1. Strengthens muscles around joints – reducing risk of injury.
The standing and balancing poses within your yoga practice are fantastic at safely and naturally building strength around the structure of the joints of the ankles, knees and hips. Running itself may be building strength in the legs but if you’re running with bad habits you could be increasing misalignment, muscle imbalance and inflicting repetitive impact, resulting in injury or chronic pain! Yoga is a weight bearing exercise, without the impact, that allows you to identify your imbalances. Strengthening the feet properly (finally released from the confines of shoes!), and evenly strengthening both legs and hips. Doing poses on each side really gets you noticing those imbalances and learning how to correct them!
2. Increases flexibility – lengthening muscles, reducing risk of injury.
Yoga is all about creating balance – a balance of strength throughout the body, plus a balance of strength and flexibility – this equals power. The more you run, the more tension is built up in certain areas and the more tension that builds up, the more likely an injury to the muscles is to occur. Yoga carefully re-lengthens the muscles through mindful stretching, gradually releasing the muscular tension. Longer, more elastic muscles have a greater range of motion, whereas tight muscles are much more restricted and can easily be injured. Moving with complete awareness in yoga allows you to identify the depth to which you should be going into a stretch at any particular time.
3. Strengthens your core – improving alignment and posture.
Many runners suffer with less than optimally strengthened core muscles – yet, these are the muscles (including transverse abdominus, obliques, quadratus lumborum and rectus abdominus) that hold you upright! As soon as a runner begins to bend at the waist due to a lack of core strength all alignment is lost, severely negatively impacting running form, efficiency and pace. There are many hugely effective core strengthening postures that we can include within a yoga practice. You will start to feel the difference almost immediately in moving from the strength of your core centre and in the ease of standing and sitting tall – no sit ups required!
4. Improves your posture – and works the whole body.
Not only will stronger core muscles enable you to maintain proper alignment whilst running, but the range of yoga poses you move through will reverse the negative effects of the forward motion of running: hunched shoulders, rounded back, tight neck and shoulders. A common mistake amongst runners is that, if they stretch, they only stretch their legs. A good yoga practice should work on all areas of the body, from your feet to your head. Our fascia links everything together, therefore each part is just as important as the rest. The forward bending poses are amazing for re-lengthening the hamstrings but the backward bending poses as equally as amazing at drawing back the shoulders to release tension in the pectorals and lengthening the spine to relieve common lower back ache.
5. Enhances lung capacity – enabling you to take in more oxygen and run for longer more easily.
Breathing should be a large focus of practising yoga, both as you move between the poses and whilst you remain in them. This focus on conscious breathing will naturally begin to expand your lung capacity, as when we take our awareness to our breath, it naturally becomes longer and deeper. An experienced yoga teacher will also be able to guide you through breathing techniques that will further enhance your lung capacity. Eventually, you may be able to run by only breathing through your nose, as your breathing rate remains slow and calm and your oxygen and energy levels remain high, enabling you to keep going for longer and faster.
Helen Clare is a yoga teacher based in Cornwall, where she loves to run the coastal paths. Helen leads regular classes, attended by many local runners but also offers several Yoga Flow Running weekend retreats throughout the year. Yoga Flow Running is a concept designed by Helen, applying the principles that she has taken from her yoga practice into her running: promoting running more naturally, with proper alignment, using core strength, enabling efficient and injury free, fun running.
There is more to be being strong than appearance. There is more to building strength than achieving a desired look. Strength goes much deeper and serves us so much more. It is about providing support for your body; when we are supported we are protected; when we are protected we are safe; when we are safe we are confident and empowered.
Our Yang yoga practice brings us strength. The dynamic, repetitive movements of a Vinyasa Yoga practice warms and works the muscles, building strength. The muscles are stretched within the poses of the sequences as well, giving us this empowering combination of strength and flexibility. As we say in the Yoga Medicine community: Strength plus flexibility equals power.
This highlights the importance of having both a Yin and a Yang practice (see previous blogpost for more on Yin!).
Many of us begin a yoga practice for the flexibility enhancing side of it, which is exactly what so many of us need as we get older and stiffer! However, we cannot neglect to strengthen the important areas of our abdomen, sides and lower back – collectively termed our core. In addition the hip muscles, particularly psoas, which offers so much in regard to supporting the spine from the front. Our core muscles are there to hold us up and support and protect our spine, which otherwise suffers 🙁
Join me for the Yoga for Core Strength Workshop this Sunday, 10am-1pm, in St Agnes, where we will look at how we can strengthen all areas of our ‘core’, front, back and sides, through yoga.
Why should I slow down?
Like many other active people I know, I was resistant to a slow, easy yoga practice. But when I first came to Yin yoga, I realised just how good it feels to stop and stay in a pose – and that it wasn’t easy at all! This year I have really embraced the practice of Yin and used it to complement my ashtanga vinyasa practice. Having a daily Ashtanga/ Vinyasa Flow practice is fantastic but to complement it with a few evening yin poses and a longer weekly session adds so much.
Slowing down and relaxing into poses allows us to access and learn how to be in the parasympathetic nervous system. We should spend most of our time here, yet too many folk are so used to being in their sympathetic ‘flight or flight’ mode, that they forget what it is to relax. Our regular Vinyasa practice does give us the chance to move in the sympathetic, in order to realise the relaxed state of the parasympathetic – probably the best way to begin a yoga practice. But then we can take things further and learn how to really slow things down… and that’s when the magic happens…
In a dynamic practice we only get to stretch and lengthen the superficial muscles. Great, but not enough to make real lasting and obvious change. By staying in a pose for longer, we can find the time to relax into a pose, allowing the superficial muscles to release and then are able to access the deeper musculature. Lengthening muscles and releasing tension from these deeper muscles, gives them the chance to re-set – improving our overall posture and emotional wellbeing.
This relaxing into a pose sounds lovely doesn’t it? But it’s not as easy as it sounds! Especially for those of us with lots of accumulated tension, it can feel darn uncomfortable – but this is where the mental aspect enters. Learn to overcome the discomfort and your mind learns to overcome any challenge.
Learn more about a Yin Practice with me on 4th December at the Yin Yoga New Moon Winter workshop in St Agnes
And the result?
A greater chance of finding real postural change and improvement as well as significant muscle lengthening and range of movement. Try this pose last thing at night and also get a amazing night’s sleep. With continued practice you’ll gain real advancement in all yoga asana and find ease in the more advanced postures.
I hope to see you at the workshop – find out more and book here: Yin Yoga New Moon Winter workshop, Sunday 4th December, St Agnes.
What a fantastic weekend! Thank you to yet another wonderful group of yogis of all levels and ages, who took part in a range of yoga classes that I offered, including a glorious session outside.
In between the morning and evening yoga, we took to the country trails down to the beach, some joined me for a little coastal running and others ventured into the Cornish waters for an exhilarating surf lesson. Even with all this, there was also time for some traditional ayurvedic Chavutti massage.
And, as if the relaxing and rejuvenating yoga and sea air wasn’t enough, we had absolutely amazingly delicious but healthy vegan food in abundance made by Sam. Sam is one of my top choice yogi chefs, a River Cottage trained 20 year old, who has skills way beyond his years!
If you would like to join us for a similar weekend the next Rejuvenating Weekend Retreat in Cornwall is 16-19 September, followed by a Chi Running and Yoga Retreat 4-7 November, when I have Hannah of BlueSkyRunning down to teach some Chi Running workshops.
I posted on social media yesterday that I learn just as much from my students as they do from me, and I think that all teachers of any subject always do! Aside from your own dedicated practice, you learn more from teaching others than anything else, which is why the more experience you have, the better a teacher you often become. Now in my eighth year of teaching yoga – to adults, teenagers and children – I love it more than ever because the more I learn, the more I have to share and the more I believe in my own knowledge and purpose. When you truly believe in what you’re teaching, you teach with love, compassion, humility, passion and purpose. I believe a teacher should never be without these feelings.
Last week I taught a group of triathletes at a training camp in Lanzarote – all levels and abilities at each of the disciplines and at yoga. I know a lot about swimming, and a lot about running, and not quite so much about cycling, but I trusted in my knowledge and delivered to them what I felt would benefit them the most. I’ve always had a strong anatomical focus in the way that I teach and have taught numerous athletes; I can gauge the energy levels of the class, I consider the training sessions they have just completed and I follow my instincts as to what they really need at that moment. And the results last week were great – I am ever surprised at the benefits that yoga can offer – even when cycling 200km over a few days! My guests were saying how they would normally be aching much more, how a reoccurring knee problem had not appeared, how well they were sleeping and pumped up the next morning!
As a teacher it’s important to trust in your knowledge but to continue to be inspired by your students – to allow them to guide the direction of the class… to teach them what they need, and not just what is planned. With time and experience I have found it becomes easier to read the needs of the class and let them take the lead…
I frequently run yoga workshops and retreats for athletes, if you would like to hear about similar events in the future, please sign up for the newsletter. If you’re nearby, you might like to join my Yoga for Runners Workshop in Truro, Cornwall.
My triathlete retreat guests were able to train more effectively, recover and avoid injury by practising yoga twice daily – why not explore yoga and experience the positive impact on your chosen lifestyle?