Yoga is for everybody, including runners! Part 7 – Yoga Asana

If you read part six and attempted to do the ‘three good things’ practice each day, you have probably realised how hard it is for us (the human being living in today’s society) to think positively, or think about ourselves as contributing to positive happenings. It is not impossible, it just takes time dedication and practice. So don’t stop now; this is a marathon and not a sprint. Trust me, with time it becomes easier and becomes engrained in who you are, eventually guiding your actions, thoughts and words.

Today, we will explore the purpose of the physical movement experienced in yoga. This week, I was doing a yoga class and the teacher said: “yoga is not here to replace but to enhance performance”. In this, he happened to use the example of a runner, saying that often runners (especially those who are high performance athletes) are fearful of starting yoga as they think it will take away from their running training. But this not true, yoga is there to supplement your training and optimise outcome, possibly through one or many of the following:

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

2. breath with more ease (see part 2)

3. focus your mind (see part 3)

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

5. rest! (see part 5) or,

6. adopt a more positive mindset (see part 6)

The reason I wanted to talk about the above six benefits before discussing physical yoga asana (poses) is because I so often hear people say: “I can’t do yoga I am too inflexible”; to which I usually respond “physically or mentally?”; to which few respond.

Just as in running, one needs to train their body and their mind to be “good” at something. You don’t start out running ultra-marathons in record time. I am also sure that you can relate to the fact that the learning was in journey, and not based on the end result; it is rather the fight, sweat and tears that went into achieving that result from which we learn.

This is exactly the same in yoga. You probably won’t be able to do most of the poses asked by the teacher in the first 10 to 50 classes (sometimes even 200); you will more than likely start sweating in the first 15-minutes of each class and start to notice a build-up of frustration and irritability to which you more than likely react to with an irrational response. For me, this is the beauty of yoga poses. Watching as someone transforms on their mat.

“Words cannot convey the value of yoga – it has to be experienced.”

In traditional text, asana translates into ‘posture’. In sanskrit this word is derived from ‘as’ which means ‘to stay’, ‘to sit’, ‘to be’ or ‘to be established in a particular position’.

Master Patanjali’s yoga sutras (see part 1) describe asana as having two important qualities which should be present when practicing:

1. Sthira – steadiness and alertness

2. Sukha – the ability to remain comfortable in a posture

These qualities are not present if you do a pose for a picture and then have to stretch your legs out afterward because they are hurting. You may also realise that if the body is too stiff or weak, you won’t be able to hold a pose with sthira (steadiness) and sukha (comfort), and thus, it is questionable as to whether it is yoga. It is sthira and sukha that develop over time, with patience, discipline and practice. As the body opens, as the body strengthens, as the mind focuses and as one establishes a mind-body connection one is eventually able to perform asana with a sense of steadiness, comfort and ease. All of which contribute to your ability to sit still, upright, for a prolonged period of time and meditate.

As mentioned in Part 2, we often have imbalances. Devout runners often have limited ranges of motion for ‘non-running’ types of movements. This is because when we run, we bias the sagittal plane (flexion and extension or backwards and forwards), a very linear type of movement. Because of this, moving in any other plane, i.e. the horizontal (twisting) or the frontal (abduction and adduction; wide arms/wide legs) becomes difficult and even effortful. Unfortunately, our everyday life activities (I.e. walking, driving, sitting, standing etc.) also predominantly promote the sagittal plane. Thus, runners have very little opportunity to explore other movements. You don’t see people moving laterally in side lunges as they transverse through a shopping centre or down the street. Despite me thinking this would be so good for the health of our population if we walked different every day!

Unfortunately, if you only ever move in one plane (very common in runners), and don’t do exercises that get you moving in other directions, you tend to end up not only overworking those muscle groups, but making it very difficult to move in other ways and potentially increase your risk of injury on the rare occasion you do “strike a pose” outside of your movement realm.

Yoga is unique in that it encourages movements in all planes, which very few physical activities do. This provides you with an opportunity to move in all planes and get used to working in broader ranges so that next time you jump to the right, you don’t snap your groin as there is less chance you will do something outside of your bodies capabilities.

With this being said as a runner, finding sthira and sukha may be relatively easy in certain poses that explore the sagittal plane in yoga. You may find yourself with a little smile on your face and a sigh of relief and you come into a runners lunge. But as you enter into any other poses such as side lunges (i.e warrior II, triangle) or twists you may find this extremely difficult, which could even lead to use of ‘colourful language’. Again just like training for a marathon, perseverance will eventually pay off.

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be.”

Without a doubt, your yoga mat is like an island of your life. As you challenge yourself on your mat physically and mentally you work toward changing your life.

Week 7 task: take a yoga class

This week, I encourage you to find a yoga class (maybe this is daunting, maybe not). Go in with no expectation. Just go to explore how your body moves.

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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