Yoga and Runners. Breathing

Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.

I am a runner who has completed numerous marathons and endurance races over the past twenty years. I have found that with regular yoga practice, my range of movements are not limited, I recover faster from my runs and I run better.

Following from my previous posts, Runners and Yoga, Runners and Yoga, Yoga as a form of Active Recovery, & Yoga and Runners. Cross training with yoga for muscle strength in this instalment, I will write about the effect practicing yoga will have on a runners’ breathing.

As a runner, breathing is important. In essence, when we breathe, we are exchanging oxygen, what we need for metabolism, for carbon dioxide, the product of metabolism, which if not removed can harm you. When our muscles are stressed, as in a run, they need constant supply of oxygen into the muscles and the removal of carbon dioxide.

Beginner runners often find themselves out of breath. Even experienced runners will be out of breath when running tempo and sprint repeats sessions. Many runners simply forget to breathe when they get tired, which actually is counter productive. Yoga helps us to remember to breathe, especially so when we our muscles are stressed and we need oxygen.

In yoga breathing is an important aspect. Yoga practitioners practice breathing in 2 ways. First, as we go into poses, we inhale and exhale deliberately. Focusing on each breath. And second, in pranayama. Pranayama refers to breathing exercises which clear the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and the flow of prana, which is life energy.

Inhaling when we move our limbs away from the body and exhaling as we move them towards our body. When holding the pose, we are required to breathe deliberately too. It is in this focusing on the breath that we train ourselves to breathe easier. As in all things, what we practice regularly becomes second nature and we do it without thinking about it. We do not have to be reminded to breathe, when we our muscles are stressed.

Imagine you are at the tail end of a 10km tempo run, lungs bursting for air and you have to be reminded to breathe. With deliberate practice of breathing as we go into the pose and staying in the pose, breathing easy becomes second nature and the tail end of that 10km run will be easier.

Most yoga classes will begin with some sort of pranayama. Again here we are practicing deliberate breathing. From the forceful kapalabathi to the relaxing anulom vilom, the focus is only on breathing alone. Just as runners will do 400m repeats with the objective of recognising and perfecting their race pace, they can practice their breathing with pranayama.

Practicing both the deliberate breathing in the asanas and pranayama will result in runners, to breathe with ease, making breathing natural and unforced when our muscles are stressed.

Go to a yoga class and find out.

 

 

Yoga and Runners. Cross training with yoga for muscle strength

Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.

I am a runner who has completed numerous marathons and endurance races over the past twenty years. I have found that with regular yoga practice, my range of movements are not limited, I recover faster from my runs and I run better.

Following from my previous posts, Runners and Yoga, Runners and Yoga, Yoga as a form of Active Recovery,  in this instalment, I will write about yoga workouts as a cross training alternative for runners to build muscle strength and endurance.

In my running, I follow the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST), Run Less Run Faster. The FIRST program is hinged on 3 quality run sessions per week. Each session having its specific purpose in terms of muscle adaptation. On non running training days, we are advised to cross train. Cross training offers variety while still giving us the training effect. Cross training can take any form as long as we find it enjoyable. Yoga, can offer enjoyment, peace and yet give the training effect.

There are a number of styles of yoga. While some can be restorative and easy going, like Hatha and Yin yoga, others like Ashtanga and Vinyasa can be challenging.

In both Ashtanga and Vinyasa, transitions from poses are vigorous movements that requires strength and agility. The muscles are contracted intensely and held for between 5-10 breaths. Breathing is through the throat, and heart beat is elevated to between 100-120 bpm, just slightly lower than a tempo paced run.

The two Ashtanga surya Namaskar sequences are perfect workouts for runners. The whole body is worked. The back is worked through Uttansana. Utkatasana works the core and legs. Chaturanga targets the core, with the 2 svanasana poses working the core in addition to the arms. While Virabhadrasana 1, gives the legs a good workout. Perform multiple reps of the Ashtanga Surya Namaskar for a stirring workout.

Vinyasa style yoga will have you, perform a vinyasa between each pose. A vinyasa, for those new to yoga, is a kick back from dandasana, crossing the legs mid movement to urdvha mukha svanasana, transition to adho mukha svanasana before jumping forward through the arms back to dandasana. This is an intense transition, which will improve muscle strength in the arms, upper body and core and raise the heart rate.

Attend an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class to experience an energy sapping workout. And include these as one of your next cross training session.

Ashtanga and Vinyasa style yoga workouts are a good way to build strength and endurance for runners.

In my next post, read about how yoga improves breathing and concentration.

 

 

 

Runners and Yoga. Yoga as a form of Active Recovery

Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.

I am a runner who has completed numerous marathons and endurance races over the past twenty years. I have found that with regular yoga practice, my range of movements are not limited, I recover faster from my runs and I run better.

Following from my previous post, Runners and Yoga, in this instalment, I will detail why and how yoga asanas benefit runners in recovery process and what asanas runners should perform for their active recovery.

As runners we want to recover from our runs as quickly as possible so that we can carry on with our other activities, become stronger and enjoy our next run session quicker. How then do we that?

Stretching the muscles as you do in yoga poses restore muscle elasticity and remove pooled blood that has accumulated in the muscles back into the blood circulatory system. As we stretch, blood vessels are subjected to peristaltic waves thus flooding the muscles with fresh blood and removing the pooled ones and lactic acid along with it. Fresh blood brings essential nutrients for to muscles recover.

There are two ways in which yoga can help in the active recovery process. Firstly in immediate recovery. This is performed immediate post run, with mobility poses and stretches. The focus in immediate recovery is to restore the body to pre run state, returning the body to full mobility, usually this takes 10-15 minutes. Secondly, the recovery session. The recovery session is usually performed as a separate session with deeper longer stretches. The objective of this deeper stretch session is to relieve tightness in the muscles, especially the hamstrings and to restore muscle elasticity and joint flexibility.

I find that the following primary poses are beneficial in the immediate recovery, performed at the end of a run. The mountain pose, the standing forward fold, the triangle pose, the wide legged standing forward fold, the downward dog, the tree and savasana. These primary poses targets the muscle groups that are used while running. The hamstrings and quadriceps being the largest muscle groups. Performing these poses immediately post run will restore your muscles to its pre run state, giving you full mobility, removes lactic acid out of your muscles and setting you up perfectly for full recovery. A recovery meal should follow.

The recovery session should be performed on a day that you are not running. Hatha yoga sequences are especially beneficial in this respect. Poses are held longer, between 12-15 breaths, so that the muscles are deeply stretched. Heart rate does not go much higher than resting. Breathing is deliberate and through the belly. All of which encourages the muscles to relax, be stretched, improving muscle elasticity and loosening the tightness.

I find a sequence comprising these poses; uttanasana, prasarita padottanasana, padanggustasana, trikonasana, parivrtta pashvakonasana, janursirsasana, eka pada rajakapotasana, baddha konasana, is sufficient to give me a good stretch. And if your ITB is giving you a problem, eka pada rajakapotanasana will relieve it.

As always, attend a class so a teacher can guide you.

Yin yoga stretches are also good but, I would reserve this for after long runs or a race. A passive practice, Yin Yoga involves variations of seated and supine poses typically held for 3 to 5 minutes, accessing deeper layers of fascia. This practice is best done with a teacher or coach to ensure you stretch correctly and achieve deep stretches when the coach adjusts you. Also an aspect of yin yoga is the ambience, which is designed to enhance relaxation, so going to yin yoga studio is what I would recommend.

Yoga poses are beneficial for runners’ recovery. An immediate post run sequence of poses which lasts for 10-15 minutes with shorter hold will restore you to pre run state. While a longer, more relaxed yin yoga class on a non running day will ease out the tight muscles.

Read about how yoga helps to build muscle strength and endurance for runners in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Runners and Yoga

Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.

Running is a unilateral repetitive exercise. While running, your muscles and joints are moving in one direction only, forward. The muscles of the hamstrings are the prime mover in a running action and repetitive overuse of this set of muscles makes it tight and prone to injuries from overuse. Moreover, the hip flexors too become tight as these are also extensively used albeit in only one direction.

I run marathons and ultra marathons and in the past 20 years, I have completed 48 races of 42km or more and countless more of shorter distances. Apart from running marathons, I also participate in endurance events such as Urbanathlon and Spartan races. Training for and running many long distance races and endurance events, over the years would have made me somewhat inflexible with a limited range of movements in the legs and hips if not for yoga.

www.run4life.co
The North Face 100 2013
The Army Half Marathon in 2013
Spartan Super 2015

For the past 10 years, though I have been reaping the benefits of regular yoga practice. I had my first taste of yoga, when I found that my hamstrings had gotten extremely tight after a race, that I had limited range of movement and I was taking much longer to recover from the race. At that time, my active recovery routine would be, swimming, walking and a massage. I did little stretching. I realised that I needed another form of active recovery. My wife, who is a yoga practitioner encouraged me to give yoga a go. I signed up with a personal yoga teacher with whom I practised on a weekly basis for 6 months.

Vrksasana

After six months with my teacher, I did my own practice. Twice per week, one of stretching, after long runs on the weekend and another session of more intense strength and conditioning workout midweek. I do, still, go for sessions with a yoga teacher, periodically. It always help to have a teacher or coach guide you.

During this period, I was running 3 times per week, one tempo run of between 8-15km at moderately fast pace, one very fast short run of between 4-8km and a slower longer run where I would go between 15-20km. The distances become longer as race day approaches.

Even with an average of 35km per week, with yoga sessions, my hamstrings are less tight and I have a far greater range of movement in my hips, and torso. In addition, my recovery period is now much quicker, I breathe easier too and therefore can run faster and longer.

Of course I am not as supple and flexible as someone who practices yoga exclusively. I still do enjoy running. But with yoga, I am more flexible and supple than I ever was before, I am more nimble and I recover faster from my long runs too.

In this series, I will try to detail how yoga can be beneficial to runners. There are three ways in which yoga can benefit runners:

  1. Recovery process. The asanas are an excellent way to stretch overworked muscles.
  2. Alternative muscle strength and endurance training. Astanga and Vinyasa sequences are a good alternative to build strength and endurance in the muscles. It keeps your training program fresh and you avoid going into a dull routine by mixing it up.
  3. Improvement of breathing technique. Pranayama is a big contributor to breath control in running.

Read more in my next instalment.