YOGA AND RUNNING
I thought it might be useful to go into a bit more detail about the positive impact I feel yoga and running can have on each other, based on my own experience.
Running keeps me fit and healthy - it is a great cardiovascular workout that gets me outside (in all weathers!) and has allowed me to experience some truly beautiful scenery. The energy boost I get from running carries directly into my yoga practice and teaching style.
It's true that running can take its toll on the body, especially around the joints. On a physical level, this is where yoga is particularly beneficial, as it increases core stability, balance and strength. It keeps joints in safe alignment, while gently working to maximise your healthy range of motion.
Yoga works with the whole body - it doesn't isolate muscle groups or particular areas. During an hour's class we can expect to use pretty much every part of our body to develop a combination of mobility and strength. It's all about balance, which manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes it's standing on one foot, or our heads / forearms / hands; other times it's working with antagonistic muscle pairs to ensure joints are moved through both flexion and extension during a class. Less literally, it's about finding a balance between effort and ease - remaining alert where necessary but releasing tension where it's not useful.
I absolutely loved the Box Hill Fell Race in January 2018 - it was the most exhilarating feeling to struggle on the uphills and let go on the downhills, as well as being a fantastic exercise in working core stability, ankle and knee strength!
Photo (c) Tom Hosking - check out his amazing work at www.tomhosking.co.uk
It's also useful to remember that everything changes (sometimes very quickly when there's a river crossing involved!) and it's good not to take life too seriously. Being comfortable with wobbling and sometimes falling over, but having the tenacity to get back up again and carry on...these are definitely things that my yoga practice helps with!
Yoga also works with the mind. Through a focus on deep, steady breathing even when the body is being physically challenged, we can cultivate an evenness of mind which we can tap into when needed outside class. Like when you're in a race and your mind is telling you that you're exhausted and you can't go on, but your body tells you to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to be present and to remember your breathing. Yoga can help us to tell the difference between what the monkey mind is saying we should do, and what the body is telling us we need. It can help distinguish between pain (bad) and discomfort (challenging, but not always bad). The mindset we practise in yoga can inform us when we really need to stop and have a rest, and when we would be better served by pushing on a little further.
For me, on a physical level, the most important thing yoga does is help me to tune into my body on any given day, which I think has the potential to lower the likelihood of picking up a running injury. It also shows me, every time I come to the mat, how adaptive the body and mind can be. I run regularly and include in my training short runs, long runs, hill and speed work. I race fairly frequently, over a variety of distances from one mile to marathons, and have also done a 50km ultramarathon. I have learned to listen to my body so that when a niggle develops (which happens frequently - running is hard work and my body is constantly adapting and changing to the stresses I put it under) I can check in and see whether it might be beneficial to work more on strength and mobility, whether a delicious stretch is what I'm after, or if simply stopping and resting up might be the best thing. I have also found that the mental strength and tenacity I continue to develop through yoga helps me either get through the toughest runs or to know when enough is enough, to stop, move on and put a bad day behind me.
Doing yoga is not suddenly going to make you or me into a faster runner. What it can do is help us become fitter, stronger, more adaptive and calmer in body and mind, enable us to train regularly and efficiently while minimising the likelihood of niggles developing into serious injuries, assist us to recover effectively, and through all of this allow us to continue running happily for years and years.