Last year, I started to notice a lot of my friends supplementing their running regimens with yoga. They started attending Bikram yoga classes and would come back drenched in sweat, talking about how much body weight they must have lost solely in water. When they told me the class lasted for 90 minutes in a room over 100 degrees, I thought they were crazy. Why would a person want to subject him or herself to such torture? Of course, I had to find out.
| Bikram Yoga: better bring 2 towels
Within five minutes of my very first Bikram class, I was drenched in sweat and the room was spinning. I could hear the faint echo of the instructor’s voice (“Lacey, it’s okay if you pass out, it happens to a lot of beginners”) and knew that my legs shouldn’t be able to bend this way (though I couldn’t feel them at this point). I will never forget the feeling of breathing in cold air after the hour was up, feeling like I had escaped a tropical forest, and promising myself I would never, ever do any form of yoga again. Not only had I found the heat to be unbearable, but my legs were aching from being stretched beyond capacity and my arms hurt from reaching to the ceiling for what had seemed like hours.
Ultimately I decided to stick it out (I don’t like quitting—plus I had a Groupon), and I’m so glad I did because over the past few months, I have noticed ways that yoga has greatly benefitted me as a runner.
How does yoga help runners?
This first reason is pretty obvious. If you have ever been to a yoga class, you know that it requires you to push and pull your muscles further than you ever thought possible. I ran the steeplechase in college, which forced me to focus on flexibility. I began to notice that while I am very flexible in my hips, I am equally inflexible in my lower back and hamstrings; I can’t even touch my toes. After a long yoga class, I’m able to lay my hands flat out on the ground, next to my feet. Most people advocate for stretching after running, which is also why I enjoy going to a yoga class. It helps me stretch out the muscles that are sore after a long run.
2) Core stability & balance
When I first started running seriously in high school, I was injured almost every season. I realize now that it was because I barely focused on core strength. In college, I made sure to strengthen my core when I found out I could not hold a plank for more than 25 seconds. This in turn helped me prevent injuries, and I was only injured once in college. However, you may be like me and not have much motivation to do plank or sit-ups after a workout. I find that yoga is a great way to not only work on your abdominal and back strength, but it is also motivating and enjoyable. While I only do yoga once or twice a week (in a good month), it always helps me feel more balanced and sturdy through my core.
3) Mental toughness
If you Google search “yoga,” you will find that many of the top searches feature “yoga workouts.” However, the origin of yoga dates back to ancient India where it was first practiced in order to discipline the mind. Yoga gurus emphasized bringing oneself to eternal balance and peace through their practice. While I am a little more modern with my practice, I do appreciate the fact that yoga is a great way to enhance one’s mental strength. Not only is it very difficult to hold some of the poses, but it is also hard to remember to breathe in and out, in rhythm. Once you get the hang of this, though, you start to notice your mind and body coming together as one, and you are able to battle through discomfort and time.
Finding the right kind of yoga for you
There are so many different types of yoga today, from hot yoga to the more exotic anti-gravity yoga. Since attending my first Bikram class, I’ve been to many other different types of yoga classes, from Vinyasa Flow to a combination of Bikram and some strange aerobic dance class. Each class offers something different: some are great workouts, while others are much more of a focus on flexibility and inner peace. I would say that the majority of the ones I have experienced are a combination of the two. For example, Bikram requires the holding of each pose for a set amount of time, focusing on one’s balance and flexibility. The temperature in the room and the intensity of the poses causes the heart rate to accelerate, which feeds to the aerobic aspect of the session.
The “hot yoga” craze has swept the country (fun fact: the hot yoga environment is meant to simulate the tropical summer temperatures of India). I’m a huge fan of hot yoga because I like that my muscles are warmed up from the start. Hot yoga is not for everyone, and the first few times can be fairly uncomfortable. There are plenty of yoga classes today that are in room temperature that many people prefer.
Yoga may not be for all runners. I know that I have friends who will never be flexible, and who should probably never try to be flexible (in fact, many experts say having some inflexibility is actually good for runners). I also know people who choose to strengthen their cores in other ways, or who simply enjoy running and that’s all. A drawback to yoga is that it can be expensive, but there are many great deals out there, from in-store specials to Groupons. I know that for me, yoga helps me improve both my mental toughness and my balance, while strengthening muscles that I don’t normally use while running.
And hey, it gives me a chance to put on some cute yoga gear every once in a while.