After having advocated through teaching and writing about the benefits of yoga for runners for many years, it now seems that finally there is a much greater awareness that yoga is incredibly beneficial for runners both on and off the trail. For example, how it strengthens the muscles around the joints, reducing the risk of injury; how yoga improves flexibility, lengthening muscles and releasing tension. Particularly, the core strengthening properties of yoga that enhance running posture, alignment and efficiency. You may have even heard or thought about how yoga enhances your lung capacity – enabling you to take in more oxygen and run for longer more easily. If you don’t know all that much about yoga but want to know more, then take a read of 5 Ways Yoga Benefits Trail Runners Part 1.
5 surprising benefits of yoga for trail running
In this article I want to reveal 5 more benefits of yoga for trail runners that are less obvious, but that could make all the difference in improving your technique and mind-set.
Focussing our gaze in a yoga pose is essential in keeping our balance and alignment. Similarly when running we should set our gaze to keep us balanced and moving in the direction we want to go in. Looking straight ahead not only gives you the sensation of being drawn forward, but also helps to maintain your perfect posture and the alignment needed to run most efficiently. Glancing down frequently, about five metres in front, is also necessary to see what lies on the path ahead, allowing you to adjust your steps to avoid any obstacles. Looking down too often or too close to your body, however, will cause your shoulders to drop and your alignment and core engagement to be lost.
Practise standing tall and setting your gaze as you’re about to start your next run. As you run, flicker your gaze between the horizon and ahead at the ground. Visualise being drawn forward from your chest.
2Concentration and mindful movement
We all love a good social run occasionally but chatting too much whilst running means that you’re not thinking enough about what you’re doing. It’s then that bad habits arise or are slipped back into. A yoga practice helps to cultivate complete body awareness of your movements and the sensations that arise. Being more aware of your movements helps to keep you safe by being able to identify pain before it becomes injury, allows you to feel your optimal alignment in the pose, and gives your mind a break from thinking about anything other than that moment.
Next time you go running try being completely aware of what you are doing, moving, placing, how you are standing, what you are feeling, even how you are breathing. Do it for a few minutes at time to start with and then build it up. Practise this throughout the day as well and gradually it will become a habit – giving you the best chance at running with good habits and generally feeling incredibly peaceful.
Yoga promotes a natural, proper running gait in several ways: primarily, yoga dramatically helps to improve the way that we stand – improving our posture by lengthening our spine and strengthening our core, releasing tension in the back, neck and shoulders, and finding equal balance between our right and left sides. By practising and getting used to this perfect posture in yoga, it becomes easier to maintain it whilst running – promoting a natural, ‘barefoot’ running style. Add to this the focussed gaze and bodily awareness, learning to run efficiently – with relaxed legs (by lifting your heels as opposed to your knees), becomes instinctive.
Visualisation is something that all the greatest athletes do or have have done, in order to give them the extra edge over their competitors. Whether we compete or run for pleasure is irrelevant, the power and results of visualising what we want to manifest have been proven. A well rounded yoga practice should give you the time to sit in silence and stillness and to focus on your breathing (see Part 1 for how yoga improves lung capacity). Follow this with a few minutes of visualising yourself running effortlessly; gliding fluidly over the ground, maintaining your perfect posture and using your core strength to power you, with relaxed legs moving in a graceful, easy, wheel-like motion.
5Appreciation and gratitude
Sooner or later, yoga will give you a sense of utter appreciation and gratitude for the body and the life that you have. You will learn to respect it more and treat it with a great level of kindness. You will learn to understand your strengths and weaknesses in greater detail, gaining a clearer insight into the areas that you need to work on and in what way. This heightened gratitude and respect will keep you safer when running as you will be more aware of how far to challenge yourself. In addition, and in combination with your mindful awareness and presence, you will take in and enjoy your surroundings more – overall enjoying the experience much more!
Helen Clare runs Yoga Flow Running weekend retreats in Cornwall, and there still spaces available on her upcoming retreats: 2-5 June and 13-16 October. Find out more at helenclareyoga.com.