Ashtanga Yoga for Runners
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by Sarah Ongiri
I began practicing yoga about 3 years ago at Lehigh Valley Yoga in Allentown. The studio offers mostly Ashtanga based yoga and its own Hot Yoga 40. It is the only studio I have ever practiced so my experience comes for here.
While yoga is known for being relaxing. Ashtanga seeks to quiet the mind by engaging the body in challenging fast paced postures that force you to concentrate on body placement and breath both of which are implicit for runners and athletes of all kinds. Not only that, but Ashtanga engages the abdominal muscles and upper body, areas which can be neglected by runners focusing on leg strength and adding mileage. Ashtanga teaches us to lean on the breath when a posture becomes difficult for strength . Runners will appreciate the regular sequence found in Ashtanga as well. Lehigh Valley Yoga is owned by a former long distance runner and many of the teachers and students are also long distance runners and provide insight as well as empathy with runners.
Many running publications focus on using yoga as a tool for stretching post run or rehabbing run related injuries. While I fully advocate the use of yoga for these needs, I also would like to suggest utilizing yoga as a training tool for gaining endurance and speed in your run. Not only that, you will gain a peace of mind that yoga can give you.
Repeat marathoner and yoga extraordinaire Alison Fiorini says this about how Ashtanga affects her running. “I put in a lot of miles since I generally train for long distances, so I practice yoga (particularly ashtanga yoga) for both the strength and flexibility benefit. I try to practice ashtanga yoga 4-6 times per week to aid my training. By practicing a powerful style of yoga, it is a wonderful cross training tool. Yoga works all of the muscles that running doesn’t, and it stretches the ones that runners tend to overuse. I can’t imagine being a runner without also being a yogi!”
A caution for runners coming to Ashtanga is that you will be challenged. As runners, we often come to yoga with tight hamstrings and hips. It is imperative that athletes and all coming to yoga leave their egos at the door. You may not going to look like the super flexi dancer girl on the mat across from you. That is okay. Not only that but if you let Mr. Ego take over you will get hurt and your running days will be on hold. Just like a running injury, a yoga injury will put you out of commission way longer than you expect. While exploring your edge is awesome, knowing when you meet it is essential. Runners are trained to work through the pain but pain during yoga is a strict stop sign.
Hot Yoga 40 offers a whole other training opportunity. It is approaching the hot weather running season and while nothing teaches you to run in the heat like running in the heat does, Hot Yoga 40 offers the opportunity to explore your body’s endurance and flexibility in a controlled environment. Got a run planned for Hawaii or Florida or even the LV in August? What a better way to get ready for the climate then with some yoga in 105 degree humid room. Benefits from hot yoga are immediate. Heat opens your body up and you will felt lighter. Runners will find an increase in flexibly and looseness in their bodies. I would recommend attending hot yoga after a run and not before and again pay keen attention to your hamstrings and hip tightness. Focus on controlling your breathing in the heated environment and enjoy the way the heat looses any tight or injured areas of your body. I felt great relief and comfort in a hamstring pull when I attended Hot Yoga 40 on a regular basis. I was able run again in a couple of weeks and feel little to no discomfort in that muscle. An important training aspect of hot yoga is your nutrition and hydration. I feel much more comfortable if I drink around 32 ounces of water prior to my practice. Small sips throughout the class provide mental comfort but it is your previous hydration that will really help you move through your time in the hot room. Again, lessons in the hot room help immensely on race day. While hot yoga can be practiced comfortably once a week, if you decide to obtain an Ashtanga practice I recommend practicing at least 2-3 times a week. Otherwise each practice will feel like punishment on your hamstrings. This does not mean you need to come to the studio for a 60-90 minute class. You can roll out your mat at home and run through a number of sun salutations and standing poses as well as some forward folds and then a few minutes in the closing postures. And days when that is too much
2-3 sun salutations to closing postures can be enough. Just like running, if you want to get it in you can. There will be days when you are done. I remember when there was just no way my body was going to do even one more thing and that is okay. Rest in child’s pose Doing so stretches your thighs, ankles, and hips which all runners need. It also calms your mind. And while you are there breath into those lungs. Most runners are healthy enough to participate in any of the yoga classes I mentioned. If you are pregnant or have chronic injuries or illnesses , check in with your doctor. If you are a competitive athlete training with a team or for the Olympics (we can all dream right?) check with your trainer or your coach to get the ok before undergoing what will be a challenging yet rewarding journey.
In any yoga class, remember your are there for you. Do not compare yourself to others or feel the need to perform for your fellow yogis. They likely did not already cover miles that day or that week. Enjoy the opening of your body but don’t muscle your way into poses. Lean on your breath and whatever else, just do this. Breath.