Yoga is for everybody, including runners! Part 5 – The importance of optimal relaxation

After reading last week’s blog, have you found yourself more mindful? Or noticed the missed opportunities to be more mindful? If yes, then great, you are on your way to a healthier and happier mind!

Let’s recap the benefits of yoga we have explored so far.

Yoga can help us:

1. shift from imbalance to balance (see part 2)

2. breath with more ease (see part 2)

3. focus our minds and, (see part 3)

4. gain control of our thoughts (see part 4)

Today I would like to talk about the importance of rest and relaxation. I am sure you all agree that rest (and recovery) is as important as the actual running and should form a part of your running program. To start, ask yourself:

1. How do you rest?

2. What does it mean to rest?

3. Are you truly able to rest?

4. What do you do on your rest days?

5. Do you need help to rest?

If you are anything like me, and most of the people I know, we constantly want to be on the go. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE, MOVE. The so called ‘A-type personality’ or alternatively, the ADD child.

You may even notice that on your so called “rest” day you find yourself so energised that you feel like you have to run to get rid of energy, or else you will be wired all night. As though it - the running or moving - is want enables you to rest.

If this is you, then you are probably working on overdrive; stuck in a sympathetic nervous (fight and flight) state and unable to turn off. The typical “Energiser Bunny” – go until you crash (i.e. the batteries run out).

Well, I am sure you have heard before… that is NOT healthy and your body cannot keep going on like this. You are a ticking time bomb.

I can talk about this because I have been through it; I joined yoga for the physical demands of the poses. I didn’t have time for the ‘mind stuff’, sometimes (although I hate to admit this) I was even purposely late to try miss the beginning, or would leave early to miss the Shavasana (the bliss pose where you lay flat on your back and rest and the end of every class).

I would attend a class that was slower than I am used to and be bored out of my mind, totally distracted, even judging the teacher (not very yogi like, I know). I remember attending a YIN class and we did 5 poses in 75 minutes. My Mind went CRAZY and I couldn’t keep still!

Despite this very physical start to yoga, what I find so beautiful and so powerful in yoga, is that it doesn’t matter what brings you to yoga, or how deep you go, with consistency (constantly showing up) you start to reap the benefits and start questioning further.

If you can picture a pool party (I know it’s been a while since we were allowed to do this, but use your imagination), some people dive in and get completely covered with water (you know those people, you might even be one); while others walk up to their waist, not going too deep; and then others may just sit on the edge with one foot in the water. In the end, everyone gets wet.

So my point here is: it doesn’t matter why you start yoga or how deep you throw yourself into the practice. You will reap one (if not more) of the many benefits yoga has to offer.

Maybe, for you, that’s rest.

Living in the world we live in with the demands from work, family and friends; we are just not slowing down or shutting off. This is having detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing. Being in a state of fight and flight leads to unhealthy levels of cortisol in the body, that negatively impacts the function of our immune system. Predisposing us to illness, injury, disease and potentially premature death. Running activates the sympathetic nervous system and thus it is very important to find the balance to this YANG (solar heating, energizing).

Yoga (including mindfulness, meditation and pranayama) is known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest state) and thus can very well be the YIN (lunar, calming, cooling) to your YANG. Even the vinyasa (faster) style yoga classes are designed in a way to energize you and to enable optimum relaxation.

Many runners, don’t see yoga as part of their “training” but more as a means to aid optimal recovery. To slow down, to breath, to be in their body, to listen, to be kind to their body’s. The style of yoga may be very important here. For a ‘recovery’ session, you are typically looking for something slow, with long holds and introspection. The Yin and restorative yoga classes that many schedules offer will be best for this.

Week 5 task: take time to restore

Can you find a restorative class online (there are many free ones) and include this in your schedule?

The light in me sees the light in you.

Dale Guthrie

MSc Occupational Therapist: neurosciences

Adaptive yoga specialist

Founder of Holism Health

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