Yoga for runners (or Run, Rest, Recover, Repeat)
If you are running the LA Marathon this month, first of all, Congrats! What a way to spend Valentine’s Day. After the race, you may be thinking about recovering, and when it comes to recovery, nothing is better than yoga. Yes, you can rest after a race, especially a marathon, but to reduce aches and pains, yoga is an athlete’s secret weapon.
Yoga is active recovery that complements the demands of high-impact running. Proper rest and recovery is an essential part of training. If you want to ward off injuries and run your best you need be smart about what you do after and between races. While a number of different types of yoga can be beneficial for cross-training when you are putting in the miles for a long race or after a competition. I suggest a restorative yoga practice characterized by long, slow holds of poses to help release tension.
Remember that it takes years to master a yoga pose. I’ve been practicing since the 80s and still can’t turn myself into a pretzel. Yoga is not a competitive sport, so utilize your competitive nature when you’re in a race, not when you’re on the mat. Try to focus on yourself and not the person on the mat next to you. The biggest mistake I see athletes make in a yoga class is trying too hard. Use your practice to relieve stress and help your mental state.
These are five of my favorite recovery poses, which can be practiced individually or as a mini routine.
Easy Spinal Twist — Supta Matsyendrasana
This is a great pose to stretch your lower back and gluteal muscles. Lie down on your mat and bring your knees into your chest. Rock side to side (this feels good after a run). Keep your right knee into your chest and stretch your left leg straight onto your mat. Take a deep breath in and on your exhalation bring your knee across your body. Try to drop your shoulder blades toward the mat. Focus on your lower back and hip area while doing this pose. Hold for 45 seconds to one minute and then switch sides; bring your left knee into your chest and repeat.
Reclining Pigeon — Supta Kapotasana
I usually place runners that come to my classes in pigeon pose on their back (I practice this variation myself), as runners often push themselves too far in pigeon trying to stretch out their glutes and piriformis.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Cross your right foot over your left thigh and flex your right foot to promote stabilization of your knee joint. Reach behind your hamstring of your left leg and bring your thigh towards your chest. Hold for three minutes with your head flat on the floor. I know it can be tough to hold this pose that long, but it’s worth it. Then switch sides and place your left foot over your right thigh.
Seated Forward Bend — Paschimottansana
This is a great pose for tight hamstrings. Bring your legs straight out in front of you. Keep the back of your legs on the mat. Take a deep breath in and reach up to the ceiling and on an exhalation reach forward. Try to touch the outside of your feet. If that’s not happening then use a strap or a small towel. Check out your feet, are they rolling in or out? Are they supinating or pronating? If you try to keep them parallel with each other, this will help you stretch your iliotibial band (IT band) — the connective tissue that runs along the outside of your leg from the pelvic bone to the top of your outer shin. All runners are aware of their IT bands. Stay in this pose for one to three minutes.
After a run, you might want to do a standing forward bend, Padangusthasana. This pose will both stretch your hamstrings and strengthen your thigh muscles. Place your feet hip distance apart. Take a deep breath in and on your exhale hinge forward. If you can’t reach your toes then clasp your opposite elbows. This is also a great pose to do with your legs up against a wall.
Seated Tree — Janu Sirsasana
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bring the sole of your right foot to the inside of your left leg. Take a deep breath while reaching your arms to the ceiling and on your exhalation reach toward your left foot. Make sure to bend from your hip while lengthening your torso. If you can’t reach your foot, use a strap or a towel. Hold this pose for one to three minutes and then switch sides bringing your left foot to the inside of your right leg. This pose increases the flexibility of your hamstring muscles, back, thighs, hip joints, arms, and shoulders.
Cobbler — Baddha Konasana
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Take a deep inhalation and on your exhalation bring the soles of your feet together with your knees pointing to either side. Bring your feet toward your body. Running can increase the stiffness around your pelvic girdle. When running, the psoas (one of the hip flexors) can also tighten; because it attaches to the lumbar spine or lower back, tightness in this muscle can restrict movement and increase lower back pain. This pose stretches all of those areas. Hold this pose one to three minutes.
Kimberly Fowler is the founder of YAS Fitness Centers and the creator of Yoga for Athletes. She’s the Yoga Expert for the LA Marathon. For more information about Yoga for Athletes visit: go2yas.com.
Hair and makeup by Dawn Sorenson. dawnsorenson.com
Photos of YAS teachers Edgar Garcia and Kimberly Fowler by Jeff Skeirik (rawtographer.com) at YAS Venice (go2yas.com).
Kimberly Fowler is the owner of YAS (Yoga and Spinning) with several locations throughout Los Angeles where she teaches Yoga for Athletes? live and on DVD. She is on the board of directors of ThinkCure, one of the charities supported by the LA Marathon. She has worked with Rod Dixon, coach of the LA Road Runners, to incorporate Yoga into the runners? training. Fowler developed a Yoga sequence for Dixon?s Kids Marathon Foundation (http://kidsmarathonfoundation.org) and she will be leading a Yoga for Runners demo at the LA Marathon at Dodger Stadium. (http://www.lamarathon.com/runner-info/the-expo)