Whether you’re training for a road race or you’re a recreational runner, adding yoga to your routine can help you tune in to your body and build balance, strength, and flexibility.

Tune in

Running and yoga can both be forms of meditation. Both activities encourage our minds to clear through repetitive motion and focusing our eyes on the present moment. Yoga teaches us to tune in to subtle cues from our bodies. Listening to aches caused by running and having these pains treated can help prevent injury. Knowing how our body works and how pairs of muscles work together can help with our running form.

Breathing

Spending time in a yoga class focusing on breathing is thought to help with mental focus and tenacity on longer runs. You can use simple breathing techniques learned in yoga class to mentally prepare for a long run or to calm and centre yourself before a race.

It’s all about balance

Our mental and physical balance can improve through a regular yoga practice. While running, we may pay attention to personal records, the distance we’re running, and other external factors. Yoga can be a way to balance this external focus with internal attention. Yoga also develops our physical balance and alignment—this may improve our running form.

Build your strength

Without sufficient strength, proper running form can suffer during longer runs. Having a strong set of core muscles can help us maintain good running form when our leg muscles begin to tire.

Flexibility

Runners can experience tightness in their muscles, particularly in the hamstrings, quads, and calves. Yoga asanas (poses) can be considered cross training in a running program and used to stretch our muscles after a run. Research suggests that yoga might help lessen muscle soreness after exercise. Yoga can also help maintain and increase our range of motion and flexibility.

Try these poses after a shorter run when your muscles are warm, or use them to design a brief cross-training session on a non-running day. Remember to warm up your muscles with 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity before stretching.

Thunderbolt

This posture helps to stretch the leg muscles, soles of the feet, and ankles. It also helps strengthen the ankles; this may be helpful for runners to prevent rolling on them.

  • Bring your knees and legs together while sitting back on your heels.
  • Keep your back straight and put your hands on your thighs or move all of your weight over your ankles.
  • Hold for 10 breaths if possible.
  • A variation is to tuck your toes under you and stretch out the bottoms of your feet.

Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle

This posture opens the hips, bringing more mobility into this part of your body. You may also feel a deep stretch in the backs of your legs and glutes.

  • Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, keeping your right foot flexed to protect your knee.
  • Bring your right arm through the gap between your legs, wrapping your left arm around your left thigh.
  • Clasp hands if possible.
  • For a more intense stretch, bring your left thigh toward your chest. Move slowly and be mindful that the movement doesn’t come from your knees.
  • Hold for at least 5 breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Reclining Spinal Twist

Reclining spinal twist

The iliotibial (IT) band runs from the hip to the outer side of the shin, below the kneecap. One of its functions is to stabilize the hips and knees when walking and running. Keeping your IT band in good shape will help you maintain your running schedule. This pose is helpful for stretching your IT band.

  • Lying on your back, move your arms out to a T position.
  • Bring both knees near the chest.
  • Allow gravity to drop your legs to the right hand side toward the ground as you breathe. Hold for 5 or more breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Balance the Cat

Balancing Cat

This series of movements helps improve balance and, when done with proper form, helps build core muscle strength. Using your core effectively while running will help with your form, particularly when your legs tire on longer runs.

  • Begin in tabletop position (on your knees and hands with your shoulders over your wrists, your hips over your knees, and a flat back).
  • Inhale and lift your right leg straight behind you and your left arm straight in front of you. Your right leg should be level with your hip and your left arm level with your shoulder.
  • Focus on using the muscles around the core of your body during this sequence and remember to breathe. Be careful not to arch your back.
  • Hold for a few breaths before lowering your limbs and repeating on the other side.

Kneeling Lunge

Lunge

This posture can help prevent lower back pain, stretches the hips, and stretches and strengthens the thighs. Only come as deep into the posture as feels comfortable for your body.

  • Begin in tabletop position (on your knees and hands with your shoulders over your wrists, your hips over your knees, and a flat back).
  • Move your left foot to the inside of your hands and shift your weight forward until your left knee is approaching a right angle. Ensure your left ankle is directly under the left knee. Keep palms flat on the floor or rest on two yoga blocks if you’re having trouble reaching the floor.
  • Breathe slowly and hold for at least 5 rounds of breath.
  • Repeat on the right side.

What kind of yoga?

Out of the many yoga classes to choose from, Yin yoga and Vinyasa yoga are two popular styles you’ll see studios offering.

Yin classes typically hold postures for longer than a Vinyasa class and tend to focus on alignment and proper form, so Yin classes are great on rest days. More active Vinyasa-style classes flow in and out of poses more quickly, and are a great option for cross training.

New to yoga or running?

If you are new to yoga, consider joining a class to learn proper form. Some yoga studios are beginning to offer yoga classes specifically for runners. Use props to help you, and try not to judge your “performance” in a yoga class. Be gentle with yourself.

If you are trying to increase the distance you run, consider training with a running group in your community to learn how to increase the intensity and frequency of your runs without injury.

As always, consult your health care practitioner if undertaking a new activity. If not practised carefully with safe alignment, yoga can add strain on the knees (as can running), so be especially mindful of your knees.

Sara Alarie’s favourite place to run is on the trails where she lives in Canmore, Alberta. Her favourite running partner is the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever in her life, Bryden.

About the Author

Sara Alarie's favourite place to run is on the trails where she lives in Canmore, Alberta. Her favourite running partner is the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever in her life, Bryden.