Running and Yoga: Why They Are BFFs

I had a plan to run nine miles on Saturday. It’s part of the training plan and although it seemed like an insurmountable number, Alex was going with me so at least I’d have someone with  me when my legs turned to jello and I collapsed on the street.

Friday arrived, along with a cold – my immune system failed me. No decongestant could clear my nose, no pain reliever could ameliorate my headache. I nixed the run in favor of half lying, half sleeping on the couch in front of the TV.

With the dawn of Sunday morning (literally, I woke up at 5 am, something is wrong with me), I got up and ate breakfast and promptly decided I need more sleep. Back to bed I went until 10 am.  With nine solid hours of sleep, I felt pretty good and suggested to Alex that we just go for a short run – maybe four or five miles. It was less than the training plan, but at least it was time on my feet.

Nine and a half miles later, I had run the best run of my life. I felt awesome (and not only because my nose was finally clear!) My legs did not give out, Alex did not have to give me a piggy back ride home, and we actually ended up running longer than we were originally supposed to! I didn’t even feel like I wanted to die, like I did after the first longest run of my life, the Bridge to Bridge 12k. We even saw bison!

Not this particular bison, but bison that looked just like this!

I can only credit one thing with this endurance and strength: yoga. I do a lot of different yoga – power yoga, relaxing yoga, sometimes only 5 sun salutations in the morning. But I try to do at least 5 minutes every day.

Yoga keeps me strong (if you don’t think yoga can make you strong, try Dave Farmar’s power yoga podcasts – go ahead, I dare you; you can’t help but love and hate him at the same time). Yoga keeps me flexible and stretches out the muscles that crunch together when I run. The impact of running on your joints and your back can be incredibly painful. Yoga reverses this, allows you to lengthen and stretch.

More than the physical benefits though, yoga helps me stay mentally focused and present while running. I didn’t spend the entire run thinking “when is this going to end?!” I spent it thinking, “wow that’s  a pretty tree” or “isn’t the weather lovely” or “look at that dog!” I spent the run chatting with Alex, brainstorming blog posts or just totally zoning out. At one point, my eyes even closed because I was so relaxed and in the zone. I never thought this would happen to me, as someone who loathed running the mile in middle school.

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Awwwww.

If I did start to feel tension or muscle strain, I was able to focus my mental energy on that spot and relax it. One problem I’ve had while running in the past is that as soon as something starts to hurt (foot, knee back, etc), I tense up thinking my run is doomed. Tensing makes things worse of course because then I’m hitting the ground rigidly and my body isn’t absorbing any of the impact. By staying present in my body, I was able to relax those tension points before they spread.

Breath is a vital part of yoga, and I found that all the ujjayi breathing I do in yoga translated quite well to my running. My lungs never felt like they were imploding. I was never gasping or grasping for the next breath. Perhaps I wasn’t running fast enough, but with nine miles to go, I would rather finish at a snail’s pace and not want to die.

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I imagine that this could translate to other areas of fitness and other areas of life. Finding focus and breath help me in all situations – when I’m stressed, angry or sad. Busting out an awesome power yoga practice also doesn’t hurt; I usually feel so accomplished that I forget why I was upset in the first place.

So in my book, yoga and running (and probably yoga and biking, or yoga and ellipticalling, or yoga and step aerobics or yoga and underwater basket weaving) are best friends forever. The combo has certainly helped me. (Sadly a search for underwater basket weaving did not produce any images. Tear.)

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