Oral Care and Health Daily

Yoga for Runners

As addictive as it can be, running can wreak havoc on your body. Here are three simple ways to count...

I love the runner’s high. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted; I only run two or three days a week, never for more than 4 miles at a time. The last two times I started training for half-marathons, I injured myself. One session resulted in a torn labrum in my right hip, which kept me off the trails and treadmill for two years; the second time, a torn meniscus in my left knee. My compromise has become a half-hour run a few times a week, with no ambition to push past that.

Yet what is it about running that makes us continue doing it, knowing that it so easily damages our joints and wreaks havoc on our backs and shoulders? For me, it’s the feeling of my heart racing and the clean, fresh breathing that it entails. It doesn’t quite possess the quick pace of playing basketball, but I find that the steady gait and focused attention it requires always provide the ideal wake-up. But in order to sustain those pleasures, what I do before and after my run is just as important as what I do during it.

As a yoga instructor, I can usually pick out the runners in my classes. Tight hamstrings and bunched-up shoulders are two telltale signs of those who often hit the pavement. So here are three necessary stretches that I teach in my Yoga for Runners workshops for you to do both before and afterward. While nothing will soften running’s impact on your body, these stretches could help lessen the damage and will definitely give you some much-needed relief.

Yoga for Runners Pose No. 1: Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
Why you should try it:
This pose is a wonderful hamstring-opener.
How to do it:

  1. Step your left foot back about 2-3 feet and turn in your back toes by 45 degrees.
  2. Keep your front knee softened and don’t lock your knee joint.
  3. Press into your back heel and slowly fold over your front leg. If your hands do not reach the ground, it’s best to have two yoga blocks on either side of your front foot, which is better than jamming your hands over your shin. (This usually creates an unnecessary rounding in your shoulders.)

Some instructors teach you to bring your forehead to your shin, but I often find that students will hunch their upper bodies to try to do this. Instead, think of your heart touching your knee, and don’t worry how close to accomplishing that you actually are. Keep your shoulders away from your ears as you bend forward, and relax your neck. Hold for at least 15 breaths and give your nervous system time to calm down. After a few deep breaths, you’ll notice your front leg starting to straighten more and more. That’s great, but don’t thrust it back; let your breathing dictate how straight it goes. If the pain in the back of your leg becomes sharp, unlike the duller pain of stretching, bend your knee more so that you don’t risk tearing your hamstring. Repeat on the other side.

Yoga for Runners Pose No. 2: Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-knee Forward Bend)
Why you should try it:
This is my favorite seated posture. You are not only opening up your hamstring, but also working an external rotation of your other leg, stretching the inside of your thigh.
How to do it:

  1. Stretch both your legs in front of you while you are seated, and bring your left foot near your groin by bending your knee.
  2. Place your heel into your inner right thigh and allow the leg to fall open. If your left knee does not come to the ground, consider using a yoga block or a blanket to help prop it up so that your inner left thigh is not shaking the entire time.
  3. Turn your chest over your right knee and, just like in the last pose, lengthen your heart toward your knee. If you let your head lead, you will inevitably round your upper back. Again, don’t worry about how far you get down; just close your eyes and breathe.

Alternately, you can place a yoga strap around your right foot and draw your arms back and heart forward to intensify the stretch. Keep your right foot in flexion the entire time so that your leg is engaged and you’re targeting the heart of that hamstring. Stay there for at least 15 breaths, come up slowly and switch legs.

Yoga for Runners Pose No. 3: Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Why you should try it:
This is perhaps the most fundamental backbend in yoga, and one of the most powerful. Our shoulders take a lot of the impact when we run, so this is a great way to keep them loose and open.
How to do it:

  1. Start lying on your stomach and bend your elbows so that your thumbs line up with the center of your chest.
  2. Keep your head on the ground and start to draw your elbows together behind your back, keeping your hands on the ground.
  3. From there, begin to lift your chest by moving your heart forward and slowly straightening your arms.
  4. Only begin to slightly look up once your heart is as far forward as it can go.

This posture is all about the shoulders, but I often see students crane their necks skyward while tensing their shoulders. A great way to check to see if you’re doing this is to slightly look down and then lift your hands an inch or two off the ground. This will tell you that you’re using your shoulder strength and not your arms. Don’t fully straighten your arms in a Cobra, and always keep your pelvis on the ground. Firmly press the tops of your feet into the mat or carpet to protect your lower back. If you feel this pose in your back, you’ve pushed yourself up too high; come down a little and breathe. Take at least five breaths, come down slowly, and repeat four to six times.



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