Yoga can make a great complement to athletic training, especially if teachers encourage students to take it easy during their practice and to leave their competitive spirits at the door.
As yoga grows ever more popular, athletes of all types are incorporating the practice into their training. Athletes and their teachers are smart to pay attention to their students’ needs: sports training can leave athletes strong in some areas but inflexible and weak in others, and a competitive mindset can undermine the practice and increase the chances for injury.
In this article, I interview my friend and colleague, Tricia Cusiak, RYT 200 from Longmont, Colorado.
LB: How often do you practice yoga?
TC: For the past seven years, I’ve keep to a strict five-day-a-week yoga practice. That changed, though, when I moved to Sarasota, Florida, and started training for a half marathon last November. My regular yoga practice went out the window. I was running four days a week, going to the gym four days a week, and only practicing yoga two days a week. The practice that had sustained me and kept me flexible (with not so much as a cold for years) had vanished.
LB: So you were a yoga practitioner first and became a runner only recently. Having trained hard and completed the half marathon, have you shifted your priorities?
TC: Yes. Everything I know to be true about the benefits of yoga has been reconfirmed over the past five months. I have proven to myself that yoga is good for the whole person—body, mind and spirit, and it is primary to sustain me. Running is icing on my healthy, yoga self.
LB: From your experiences, what are the benefits of yoga for runners?
TC: Yoga supports running in so many ways. For me, the most important benefits to my running include:
- Breath—if you can’t breathe, running is pretty much out. My yoga practice has conditioned me to really focus on long, slow inhales and exhales while observing how the body moves with each action. This awareness has allowed me to make adjustments in my pace as the miles accumulate, fueling my body with the oxygen it needs, while helping me quiet my mind when internal chatter starts telling me that I can’t do something.
- Balance—Your feet are such important part of running, and so often overlooked. Yoga has helped me strengthen the muscles in my feet, allowing my toes to spread and my arches to be strong. This enhances my balance and has led to a smooth running stride.
- Strength—Core strength is essential to moving efficiently, safely and gracefully. Yoga calls upon the core muscles to support each pose; contracting some while stretching others. The core stabilizes the torso, and is the power center for my runs, providing stability and coordination.
- Flexibility—Yoga stretches the muscle fibers that I am tightening with the repetitive running motion. I experience a better range of motion in my joints, and (hopefully) bypass nagging aches and pains.
- Friends—Running is a social activity. I joined a running group specifically targeted to first-time half marathoners. The people I met on this journey share similar goals, yet have arrived at them following very different paths. We are not similar (aside from our running) and I doubt our paths would cross in any other setting. I think often we surround ourselves by people who are just like us. My running has exposed me to people outside of my comfort zone, and I believe this creates a larger circle of understanding for us all.
LB: What advice do you have for runners?
TC: For me, more yoga means better, stronger, injury-free running. My body is aging, as much as it pains me to see those words in print, it’s true. Maintaining focus on the whole self, rather than pushing for faster or stronger is a safe path for a lifetime of well-being.
To see Lynn’s interview with Tricia on how yoga can help runners, click here: Yoga for Runners