We’ve all felt it – that little niggle in the ankle or slight strain in the calf as we’re halfway through a run. It can be deeply frustrating, particularly for new runners who find that their bodies aren’t keeping pace with their enthusiasm.
The problem, of course, is that running is repetitive, which means it puts strain on specific muscle groups. If you’re new to running your body needs time to adapt to that strain. Recovery time is important but it is also worth considering mixing up your exercise choices. That’s where yoga can come in useful.
Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India around 5,000 years ago, and since then has been adapted in different countries around the world. Today, there are more than 20 different types. All of them include specific postures, meditation and special breathing techniques, aimed at improving and maintaining physical and mental wellbeing.
While, it may look like everyone’s lying about on their mat relaxing, but regular yoga practice improves flexibility, strength and helps create a calm, more focused outlook on life. It can also be extremely useful for runners.
That’s because yoga helps to lengthen tight or strained muscles, stimulating recovery and restoring a natural range of motion, making it particular useful in helping runners avoid common injuries such as iliotibial band (IT) syndrome (where the ligament that runs down the outside of your thigh from hip to shin, is tight or inflamed) and plantar fasciitis. Yoga also strengthens your core, feet and ankles, especially helpful for road runners pounding the pavements.
Trail runners can benefit, as well, though, enjoying improved awareness of the position of their limbs in space – known as proprioception – thanks to balancing yoga postures, such as tree pose, eagle pose or half-moon pose.
Yoga can also improve running posture and breathing and can help you focus your mind to help you stay positive and be present in the current moment. This focus can be invaluable in endurance running when the thought of all those miles ahead of you can be overwhelming.
There are a number of simple yoga exercises that any runner can do to help stretch tired muscles and improve core strength. Take a look at our handy guide below:
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It’s important when doing any kind of yoga to listen to your body and to only push it as far as feels comfortable on the day. Some of these poses are quite strong and some days you will find that you can stretch farther than others. This is perfectly normal. If you feel pain, either reduce the stretch or stop.
If you’re interested in taking up yoga as a regular practice, it is worth investigating what type would suit you best. Classic Hatha yoga is a good place to start, focusing on postures and breathing, or you might try the gentle Iyengar style (a form of Hatha). If you’re interested in something a little more dynamic that builds more of a sweat you could try Ashtanga, which involves synchronizing your breathing with a progressive series of poses, or Bikram yoga – also known as hot yoga – which concentrates on the same 26 poses and is practised in a hot room, typically 40 degrees Celsius with around 40% humidity.
For more information on yoga, check out the main UK yoga associations, which provide lists of teachers and classes in your area:
• British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), the Sport England-recognised governing body for yoga - www.bwy.org.uk
• Independent Yoga Network - www.independentyoganetwork.org
• Yoga Alliance UK - www.yogaalliance.co.uk
You can also search for a local class or teacher using the following websites: