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.
I’m just home from an incredible trip to India, where I spent a month practising with and learning from a new favourite teacher of mine, Matthew Sweeney. His teaching consolidated my belief that, although led classes are fun, inspiring and motivating, everyone needs an individual practice that really suits them, to focus on their real areas of need. Matthew highlighted the importance of a self-practice, in addition to led classes, as the time when you really get to work on what you personally need to improve on physically/ mentally.
Beginning a self-practice takes dedication and guidance from a teacher, you need to be given a sequence that is appropriate for you and regularly checked. But there are a few things that we can all do to kick-start our mornings and begin to develop a morning practice, which can then be built upon with the help of a good teacher.
5 tips to help a morning self-practice
1. Get up early, at the same time each day! Set your alarm early enough to give yourself enough time before your working day begins, and look forward to getting up! Get into the habit of rising at the same time each day, for enhanced energy.
2. Start with silence. Once you’re up and re-hydrated, just sit. Your mind will not have fully woken up yet so it is the easiest time to feel calm. Enjoy being awake but not rushing and set yourself up for a positive day… take 12 breathes, on each exhalation think of something you are grateful for.
3. Consider your breathing, learn 1 – 3 simple pranayama techniques from your teacher. The best thing you can do in the beginning is just to watch each breath come in and out. Notice how it feels, sounds and what moves, allowing it to deepen and lengthen comfortably.
4. Warm up and protect your core, using the most suitable techniques for you. My students regularly practise a variety of core strengthening exercises in class – many of which you can find on my social media feeds. Not only does this warm you up, it helps to protect against back pain and injury.
5. Learn and practice a sequence that is suitable for you and the time you have. It can be anything from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. This is where one to one sessions are so useful, as a good teacher will set you a sequence with the poses and modifications that will benefit you the most.
There are so many benefits to a morning routine – from increased energy, motivation, physical health and mental clarity, plus more time in your day. See if you can make a start on your self-practice morning routine. If you are joining me on retreat this year or if I see you privately, I will be giving you plenty of help!
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?
The idea for this weekend retreat started with a phone call I received from London based Chi Running coach Balavan Thomas, who proposed a workshop collaboration. I said it all sounded very interesting but first I needed to find out what Chi Running actually was!! After some reading I discovered I was already doing it, (see me running here!) that Chi Running has taken many of it’s core principles from yoga and tai chi. I resonated with it completely, having developed and improved my own running technique by incorporating elements of my yoga practice. I’ve led many running and yoga holidays to share the benefits of yoga for runners, but to actually have a coach teach a group how to run properly as well would be the perfect combination. It was planned and everything came together for the weekend – with sunshine and blue skies in Cornwall, as though it was meant to be!
My classes over the weekend covered areas that I always focus on for runners, particularly core and hip strength and hamstring and hip release, plus corresponding ideas with Chi Running in breathing and posture. I could see there were numerous similarities: alignment, stand in Tadasana for perfect posture and keep this alignment when running, just lean and land mid-foot; core strength, gently draw in your lower abdominals (uddiyana bandha), and maintain this when running. This is the key principle of Chi Running – run with a strong core and you can relax your legs. Yes, run by relaxing your legs! I love the principles behind Chi Running because it really does make running feel effortless. Use your arms more, especially when running up hill and practise yoga to strengthen them; strengthen your core and hips to keep them aligned and protect your spine and knees. In Chi Running the hips stay aligned, which is easy with a good amount of core strength, but the pelvis is allowed to rotate so that the foot is taken straight back behind you in a circular motion.
Balavan led us through a series of drills to practise these elements, and we brought them all together, running over glorious terrain on the dunes and on the beach barefoot. The weekend was fuelled with delicious vegan food from Falmouth based chef Nicola Willis of Pea Souk fame. The feedback from the group was so great that we are already planning dates for another Yoga Chi Running weekend. Sign up to the newsletter to hear more!