhales and exhales. Notice the coolness of the ins and the warmth of the outs. Visualise the breath entering the lungs. Notice the expansion of the chest. Notice the rise and fall of the belly. Just simple awareness and breath. Do this for about 3 to 5 minutes (longer if you’d like). Then begin to deepen your breath for three inhales and exhales before opening your eyes and ending your breath awareness practice. A simple technique, but a very effective technique to be help you be mindful. And even if you didn’t notice, as we bring awareness to a part of our being, it naturally changes without any effort. Your breath would have assumed a more rhythmical, steady, deep pattern and as a result you will feel more grounded or centred.

Learn to be kind to yourself. Not every yoga class is going to be for you, and not every teacher in every situation will be able to support you in the ways that you may expect. i.e. as a runner; your yoga teacher should know this, understand what this means and work with you and your coach to optimise your yoga experience in a way that it enhances your training.

The light in me sees the light in you

Dale Guthrie

MSc Occupational Therapist: neurosciences

Adaptive yoga specialist

Founder of Holism Health

The light in me, sees the light in you,

Stay well

Dale Guthrie

Founder of Holism Health

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