Advice

Run Like A Yogi: 5 Ways Yoga Made Me A Better Runner

I was technically a runner before I was a yogi, but it’s my yoga practice that ultimately gave life to my running habit. I never really liked running all that much, but nevertheless, it always just seemed like the most efficient way to stay fit. No class times, no traffic, no parking — just lace up my shoes and head out the door. But I was bored and tired and generally uninspired by the miles that I was dutifully logging, like some kind of martyred service to my body. When I started practicing yoga ten years ago (first Bikram and then Vinyasa) everything changed. The cues that my yoga instructors gave during class would pop into my mind while I was running, and I began to think of running as an extension of my practice; a moving meditation. Here are five yogic practices that have transformed my relationship with running.

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  1. Connection to my breath
    A yoga instructor once told me that if at any point during the class I couldn’t “find the top of [my] breath” that I should take a break to reconnect with my breath. I had never heard the term top of one’s breath before, but I instantly understood. That feeling when my lungs are full, stretched to capacity, causing my belly to pop out a little bit — that is the top of my breath. If I’m not intentionally finding it, over and over again, I will generally find myself panting, taking shallow breaths that don’t give my body the oxygen it needs to sustain a challenging yoga class or a long run. By understanding the importance of my breath, and understanding that I have to work to control it – to find the top of it – I am able to sustain myself.
  2. Setting an intention
    For years I ran simply to run. It was a physical activity, not a mental one. After I started practicing yoga, though, I found myself repeating words or short phrases in my head while I ran, instinctively tapping into the power of intention-setting that I had experienced during yoga class. ‘Everything in motion’ is one I come back to a lot, reminding myself that everything in the universe is in a state of flow, working together and creating the future; and I am part of it. My running is my motion, and when I bring intention to that motion, it connects me to world around me.
  3. Finding my personal edge
    One of the hardest parts of yoga for me can be tuning out my surroundings and being fully present in my own body. The “take it to your personal edge” cue is one of my favorites because it forces me to get honest about what I’m doing. Am I really pushing myself as far as I can? Or maybe I’ve gotten caught up in comparing myself to someone else and I actually need to dial it back a notch? I’ve seen these scenarios play out while I’m running, too, paying more attention to an arbitrary pace or distance instead of getting honest with myself. “Taking it to my personal edge” on a run means that I have to be mindful about exactly where that edge is today, for this distance, with this body.
  4. Coming to the mat
    For a lot of yogis, our mat is a sacred space. Except that really it’s not. Really, it’s just a rectangular piece of rubber that we can roll up and toss into the trunk and take wherever we please. It’s not a “space” at all. But we make it a space. We decide that when we unroll that piece of rubber and plant our bare feet on it, that we are transcending our every day lives for a moment. It was a revolutionary idea to me that I could do this, simply decide to make something a sacred space despite the fact that on it’s own it’s neither an actual place, nor is it sacred. So I did it with running. I decided that I could treat the running trail the same way that I treat my yoga mat: as a sacred space.
  5. Focus on a Drishti
    In yoga, we cast our gaze on specific focal points to maintain our balance and engage the pose. When I’m struggling on a run and I’m tempted to quit, sometimes I conjure up a mental drishti to help me stay engaged. I imagine myself at the top of the hill or at the finish line, and I keep my mental gaze there until I reach it. When the voice in my head that tells me it’s too hard tries to creep in, I gently push it aside and point my focus at my drishti instead. Ignoring the distractions, whether in yoga or on a run (or in life in general), is made exponentially more possible when we focus on something positive rather than just trying to avoid something negative.

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Maybe it seems impure to borrow sacred yoga practices, twist them around a little bit, and apply them to a fast-paced and occasionally competitive activity like running. Maybe that makes me a bad yogi. But hey, it’s a practice. Just like running. Just like life. So let’s just keep breathing and keep moving, shall we?

Any other runners in Bad Yogi? What has yoga done for you?

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Deena Morales

    March 30, 2016 at 11:30 am

    I started yoga about 6 months ago to supplement my running and soon found I’d rather do yoga all the time! I’m just getting back to running and definitely have found yoga is beneficial to it. It gives me better focus, posture and breathing. I think the two are a great combination.

  2. Megan Reddix

    Megan Reddix

    March 30, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you for this post! I am “training” for a 5k this summer, and I am struggling! I say training in quotations, because, honestly – running just isn’t my thing. My husband and I decided to do this 5k together for a number of reasons. All proceeds go to charity, its a bubble run, the bubbles cover you in fun colors, and it was a way to get our family and friends involved in one big activity. I promise you, I will be the dead last person in our group to finish the run. I struggle with shin splints and chest and knee pains when I run. I know – excuses, excuses. I should practice running more, but it frightens me. I tried running outside with my husband (an avid runner), and I barely made it a mile before I had to turn around and walk myself home while he continued on his run. I run on the treadmill, but my pace is about a mile behind his. This is a whole new practice and a whole new journey for me. My husband often encourages me, saying that if he tried any of my “yoga tricks” that he would fall flat on his face. He constantly points out that my core, balance, and strength (for my size person) are superior to his. I came home from our outside run and cried, embarrassed that although I work out every day, I don’t seem to have the capacity to run. This post, and my husbands words, encourage me to keep practicing. Just like a forearm stand – running won’t be easy the first, second, or 20th time, but it will get easier over time. Thinking of running as part of my yoga practice will surely make me ease into it better than the approaches I have taken. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    1. Avatar

      Maria

      March 31, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Don’t be discouraged! I couldn’t run a mile to save my life. I found that the c25K program was great for me. The first couple of weeks seem a bit worthless at first for me because they were short 1 minute runs with walking intervals but it seriously helped me build stamina and a good breathing rhythm. Try running on softer ground to help with the shin splints. And realize that even if you’re dead last you still beat the person that’s sitting on the couch!

      1. Megan Reddix

        Megan Reddix

        April 4, 2016 at 10:32 am

        Thank you! I actually tried some of your techniques yesterday and was much more successful. I set the goal to run a mile without balking. I connected into my ujjayi breath, which did WONDERS for keeping my heart rate down and my mind focused. My intention was that no matter what, it was enough. It was exactly what my body needed. My husband was so curious about my breathing that he tried it out himself and he loved it!

  3. Avatar

    Amber Worden

    March 30, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I also “used to be” a runner and now do WAY more yoga than running. I also walk, and only “jog” once a month or so, for just a mile or two. My body is MUCH happier! BUT, I definitely see the benefits that yoga – and being more in tune with and knowledgeable of my body – bring to running (and walking). Now when I do run, or jog, it’s because I really want to, and it makes me feel so much better than when I was doing it cuz I “had to.”

  4. Amanda

    Amanda

    March 30, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Love it! I feel so strongly that running and yoga are a great match. I’ve noticed how much yoga has helped my running, too, especially in terms of body and breath awareness. And I think that taking yogic principles and applying them to running or any area of life is what makes you a GOOD yogi. 😉 Taking what I learn on the mat into the rest of my life makes me want to spend more and more time on the mat.

  5. Avatar

    Ruth

    April 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I am a runner and a bad yogi (running off and on since I was a kid, and doing yoga for the last 13 years), and yoga has definitely helped with my running. It helps me with my breath for sure, and I love mantras! Yoga + running = heaven! 🙂 I rely on my almost-daily yoga practice to start my day off right, and my running to clear my mind and keep me grounded.

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