OM my gosh, this feels good
By Michael Dennison
Photography by Jay Russell
Running is a noble pursuit full of unintended consequences, and the glamour of being a runner can be quickly stripped away when confronted by injury’s rude slap. I began using yoga specifically for runners five years ago, when running’s dark master, the injury epidemic, made
me wonder what yoga could do for the hobbling masses. A lot, as it turns out.
Flexibility is a pleasant, often overrated by-product of a yoga practice. Yoga offers the runner so much more than the cheap thrill of being able to touch their toes. Too much flexibility can compromise your running. Your muscles and tendons store and release energy like a spring; if that muscle/tendon unit is too compliant, too mushy and soft, then force and power is lost. That means a degree of stiffness in the muscles is important to your running.
Yoga offers range of motion, balance and posture, breathing, symmetry, stability, mobility and body awareness. All of these qualities available through yoga are vital to the process of building a fit, strong and healthy running body. Yoga Made For Runners is a practice of making simple movements and shapes with the body. These movements are combined with breathing done, ideally, through the nose. You move, you breathe. It is simple, but not easy. Wrestling your unwilling body into peculiar shapes never is.
Yoga made me a better runner by teaching me how to breathe. It’s the breath that links running and yoga, but the running breath is very different from the yoga breath. The running breath, seemingly quite deep, is actually fast and shallow, while yoga breathing is deep, slow and very focused.
For those who’d like to try yoga to supplement their running, find instruction from a good teacher. Ask around, and try out different styles to find out what suits you.
Running teaches you to persevere. It teaches mental toughness. And, when you add yoga to your running, don’t be surprised where it takes you.
Yoga Made For Runners
The following postures are effective ways to build flexibility, strength and range of motion — qualities vital for healthy running. It’s always best to perform deep stretches after running, when your body is warm and loose.
1. Dragon (hold one minute each side)
• Set up as a kneeling forward lunge, but instead of arms raised, they are brought to the ground to the inside of the forward leg.
• Forearms are on the ground (if the elbows don’t reach the floor, use blocks); fingers point forward. Once lowered, gently press the inner knee of the forward leg against shoulder to ensure the knee points forward and the front foot stays grounded.
Areas affected: felt deeply in the hip of the forward leg and in the hip flexor/quadriceps of trailing leg.
2. Bird Dog (hold 10 seconds, two repetitions each side)
• Begin on hands and knees, ensuring spine is in neutral alignment.
• Extend the leg back first, then reach the opposite arm forward. Avoid shifting the torso or hips when the limbs are extended.
• This helps stabilize the core and optimizes functioning of the gluteus maximus, crucial for efficient running.
Contraindications: low back pain.
3. Downward Facing Dog (hold 60 seconds)
• Begin in plank (high push-up)
• Softly squeeze the quadricep muscles; without moving the hands or feet, lift hips in the air, forming a pike position.
• Release heels to the floor and keep the knees soft.
• Take hands slightly wider than shoulders; inner borders of the feet are about six inches apart.
• Look to a point on the ground between your feet.
Areas affected: provides a stretch of the superficial muscles of the back; strengthens the arms and shoulders.
Contraindications: high blood pressure, shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, late-term pregnancy.
4. Garland (hold 1 – 2 minutes)
• Begin standing, take feet wide to sides of the mat; feet are parallel or slightly turned out.
• Inhale deeply; exhale while slowly squatting.
• At the bottom of the squat, bring hands together in a prayer gesture, thumbs against the sternum; take the back of the upper arms to the inner knees, gently press the knees out so they point over the middle toes.
• Keep the chest lifted, look forward.
• If a full squat is difficult, use a box or step to sit on; if heels are off the ground, use a cushion or towel under each heel.
Areas affected: deep stretch of back of the lower legs and great ankle mobilization; deep hip opener; activation of the gluteus maximus.
Contraindications: any knee or low back pain.
5. Crescent (15 seconds each side)
• Begin in downward dog. On an exhale, carefully bring left foot through and place it flat, next to left thumb.
• Keep back toes curled under and back leg straight.
• To remain balanced and stable, keep feet apart about six inches, as if straddling a cable.
• Raise the head and torso, arms by the side.
• Externally rotate the hands and arms (face them out) and sweep the arms overhead.
• Tighten the abdominals, but keep your breathing deep and slow.
• If hips or back are weak or painful, place the back knee on the floor.
Vancouver’s Mike Dennison teaches Yoga Made For Runners across Western Canada.