Namaste - How Yoga Made Me a Healthier, Stronger, Happier Runner

by Jodi

*** I am NOT a medical professional nor have I done any scientific research.  This is simply my testimony of how yoga has helped my running. ***

yoga on the Mexican beach was pretty awesome.  (January 2013)
When I first started practicing yoga I had no idea what "namaste" meant so I looked it up. According to Urban namaste is "an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India that means 'I bow to the God within you' or 'The spirit within me salutes the spirit in you.'"

I am a follower of Jesus which poses a bit of a problem.  I am not a god, nor do I believe any humans are.  I bow my knee to none but my Savior who ransomed me from the pit and gave me life that is truly life.  But I do resonate with the phrase "the spirit in me salutes the spirit in you."  It's basically a nice way of saying,  "Well done.  I salute your effort and I appreciate the person you are."  I can get on board with that.

A lot of Christians deem yoga to be evil because it is steeped in ancient Indian religion, New Age philosophy and teaches the chakras.  I have chosen to embrace the benefits of yoga, discard the belief systems that don't align with the story of Jesus, and use the breath training and meditation sections during a yoga class to meditate on Jesus or passages from the Bible.  Yoga has been incredibly restorative, therapeutic, and beneficial for my physical and mental health.

Learning to Practice Consistently
I tried and liked yoga years ago, but was so sporadic in my practice that I was always starting over each time I tried again.  Once exercise became a part of the daily rhythm of my life, I practiced yoga in fits and starts.  I got comfortable with the poses and their names, but never practiced consistently enough to see any real benefit or get very good at it.

Last fall I started running consistently again after a stress fracture.  I knew yoga was a MUST to stay healthy so I committed to practice yoga at least once a week.  Yoga is offered at most gyms and private yoga studios are popping up everywhere.  I personally don't like being constrained by specific times of yoga classes and prefer to practice yoga alone in the quiet of my living room.  The silence rejuvenates me.   

I bought several yoga DVD's, focused on power yoga, and tried them all out.  A few have risen to the top as my favorites, while others I've only tried once or twice.  Here's my brief overview of the videos in my collection.
  1. Jillian Michaels Yoga Meltdown and Yoga Inferno.  Many people I know love these DVD's.  I am not one of them.  I barely made it through each video once.  These videos are short, thirty minute workouts - great if you're in a crunch for time.  But this is not traditional yoga.  It's a combination of cardio with some yoga moves.  It felt counterintuitive to the whole premise of yoga to me.  I will go back to these videos if I need a quick cardio workout that includes stretching.
  2. Bob Harper Inside Out Method Yoga for the Warrior. I love this workout.  It's one full hour and is super challenging.  Many times my muscles will be literally shaking while I try to hold the pose out until he says to release it.  There's a great core section toward the end of the video and a separate fifteen minute core only workout.  The breath training and relaxation portion at the end of the class is a little too short (in my opinion) but is long enough to calm my mind and bring the mental restoration I've come to love about yoga.
  3. Rodney Yee Power Yoga Collection. Rodney is my favorite yoga instructor.  His style of teaching is gentle and quiet, without focus on the chakras or emphasis on the Eastern religion.  His wardrobe choices are a little revealing though.  I'm grateful that a lot of yoga is taught by voice without having to watch the video.  The Power Yoga Collection has three one-hour sessions on one disc and I love them all.  Yoga Burn and Power Yoga are my current favorites.  When I was training for my marathons, his Yoga Conditioning for Athletes was my go-to therapy for tight, sore muscles.
  4. Rodney Yee Ultimate Power Yoga.  I have only done this workout once or twice, but I enjoyed it.  It's broken into five, twenty-minute segments of power yoga so the athlete can choose which segments they need the most on that day and how long they want to practice.  I appreciate the flexibility this DVD offers and plan to use it more frequently in the future.
I am happy to say practicing yoga is now a regular part of my workout schedule. I am a healthier, stronger, happier runner as a result.  Here are some reasons why.

Benefits of Yoga for Runners
  1. Yoga forces you to slow down.  Runners in general don't rest well.  We are notorious for skipping post-run stretching to add on an extra mile or two instead.  Stretching is something relegated to when we're injured and can't do anything else.  Yoga forces me to slow W-A-Y down.  For the hour I'm on my mat, I inhale slowly.  Exhale slowly.  Inhale.  Exhale.  I can feel stress melt away and my spirit restored.  It is so therapeutic.
  2. Yoga teaches you to listen to your body. Runners, especially distance runners, are known for pushing too long and too hard, often to our detriment.  We tune out the warning signs our body gives us and keep pushing on.  This results in a lot of overuse injuries.  Yoga is all about starting slowly, letting your body warm up, and only stretching as far as your body can go on that day.  Practicing yoga has taught me to tune in to what my body is saying - stretching longer on days when I'm limber, and taking it easy on days when I'm tight and sore.
  3. Yoga makes you feel better.  I have never - not once - in this entire year of practicing yoga wished I would have done something else instead if I set the time aside for yoga.  Every.single.time -without fail - I feel so much better after a yoga session than before I started.  The combination of stretching, breath training, and strength work leaves me feeling limber, tall, strong, renewed mentally, and empowered by the time I turn the DVD off.  Yoga is like one giant RE-SET button.
  4. Yoga isn't for wimps. Before I started practicing yoga, I scoffed at the idea that it was a workout.  And then I tried it.  Power yoga uses your body weight to build strength and leanness.  Poses are often held for long periods of time and there is a ton of upper body work.  I am usually sore (in a good way) the day after a hard power yoga session. 
  5. Yoga prevents injuries. Yoga focuses a lot on core strength and flexibility, especially in the hamstrings and the hips.  When I am pounding a lot of miles each week, my hamstrings and hips get so tight.  If I don't take the time to stretch and realign them, my body protests.  My knees and ankles start aching and my running gait is thrown off.  My shoulders tighten up, my neck locks up and I get a headache that can last for days.  One hour of yoga makes all of that better.  My hamstrings stretch out, hips realign, and the tension in my shoulders fade out.  I guarantee that regular yoga was the key to me staying injury-free while I trained for and ran two marathons within five weeks of each other this spring.
  6. Yoga will shape your body.  Practicing yoga toned my arms and shoulders and brought more definition to my legs.  I can even see some abdominal muscles trying to come out too.  I intentionally don't have a scale at my house.  I think they are evil and not an accurate reflection of someone's health and fitness.  But I do have a mirror.  My weight hasn't changed, but I can tell when I look in the mirror that my body has.
  7. Yoga is fun to do with friends. 90% of my yoga practice is done at home by myself, but I have also loved practicing with my friends, kids, and husband.  Several times we've transformed a family room into a mini yoga studio and had a blast trying not to kick each other.  My daughter - who is always on the go - often joins me at the end of a session to practice her breath training and forced relaxation.
yoga on a girls weekend
roping the family into some yoga
If you are a runner, I highly recommend that you consider adding yoga to your tool belt.  Take a class at your gym.  Buy classes at a yoga studio.  Do what I did and buy some yoga DVD's.  Or follow Carissa's lead and check out yoga DVD's from the library.

Yoga can be confusing in the beginning, but give yourself some grace and enough time to learn the poses and their names.  If you stick with it long enough, I think you will see and feel the benefits.


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