Yoga has serious benefits for runners, including improving flexibility, easing aches and pains, and helping with recovering from long runs and races. Yoga helps with stability and core strength and opens up the lungs so runners can breathe more deeply.
Whether you’re a long distance runner or just somebody who likes to get outside for a morning jog, these 5 poses will help keep your body healthy, strong, and flexible.
1. Standing Forward Bend
This pose calms the mind while stretching and rejuvenating the entire body. When practiced correctly, it is an intense stretch, particularly for the hamstrings and back. Be careful not to push too hard, especially if your body is not warmed up. The more you relax in this pose, the deeper your stretch will be. If your lower back or hamstrings are tight, feel free to put a slight bend in both knees. Allow the weight of the head to hang heavy and relax your neck.
Benefits: The standing forward bend helps stretch out the hamstrings, calves and hips, improves digestion, reduces fatigue and is beneficial for those with asthma. It opens the hips and can relieve tension in the neck and shoulders. Dropping your head below your heart calms your brain.
2. Down Dog
Start on hands and knees. Place your palms a handprint’s distance in front of your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and lift knees off floor. Pull your hips up and back away from your hands. Keep knees bent and focus on lengthening your torso. Press down into your hands, pull up on your arms, then shift your weight onto your legs. Without losing that sense of direction or length in your torso, begin to lift your thighs up as you reach your heels back and down, which will straighten your knees. Engage your quads by pulling your kneecaps up. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Lightly lower both knees back to floor.
Benefits: Down dog stretches the hamstrings and calves, arches and hands, strengthens the arms and legs, creates length in the spine, and helps prevent osteoporosis.
3. Crescent Lunge
From downward facing dog, pull one leg forward, placing the foot between your hands, and placing the back knee down on the ground. As you raise your arms overhead, lean slightly forward with the front knee for a deep hip-flexor stretch. (Tip: try to keep the hips level by slightly pulling the front-leg hip back and pushing the back-leg hip forward.) Then switch to the other side.
Benefits: Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles, stretches the psoas and hips, relieves sciatica pain, expands your chest, lungs and shoulders, develops stamina and endurance in your thighs, and improves your balance, concentration and core awareness.
Pigeon can be relaxing, but if your hips are tight you’ll feel a little uncomfortable. The trick is to work your way slowly into this pose. From downward-facing dog, place the right foot next to the left hand, rolling onto the outer edge of the foot and laying the shin parallel to the front of your mat (it may come in at a slight angle, especially with tight hips). Relax onto the back (left) leg, keeping it straight out, top of the foot on the mat and toes pointing back (ball of the foot facing up). Come down onto the elbows, or forearms, and rest for a few breaths. Breathe slow and deep. Then switch and give some love to the other side.
To add a quad stretch, bend the back leg and grab the back foot, which will help open the quad and create better range of motion in the hip flexor. All this together will also help to alleviate stress on the back, keep the hips more open, and decrease stress and strain on the knees.
Benefits: Pigeon pose is perfect for runners since it releases the hips, lengthens the hip flexor, stretches the thighs, glutes, and lower back muscles, and extends the groin and psoas. It also relieves sciatic pain.
5. Janu Sirsasana (Seated Head to Knee Pose)
After pigeon on the left side, swing your right leg forward. Keep your left knee bent and place your foot on the inner upper right thigh. Stretch your right leg straight and twist and fold over your right leg. Keep pressing down through both legs into your mat or floor. The outer thigh of your bent leg presses down as well as the back of your extended leg. Then repeat with the left leg forward.
Benefits: Stretches your spine, shoulders, back muscles, hamstrings, and groin. Massages and stimulates your internal organs like the liver and kidney. Improves digestion and calms the mind and central nervous system.
Running can take a toll on your body and affect the stability of your mind. Be sure to take time to slow down, stretch out, and breathe. The benefits of yoga are endless and complement all runners in many ways.