- Running can alter mood through the release of endorphins. These hormones create a sense of euphoria, often referred to as a runner’s high, and can result in mood enhancement. According to Michael Sachs and Gary Buffone in Running as Therapy: An Integrated Approach, running is often used to treat clinical depression and other psychological disorders. Some doctors claim that running works as well as psychotherapy in helping patients with clinical depression. Running makes patients less tense, less depressed, less fatigued, and less confused.
- The effects of running have significant parallels to the meditative aspects of yoga. Yoga practice teaches you to stay in tune with your body and connected to the breath. Running, especially longer distances, requires this same discipline. It is easy to see that the awareness that yoga develops will enhance your ability to remain focused, calm, and in tune with your body during challenging times.
- One of the biggest benefits of yoga is better running. Yoga stretches and lengthens muscles so runners become more supple and able to react while running. This decreases muscle stiffness and increases range of motion in joints—hips, shoulders, ankles, and spine. Specifically, longer hamstrings and greater mobility of the hip joint create a longer and more fluid running stride. In addition, the strength and length gained by the muscles help to stabilize the skeleton, resulting in faster running.
- Yoga is an excellent cross-training method because it helps offset the negative impact of running. Rather than merely resting the muscles, yoga works to restore the body to better alignment, symmetry, and balance. As the body moves in this direction, the physical strain creating the injury in the first place diminishes and, over time, the injury subsides.
- As you do physical exercise to strengthen the body, you also need to strengthen the mind in order to achieve mind–body harmony. Meditation can be viewed as a psychological exercise that will reward you with improved concentration and therefore a stronger mind. Through meditation you are able to control the fluctuations of the mind, and as the mind is under more control, it is better able to effectively guide you through daily life.
- Yoga will immediately reveal and deal with the muscle imbalances that often lead to injury. Through its very nature, yoga helps restore the body to balance. Runners who practice yoga are often surprised to discover the differences in strength and flexibility between their right and left sides. Likewise, they make the unexpected discovery that they have a weak upper body and core and learn that this can contribute to injury. But often most astonishing is the discovery that the legs may be strong for running yet imbalanced in strength in all muscle groups.
Source: Yoga for Runners (Human Kinetics, 2013)
- What are the benefits of yoga for runners?
- How does yoga help runners to become more in tune with their breathing?
- How can yoga help speed the recovery process after a long practice run or race?
- How does yoga help undo the negative effects sitting and running can have on the spine?
- How does meditation benefit runners?
- Why are strong gluteus medius muscles vital to maintaining good running form, eliminating nagging hip pain, and reducing the risk of injury?
- How does taking your yoga practice off the mat result in better alignment while sitting, standing, and running?
- For those that spend all day at the computer, what are a few simple yoga exercises to relieve aches and pains associated with repetitive strain?
- How does Yoga for Runners help restore the body to balance and symmetry?
- Why are overly tight muscles also very weak and how can yoga help?
To schedule an interview with Christine Felstead, contact Melissa Steiner at 1-800-747-4457, ext. 7757, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Chapter 11, "Quietude and Relaxation Poses: Restore and Recover"
What Is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga concentrates on resting the body and the mind. The body is arranged in variations of yoga poses and supported with props, allowing the joints to be supported and the muscles to soften and release entirely. In this way, the body is able to enter a state of physical relaxation, a deep letting go. At the same time, the mind is able shut down from its usual state of pondering, thinking, and musing. We literally enter a state of being rather than doing, which has a powerful effect on both the body and the mind. An actual rejuvenation occurs within the body.
It is important to note that rest is not the same as sleep. Rest creates the internal environment for the body to heal and revitalize. Since we are so accustomed to being active and on the go, a more physical yoga practice will be appealing because it is easier to experience and realize the physical effects. For example, it is easy to feel the hamstrings stretch and understand the benefits. On the other hand, the thought of being idle and spending an extended time in one pose will likely be less alluring, if not downright boring. But I encourage you to give it a try without judgment to feel the internal effects for yourself. It is often difficult to describe the feeling, yet students typically express a feeling of inner calm, have reduced stress, forget their problems for a while, and are able to sleep better. Given the high degree of stress in today’s world, adding a restorative yoga component to your fitness regimen is a must for optimal health and wellness.
As detailed in chapter 3, yoga’s deep breathing stimulates the central nervous system and helps to bring the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems into balance. Restorative yoga poses stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system on a deeper level. Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system helps to lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as stimulate the immune system. It also allows the body’s own internal healing process to kick in. As we know, running is very good for you, but as a high-impact exercise, it is hard on the body. The impact of running and the related constant contraction of muscles create microtears—the pain felt in the legs after a hard run. These tears heal with the nutrients of blood supply to the muscles. A physical yoga practice will enhance this recovery by stimulating the muscles and increasing blood supply. Restorative yoga, while less physical, will stimulate a more profound level of healing throughout the entire body. Restorative yoga is of tremendous value to runners, aiding recovery from arduous training runs and races while allowing injuries to heal more quickly.
As yoga deepens the mind–body connection, when you take the time for even just a few restorative yoga poses, the tremendous power is felt deeply. A calm, soothing energy ensues and renews you so you can meet and cope with life’s ongoing challenges.
From Chapter 7, "A Healthy Spine: Reduce Pain, Strain, and Pressure"
Running, Yoga, and the Spine
Running is a weight-bearing sport and creates repetitive stress for long periods. For some people, running may cause back pain, especially in the lower back, and there is no question that running will exacerbate an underlying back problem. If left untreated, back pain can become worse or lead to additional problems in other areas of the body. Proper form while running distributes the body weight evenly rather than loads the lower back with more weight.
It is easy to blame running for lower-back pain, because it does contribute to the problem. However, sitting all day may be the bigger culprit. When you are seated, especially for an extended time, the lower back is sedentary, compressed, and weak. Running simply exacerbates these factors, further compressing and tightening the back.
For healthy running, it is important to take care of the spine. Of course, one of the best ways to do this is to integrate a yoga practice into your weekly fitness routine. Yoga will undo the effects of sitting and running by lengthening, strengthening, and realigning the spine.
While the practice of yoga dates back thousands of years, with the recent growth of yoga, researchers have become interested in assessing related health benefits. Key among these is yoga’s effect on chronic lower-back pain. Results of an extensive study on yoga for back pain, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that 12 weeks of weekly yoga classes improved back function and reduced pain for those with chronic lower-back pain. This does not come as a surprise to those who have experienced the benefits of yoga.
Yoga’s traditional role was first and foremost a health management system, and paramount to good health was considered to be the health of the spine. Virtually every yoga pose involves the spine. A typical yoga practice requires the spine to move in all its intended ranges—extending, flexing, and twisting. Therefore, yoga has the potential to benefit the spine in all areas that pose a risk. Yoga will tone and strengthen the muscles of the torso, increase the flexibility of the spine, and improve spinal alignment. It is not uncommon for those who undertake a regular yoga practice to discover that they have actually become taller.
From Chapter 4, "A Fit Mind"
Benefits of Meditation for Runners
Our society operates at a frenetic pace—meeting deadlines, achieving results, and getting things done only to move on to the next item on a to-do list. Perhaps this is the root of the increasing interest in meditation. Once you experience the inner calm that meditation offers, if even for a moment, you seek to revisit that state time and again. Much scientific research has been done on meditation, and while some results may vary, most experts agree on the following benefits of meditation.
Meditation is understood to be one of the best methods for reducing stress. Simply allowing the mind to turn off, putting aside the myriad of worries that plague you, and spending time alone and in the present moment make you more relaxed and goes a long way in reducing your daily stress. Through the simple act of observing your breath and your thoughts, you realize that many nagging worries are actually quite trivial, so you learn to let go of the little things in order to see the bigger picture.
Stress is harmful to health and is responsible for a range of problems affecting individuals and society at large. Stress contributes to many physical ailments like heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, ulcers, and headaches. It also contributes to psychological distress, insomnia, mood swings, and anxiety attacks.
Meditation is a powerful tool for reducing disease and restoring you to greater physical and mental health. With the growing awareness of the relationship between mind and body, the peace of mind that meditation instills can help reduce many stress-related ailments.
The ability to remain focused is imperative in meeting life’s daily demands. The power of concentration allows you to work efficiently because you are less distracted, and it also channels your energy to the task at hand. Professional athletes also use meditation. Studies have shown that improved concentration improves athletic performance. The ability to solve problems and make decisions is enhanced when the mind has greater clarity.
A Stronger Mind
As you do physical exercise to strengthen the body, you also need to strengthen the mind in order to achieve mind–body harmony. Meditation can be viewed as a psychological exercise that will reward you with improved concentration and therefore a stronger mind. Through meditation you are able to control the fluctuations of the mind. As the mind is under more control, it is better able to guide you through daily life.
Everyone wants to be happy. However, many seek that happiness from external sources or create conditions for happiness—“I will be happy when . . .” Through the inner peace of mind that meditation brings, you find a self-generated sense of contentment without conditions. In fact, research shows that meditation can actually rewire the brain to be happier. Meditating with a focus on appreciation or gratitude creates powerfully positive emotional reactions.
Living in the Present
The thinking mind has you living in the past or the future. When you are in those states, you miss out on the opportunity to be in the present moment. In fact, being present, or mindfulness, allows you to see and experience what is right in front of you. Through meditation you learn to be in the present moment, and eventually this will manifest itself through other activities in daily life. Being in the present moment reduces the pondering or obsessing over problems, and you are more apt to appreciate some of the beauty that surrounds you. There is wisdom in the adage that reminds you to stop and smell the roses.
You’ve experienced gut feelings or moments of inspiration when ideas or solutions to nagging problems jump into your mind. This is intuition, that inner voice that guides you, that sixth sense that is so difficult to define. Whether you recognize it or not, you use intuition in daily life. The more you acknowledge it, the stronger it becomes, and you learn to listen. By quieting the mind and being in the present moment, as you are in meditation, your intuition improves. Intuition exists only in the present moment.
We live in a fast-paced world and are accustomed to moving at break-neck speed through it. Through fast food, fast cash, and instant messaging, the mind is trained mind to expect instant results. This creates impatience and even rage when things are not delivered quickly—for example, while waiting in line or stopped in traffic. The serenity to remain calm and centered from within helps you cope with daily situations that would otherwise create stress. The mere act of sitting, doing nothing, and being in a state of being rather than doing, as in meditation, gives you greater patience. Improved patience with yourself and with others makes you more tolerant and more tolerable.
The Meaning of Life
Meditation is a tool that helps in exploring the profound question about the meaning of life. We are trained to look for meaning in life by societal values such as income, success, and possessions—mostly external markers. Through meditation you gain a deeper understanding of who you are on the inside. Feelings of emptiness can be replaced with abundance; feelings of longing can be replaced by feelings of gratitude. Through changing the perspective of yourself and who you are, you bring about changes in relationships and move toward greater contentment.