Running and Yoga Go Hand in Hand or Foot to Head
In yoga our practice is always based on our alignment, our attitude, and our actions that follow. Our alignment starts from the ground up towards the crown of our head bringing every area into a beautifully created stack of shoulders over hips and hips over ankles. Even with the forward propelling motion of running, conscious alignment helps us to protect the vulnerable areas of possible injury in our knees and ankles. Our attitude of honoring our body and finding the rhythm of our inhalation and exhalation keeps us present in the moment and prevents competitive behavior from over-riding our body's wisdom of what pain is. Our action of preparing for our run with Sun Salutation C (the lunge salute) helps our muscles, tendons, and ligaments to warm up gradually before beginning our morning, afternoon, or evening run. Completing our daily activity with deep stretches not only prevents further injury, but it also helps with repetitive stress injuries that occur over time. Tight muscles, such as our hamstrings or I.T. bands, just continue to get more inflexible, hard, and even brittle without long held stretching at the end of a run.
However, my question is can running help our yoga practice? I believe that it can, and that is one of the main reasons why I run! Running, a terrific cardiovascular exercise, improves our VO2 maximum (the maximum capacity of our body to transport and use oxygen in exercise). Dr. Kenneth Cooper, Founder of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, based his V02 maximum formula on a run of 12 minutes. His formula was conducted for the United States Air Force in the late 1960s. One of the results of this was the Cooper test in which the distance covered running in 12 minutes is measured. Based on the measured distance, an estimate of VO2 max (in ml/min/kg) is:
where d12 is distance (in metres) covered in 12 minutes minus 505 divided by 45. Maximum oxygen intake is widely accepted as the single best measure of cardiovascular fitness and maximal aerobic power. This affects our yoga practice by giving us the endurance ability to accomplish long held yoga postures, increasing your oxygen intake in a flowing vinyasa or power yoga class, and maximizing the amount of fresh blood pumping through your body during a practice.
Whether you are training for a run, such as the Tulsa Run in the fall, or conditioning your body to take a power yoga class, running and yoga do go hand in hand. Here is my personal recommendation for yoga, run, yoga.
First, do 5 Sun Salutations with the lunge variation (knee on the floor). Give each pose one breath. This corresponds to be: Inhale - sun breath standing in Mountain pose. Exhale - Forward Fold bending your knees to keep from overstretching your hamstrings; hands touch the floor or blocks. Inhale - Half Forward Fold looking up or forward neutralizing your spine. Exhale - releasing back into a fold, stepping back with your right foot, and inhaling into a Low Lunge with your right knee on the floor, left knee directly over your left ankle, and arms beside your ears. Exhaling arms down, stepping your other leg back, and coming to a Plank position as you lower to the floor with bent knees or straight strong legs, shoulders over wrists. Inhale -Cobra pose with bent elbows; hips, thighs, and toes on the floor as you lift your chest, neck and head. Exhale - Downward Facing Dog or Child's pose. Inhale - bending your knees as you step forward with your right leg and coming back into the lunging position. Lift your hands up with arms alongside your head finding your Crescent Lunge with modified left knee on the floor and right knee directly over your right ankle. Exhaling your hands down, looking forward, step forward to the front of your mat. Inhale halfway up, and exhale down in your forward fold. Then, with bent knees sweep your arms up, and you will return to Upward Salute arms overhead and "Sama Stitihi" hands to your heart in equal standing position.
Each time you forward fold and step back, you lunge back with the opposite leg to balance out both sides.
After completing your 5 Sun Salutes, start a brisk walk or slow jog to warm up your legs gradually, building up your speed and finding a good rhythm with your breath. In yoga we learn to keep our breath primary, and in running it is the most important prevention to teach us to find our pace without overdoing or compromising our body. In order to get a good heart rate established, run for 20 - 40 minutes. For weight loss or race preparation, run for 60 - 70 minutes at a pace that works for you. A new beginner can always use the walk for 10 minutes, run for 10 minutes, walk for 10 minutes in an alternating pace. For those starting out in a running program, you can keep running a little longer distance each time and after a week, begin to lengthen the running time as you shorten your walking time.
Finish your run by slowing down to a brisk walk or slow jog allowing your heart rate to find a more normal beat and most importantly, add these stretches to lengthen your muscles, improve flexibility, and prevent repetitive stress injury.
1. Intense Side Stretch - This pose stretches tight hamstrings, the outer hips, and the iliotibial bands that run along the outer legs. Start in Mountain pose or Tadasana about 2 to 3 feet in front of and facing a wall. Bring your hands to your hips and step your left foot back 3 1/2 to 4 feet (a little wider if balance is an issue). Turn the left foot out 30 degrees. Align your right heel with your left heel. Tone your thighs and align the right kneecap with the right ankle. Exhale and square your hips to the wall. Exhaling, hinge at the hips, leaning your torso forward over the right leg. Expect a big stretch in the right hamstring and the left outer calf muscle, especially after a long run. Bring your palms or fingertips to the wall for support. With the arms steady, move the shoulder blades down the back. Be sure that the neck is in line with the spine, and then gaze at your front foot. Hold for up to a minute. To come out, return your hands to your hips or walk your fingertips up the wall and raise your torso back to center. Repeat on the opposite side.
2. Downward Facing Dog - This pose will also lengthen tight hamstrings, which can be caused by time spent with legs bent. Come onto your hands and knees, with your knees directly below your hips and your hands a few inches in front of your shoulders. Press down evenly through the four corners of both hands and spread your fingers evenly bearing most of your forward weight in the index fingers and thumbs. Tuck your toes under and, on an exhalation, lift your knees away from the ground but keep them slightly bent. Gently lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling. On an exhalation, slowly lengthen your legs. Remember your legs are your anchors and use the heels moving down towards the floor as your main weight bearing. Move your awareness to your shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades on your back and broaden them away from each other. Notice which side of your body feels longer and breathe into the shorter side. Visualize it lengthening in both directions. Hold for up to 2 minutes.
3. Low Lunge - Almost an extreme exaggeration of the running stride, the Low Lunge addresses tight hip flexors and, by evenly strengthening the collateral ligaments on either side of the knee, makes the knee joint more stable, says Sage Rountree, yoga instructor. From your hands and knees, with toes tucked under, bring the right foot between the hands, lining up your fingertips and toes. See that the right shin is perpendicular to the ground, and place the right knee directly in front of the hip. Exhaling, lower the hips and take the back knee to the ground. Runners' hips are notoriously tight, so if you need to, start with a 90-degree angle between your front and back thighs. Eventually you can lower your hips so that the angle increases to about 180 degrees. Square the hips from front to back, making them parallel to the short sides of your mat. Hold here for 30 seconds. For a stronger stretch, bring your hands to your knee for another few breaths. Switch sides.
4. Half Balancing Moon pose - This pose can give you muscle strength as well as a better awareness of the position of your body in space. Practicing this balancing pose with your raised foot against a wall or door frame to help steady you. Set a block about 6-12 inches in front of your right foot and slightly to the right of it. Rest your right hand on the block, positioning it beneath your shoulder. Lift the left leg and put your foot against the wall or door frame. Runners tend to collapse in the chest and shoulders, so stack the left shoulder above the right and extend the left arm above the body, palm facing the same direction as the front of the body. Feel the external rotation of both legs opening the hips as you open your hip outwardly. Keep the right knee and toes pointing in the same direction flexing your right foot. Hold for a minute, breathe about 5 - 10 breaths before switching sides.
5. Hand to Foot pose on the floor with a belt or strap - I do this pose every day; it'll make a huge difference in hamstring and calf flexibility. Plus, it helps tight I.T. bands and can ease stiffness in the lower back. Using a strap, lie on your back with legs extended, big toes touching, and heels slightly apart. Continue to reach through the left heel as you inhale and bend your right knee. Draw the thigh in toward your torso. Feel your lower back and right hip release toward the ground. Place a strap around the ball of the right foot. Now slowly lengthen the right leg while allowing the strap to slide through your hands until the leg is fully lengthened and the elbows fully extended. Relax the upper neck and shoulders until they are lightly pressing into the ground. Press the ball of your right foot into the strap while pulling the strap into the ball of the foot. Keep the back of your left thigh pressing into the ground and the left foot flexed. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side and then open the hip by bringing the extended leg out to the same side. Bring the leg back to center on the inhale, change hands holding the strap, and stretching out the iliotibial band on the outside of the leg, stretch the extended leg in a diagonal or oblique line across to the opposite side of the body. It is very important to keep the foot flexed with your toes pulled slightly in towards the shin.
So, run, yogi, run! Or yoga, run, yoga. Either way, I believe that you will find strength, alignment, cardiovascular improvement, and a terrific stretch! You will feel great on your way to a healthier heart, mind, and body. Namaste'