Is running restricting your flexibility on the mat? Yoga expert Tim Oddie can help.
I’ve recently started running once a week, and it’s affecting my yoga practice negatively. My legs and hips feel much tighter, making it difficult for me to do bending poses that I previously had no trouble with, like Downward-Facing Dog or Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend. Is this normal? What can I do to help keep me supple?
After many years of teaching—often to elite athletes—I have to say yoga certainly improves running, but running frequently hinders yoga. So yes, what you are experiencing is completely normal. The repetitive use of muscles within only a short range of motion, and the compressive and uneven forces through joints is contrary to yoga practice. In yoga you are striving for the conscious use of muscles—aiming for a strong extend range and even pressure across highly mobile, yet stable joints.
You can, however, mitigate the detrimental effects upon your yoga practice by allowing time in your running program to ‘warm up’ and even more importantly ‘cool down’. All the standing poses are useful, but particularly Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose), supported Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior I Pose) and Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose). Pay particular attention to even weight distribution through the feet, and watch that the inner upper thighs do not externally rotate (turn forward), as running will tighten the gluteus, hamstring and quadricep muscles—encouraging an external rotation.
As significant as which poses you do, is the manner in which they’re done. Muscles have a memory–what is termed a stretch reflex. After running muscles will need to be coaxed out of their shortened state. If you push too far too quickly, the muscle may contract rather than lengthen and possibly cause you an injury.
So, go slowly and give the muscle a chance to release. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) in ropes (used in Iyengar yoga studios) is excellent, while the poses Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) are also good when done with support. If nothing else, make time for Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose) after each run. Have your hips raised on a bolster and hold the pose for five to 10 minutes.
Finally, I suggest you investigate ‘barefoot’ running soles. Recent studies have shown these encourage a more “natural” gait, greatly reducing the compression forces associated with the heel strike of regular runners.
Tim Oddie is a certified Iyengar yoga teacher and founding director of Geelong City Yoga in Victoria. A yoga teacher for nearly 20 years, he is passionate about promoting Iyengar yoga within elite sports. www.geelongyoga.com