Body Balance: Benefits of Yoga for Runners

Women practicing yoga in a class

Running is hard on our bodies. The high impact and repetitive nature of running stresses our joints and often leads to complaints of tight muscles and pain. Yoga teaches us to respect our limitations and find balance. When combined, yoga can be the key to a long, successful running career.

Balance - Many runners know that balance is the key to staying injury free. All of our muscles should be balanced so that they support each other equally. However, no one's body is perfectly balanced. I have tight hips and weak inner thighs. This causes my hips to turn inward when I run giving me IT band and hip issues. Another person may step incorrectly, causing a torquing motion in their muscles resulting on a pull of the muscles in the shin causing shin splints. Our bodies compensate for our imbalances which causes tight muscles to get tighter and weak muscles get weaker. The repetitiveness of running further causes problems. Practicing yoga over time will help to strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight muscles. It will also work to improve your range of motion working your body in a 3D spectrum. Yoga also works to train the mind to focus internally rather than externally. All of this combined creates a balanced body and mind and a healthier self.

Listen to Your Body - How often have you heard this advice? How often have you ignored it? I've run through many aches and pains, colds and sickness all because I refused to listen to my internal self that told me to stop. Yoga teaches the body that each day is different. How we feel from day-to-day can vary as does our energy levels which can vary hourly. The calmness that can be achieved in yoga allows us to determine what our energy levels are and manage them throughout our workouts and other daily tasks. The result is that we respect the limitations of our bodies when it comes to workouts rather than pushing through a speed workout or long distance workout when our bodies and minds are too tired. Relaxation can also be beneficial for runners. By learning how to relax through our breath, we can reduce the tension we experience while running. We can learn to relax our tense and tight muscles and control our breathing, and the result is that we manage our energy more efficiently. We also experience a greater range of motion and freedom which will result in less muscle tightness and pain. I often use my breath to relax myself during my runs when I feel myself becoming tense or nervous and it does calm my body and allow me to continue without having to stop or dramatically reduce my pace. I’d encourage you to focus on your breath during your next workout and learn to control it; you’ll likely see some positive results.

Pain Prevention - This comes back to balance and alignment. Remember that misstep or uneven distribution of weight as your feet hit the ground and the pain in your shins? Think about all those ab workouts you have done while forgetting about your back. As we run, we drive forward with our abdomen, further strengthening our abs. And then add in the stress on the hamstrings and now you understand why your low back is tight and sore post run. Practicing yoga will help to increase the muscle strength in these weak areas, eventually making your post run pain much less. As runners we are diligent to stretch and do our abs post workout. We ice and we foam roll and we are sure to re hydrate. Consider adding in a few yoga poses and stretches before and after your runs to build strength and lengthen your muscles. You’ll help balance your body and adjust your alignment by just adding a few more things to your routine. Check out these yoga videos on Runner’s World. They have some great poses and stretches to add to your pre-run and post run routines.

Our bodies prefer to be in a state of perfect balance. If we recognize we are out of balance and work to repair it, our bodies will generally follow. It is our inherent nature to do so.

Inspired by the article Yoga for Runners by Baron Baptiste and Kathleen Finn Mendola from Yoga Journal.