“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It’s about what you learn on the way down.”
Running and Yoga are complimentary discipline that both have a powerful and positive effect on your wellbeing, says ASICS frontrunner Melanie Wilkinson.
As a runner, it can be difficult to take a guilt-free rest day without feeling that a day of recovery is going to take you back a few steps in the training plan, but the opposite is true.
This is where Yoga comes in. It is a great option for recovery days, not just for its incredible physical benefits, but to help those who find rest days mentally challenging.
(And no, you don’t have to be able to touch your toes to reap the benefits.)
So let’s dive into three styles of Yoga can help you as a runner…
1. Active Yoga
Whether it’s an energetic Vinyasa flow or a strong but stretchy Hatha class, a runner can benefit in many ways.
Warrior poses help strengthen muscles much like a session in the gym, but without the heavy lifting or the impact. Balancing poses are great for improving focus and concentration while working on stabilizing muscles that help you to avoid injury and allow the body to perform optimally and efficiently.
For runners who find stillness challenging, the sun salutation sequence of 12 poses can be a great option. Much like running it is a repetitive sequence where you can find your flow and switch off that monkey mind.
2. Restorative Yoga
Restorative Yoga is a passive, comforting style of Yoga, perfect for those recovery and rest days where you want to go to town with the self-care routine.
A typical class is made up of minimal poses that are each held for a longer period of time using the aid of pillows and blankets to help support the body during each pose and allow total relaxation.
The aim is to fully let go and relax, then by focusing on the breath your body is able to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, the rest and digest mode of the nervous system that helps to keep all the basic functions of the body working as they should.
Restorative yoga helps to restore the body to its natural state of harmony.
With regular practice you can reduce niggles and pain, improve sleep, reduce stress and release tension deep within the muscle fibres – a runner’s dream.
3. Yoga Nidra
What is Yoga Nidra, you might be thinking? In very simple terms it is guided meditation. Yoga Nidra literally means Yogic Sleep, but it is so much more than that.
For a beginner the best use of Yoga Nidra may be to play it as you get into bed at night, the goal to listen to your guide as the body and mind are in deep rest. Meanwhile, the subconscious mind is active. In the beginning, most people tend to drift off into a delicious sleep and there’s absolutely no harm in that. Just like everything in life, Yoga Nidra takes practice. During Yoga Nidra, the body enters a deep state of relaxation, body functions become minimal, metabolism slows down and the hormonal function increases.
This gives the body chance to start the repair process and release toxins, which as a runner is especially important as it helps the body recover faster between training sessions.
Just like its sister practice Restorative Yoga it also helps to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Nervous systems explained
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is responsible for bodily functions such as metabolism, healing and growth; it works involuntarily.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) provides energy and resources to our muscles and heart and is activated during physical exercises such as running, but also by mental stress. Think back to our ‘caveman’ days, the SNS would fire up in a threatening situation and help you run away from a predator.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is activated when we are calm or via practices such as Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra.
It is responsible for providing energy and resources to our brain and internal organs and helps us to digest, heal and grow.
We need all of these systems to activate when they are required, however in today’s busy and often stressful world, the majority of people are stuck in SNS mode for longer periods of time. Thus is like being chased by a predator 24/7 and can have extremely damaging effects on a person’s mind and body.
This also gives the (PNS) minimal chance to activate which has a huge impact on the body’s ability to heal and repair itself.
For a runner who is already putting their body under an intense amount of stress, you can see why regular practice of Yoga that helps to activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System can be highly beneficial, not only to improve performance and recovery but to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid injury and illness.
Melanie Wilkinson is a certified Yoga teacher and an ASICS FrontRunner.