Normally you find ‘yoga for runners’ or ‘yoga for cyclists’ articles (see these cross-training ones on Yoga Journal) but what about the other way round? Is there information out there that is useful for yogis who wish to take up and/or improve their running, cycling or swimming?
What’s the reason for me asking? Well, I have, somewhat nervously, registered for my first ever aquathlon (swim/run), and am putting in some necessary swimming and running training before the big day. (Although the distances are quite small, 400m swim and 5km run, I need the training!) I’m interested in whether the swimming and running will benefit my yoga in any way. There’s often lots written about yoga being good for runners (see this Yoga Journal piece, and this item on Marathon Training Tips website) or general discussions from runners doing yoga (see yoga thread on the Runner’s World forum) or books and DVDs called Yoga for Runners – people on one forum discussion recommended Rodney Yee’s DVD for athletes. But, apart from that I haven’t found much that says if there are benefits the other way, although I haven’t done a lot of research on this yet.
Pranayama during sports
During my swimming I’m finding that two lengths of a very poor front crawl leaves me tired and with a ragged breath. I have been trying to use pranayama breath control to regulate my breathing whilst swimming so that I can maintain a more steady rhythm. Equal breath seems to help the most.
The running is a different challenge. I jog slowly, probably around a mile in 10 mins or a bit less, and the biggest challenge is mentally keeping myself going. I just really dislike running! However, for the last 9 months I have been running to work once a week (10 mins there, 10 mins home) and, on a couple of occasions, I do have to admit that I felt good. I can’t quite admit that I liked it, but it was ok. (My family were very keen runners when I grew up. I was the non-runner and I think I’m still clinging on to that!) Anyway, back to yoga and running. Certainly having a steady breathing rhythm seems to help with my running, and developing a positive mental attitude is also very useful. Meditation can help with that.
How does yoga help with other sports?
Runners (and cyclists) often have tight hamstrings, and whilst wandering around the Internet I have read comments from people saying that yoga is ‘bad’ for runners as it makes them too loose. However, the runners and cyclists I know who practice yoga find that it really benefits them. Runners and cyclists tend to have tight hamstrings because those sports need quick movements of a limited range. Over prolonged practice the muscles gradually tighten and shorten. Yoga asanas conversely generally stretch and lengthen the muscles. I can visualise this better with bicep muscles and a dumbell. If you practice bicep curls lifting and lowering the dumbell, unless you consciously fully lengthen your arm down and then bring the weight up to the shoulder it’s very easy just to do up and down movements to your waist level. Over time this would make the bicep shorter and tighter. The same happens with the legs because nobody runs by going: heel, toes, LENGTHEN leg fully. Go on, try it now in your living room! So the hamstring never goes to its full length and over time will shorten and tighten.
So, whilst my yoga may help my running and swimming, it’s possible I may be tightening my hamstrings with the running, thus perhaps having a negative impact on my physical yoga practice. So far I haven’t had any running injuries and my knees are holding up. Cross-training is generally seen as a good thing so, as with much in life, moderation is likely to bring benefits. I’ll let you know how I get on with the aquathlon!