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.