Yoga and training complement each other like yin and yang
Written by: Sage Rountree
My previous two columns have shown you how to use yoga poses to inform your running stride. Checking the balance of your hip muscles and finding mountain-pose alignment both give you insight about your personal imbalances and form. Yoga in general can help correct imbalances and improve your form, but you must be careful as you begin to add a class, video, or home practice to your training. The rule here is one of balance: Keep your training and your yoga in inverse proportion. When one is more intense, the other should be more mellow. That way, the two fit together in balance, like the yin and yang symbol.
In your off-season and base periods, a strength-based practice such as power yoga and its variations (flow, vinyasa, Ashtanga, and the like) can complement your training and address muscle strength imbalances. But as you move toward your competitive season, unless you have years of practice with yoga, you’ll want to switch to a more flexibility-based practice, focusing on longer holds to keep your muscles supple and your core strong. Near your peak competition, tone down your yoga practice even more, making focus its focus. Gentle and restorative yoga and an emphasis on breathing and mindfulness will support your physical peak.
Since most of us in North America are approaching race season, we should be looking for classes that will support, not undermine, our training efforts. As yoga grows ever more mainstream, your class options continue to expand, and the range of classes can be overwhelming. If you’re a yoga beginner, especially if you identify yourself among the less flexible (and if you’re a runner, that’s probably a good assumption), you should look for a gentler class. An introductory class would be ideal, as it will give you the alignment guidelines to ensure that you practice safely. If you can’t find an intro class, look for those labeled “slow,” “gentle,” or “level 1.” Studio administrators are always happy to help you find the right class, so don’t be shy about approaching them.
And don’t be too proud to take it easy. Your competitive mindset might push you toward every variation the instructor offers. That serves you well in a race, but it should be balanced on the mat by a conservative approach. Go slowly, gently, and focus on how the poses feel over how they look.
By balancing the yang of your training with the yin of yoga, you’ll cultivate complete health—body, mind, and spirit—which makes you not only a better athlete, but a better person.
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Sage Rountree, Runner’s World’s yoga expert, is author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. In addition to teaching yoga workshops nationwide, she is an active coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and the RRCA. Find her streamable class, a moderate- to slow routine focusing on core and hips, at yogavibes.com.