By Laura Richard
At first, yoga and running may not seem to have much in common; one consists of a variety of poses that take place on a mat as part of a personal practice, the other is a single repetitive motion across space often with some kind of competitive objective. And yet, for me, as an experienced ultra-marathoner they have become mutually constitutive. Actually, that’s not entirely true: While I can’t imagine logging consistent, injury-free miles without some kind of regular yoga, I CAN see myself in a flourishing yoga practice with no running at all.
Many runners “resort” to yoga as a physical solution to loosen chronically tight hips and hamstrings. And while overall muscular and joint flexibility bring enormous benefits for maintaining all-over mechanical health, for me, there are other arguably more valuable aspects of a regular yoga practice, especially for those who run on trails. Most obviously, the lunge asanas help develop the strength-to-weight power ratio crucial for hill climbing and descending. But almost as important, is core stability and balance: you need strong abdominals and spinal support for the full body moves and reflexes that technical single-track running demands—especially downhill. And this is developed not just through planks, but also in the many balance poses that recruit all of the smaller muscles and require your full, relaxed attention. After all, moving smoothly over rough, varied, and unpredictable terrain—and being able to catch yourself mid-fall after the inevitable trips and toe-grabs—is every bit essential to finishing a race as aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
And whether you are holding a bound Low Lunge or Dancer, or trying to get through a rough patch in a trail race, breath and focus are key. Cultivating awareness and control over our inhales and exhales can help to transcend physical discomfort and maintain positivity. Just as it seems counterintuitive to relax, breathe, and push up when we feel we are falling out of a pose, so too can lightness best serve our running. Even on the toughest stretches of trail, practicing landing gently, quietly, and quickly reduces the pounding and brings mental levity—it’s the running equivalent of how we want to live our lives on this earth: with as much spiritual joy and as little physical impact as possible.
Photo Credit: Nate Dunn
*Laura Richard is a Mom, Professor, Runner, Yogi. She lives and plays in Marin California.