What is Yoga? Understanding The Ancients
Yoga is an ancient discipline that has seen a massive surge in popularity in the last century, especially in recent decades. It is considered to be both a science and an art. People claim that its practice helps them to uncover deep states of inner calm and serenity and many have also experienced an increased level of performance when it comes to participation in rigorous and strenuous forms of exercise. In this report, we are going to have a detailed look at the various practices Yoga involves so that we can understand exactly what is happening in our bodies and minds.
What is happening within us that allows us to remain in greater states of serenity and what effect does Yoga have that improves performance? Everything here will be tailored specifically towards ‘Running’ but as you will see; the application of these strategies and techniques is as varied as the amount of sports that exist across the face of the planet. To begin with, let’s get a clear understanding of what Yoga is.
Believed to date back to somewhere around the sixth and fifth centuries BC, Yoga is a collection of various disciplines and practices that are physical, mental and spiritual in nature. What most people believe Yoga to be, the postures and forms made famous by celebrity magazines, is actually just a small portion of the profoundly deep and powerful discipline that is Yoga.
For many centuries, people have claimed that practicing Yoga has lead them to greater wisdom, spiritual understanding, and greater balance within their bodies and minds. There are literally hundreds of different schools of Yoga and a complete textbook could be written in an attempt to outline them all. For now, and for the purposes of this report, we’re going to take a look at only a few of these.
Types of Yoga
Hatha – Considered to be the beginner’s yoga, Hatha Yoga places emphasis on learning the initial and supposedly easier steps of Yoga discipline. It’s primary focus is on the physical aspects of Yoga discipline.
Vinyasa – This kind of Yoga is one that is more commonly seen in modern society. This kind of Yoga is all about flowing routines of different poses that are combined with the breathing actions of the body. The Sun salutations that you may have heard of are a strong focus of Vinyasa Yoga. They are used as an initial warm-up technique to prepare the body for the more advanced and strenuous poses that come later in the routine.
Ashtanga – Considered to be very physically demanding, Ashtanga Yoga is a system of poses that requires daily practice in order to properly master. This is a form of Yoga that was developed more recently than traditional Yoga but has seen great success due to its ability to quickly transform and improve the strength and flexibility of the body, along with levels of concentration and focus.
Bikram – This kind of Yoga is taught in a heated room, usually somewhere in the ninety-five to one-hundred degrees range. It is thought that the high levels of heat are useful for encouraging the muscles to relax, thereby enhancing the practitioner’s flexibility and range of movement.
Kundalini – The main emphasis of Kundalini Yoga is on correctly aligning the flow of the breath with the movements of the physical body. According to this branch of Yoga, there is an innate physical and spiritual energy that is locked at the base of the body. Kundalini Yoga encourages this energy to rise upwards through the body whereby it eventually culminates in release through the top of the head, causing the practitioner to experience a form of Spiritual Awakening.
Yin – Ying Yoga is a unique branch of Yoga discipline that places emphasis on remaining still in certain poses for lengthy periods of time. It was developed as a means of helping the body further develop the ability to sit in lengthy sessions of meditation and is often practiced as a warm-up towards meditation sessions that can last for many hours. It is called Yin Yoga because it is seen as a passive form of Yoga compared to other very active, Yang forms.
The above list is only a small outline of some the more popularly practiced forms of Yoga today. There are many more that a student can investigate, but the main emphasis for anyone is in finding the right practice for you.
Some forms of Yoga are very intense and some are much gentler. Some forms cause the practitioner to experience varying degrees of pain whereas others place emphasis on relaxation. The only way to find which branch of Yoga suits you best is to try them out for yourself.
How Yoga Benefits Runners
Many runners think that Yoga is not something that is suited to them. They see the classic images of people twisting themselves into all kinds of weird and wonderful shapes, they automatically assume that to do Yoga you have to be extremely flexible, and this is something that many runners are not.
If we can begin to understand that the essentials of Yoga are not actually concerned with these magnificent poses but rather on developing awareness of the body and the breath, then we can introduce ourselves to the idea
that Yoga may have something that we can actually use in our running.
Of course, Yoga can improve our flexibility, but at the same time, it has the ability to increase the levels of strength in muscles that rarely get enough attention, especially if running is our main area of focus when it comes to exercise.
Through Yoga, we can encourage greater balance and symmetry in the body, which helps us to be able to carry ourselves and helps the body to remain supported and in alignment. Let’s have a look at some of the specific benefits we can get from Yoga practice.
By increasing the flexibility of our muscles, we are able to encourage greater movement and range. For people who do extensive amounts of running, it’s very important to stretch out the specific muscles that are used during those long sessions.
This will encourage those muscles to stay in top form and it will allow them to experience the maximum level of range allowing for better movement and a more balanced development.
In order to maximize efficiency and ability when running, it would be wise for us to encourage a complete development in all the areas of the body. If we only allow ourselves to use running to strengthen the body then obviously we would experience a massive amount of focus on the legs, but believe it or not, it’s not just the legs that are important for running. The lower back must be strong enough to support the sustained pressure of gravity and the abdomen too must be strong enough to support the upper torso.
Through the practice of Yoga, we can encourage the body to develop in a well-balanced manner, which will actually improves our body’s ability to run.
As mentioned above, if we only use running as our primary means of exercise we will begin to see that the body very quickly falls out of alignment and balance. We might notice that our legs have a high level of endurance or that they are very toned and defined, but our arms quickly give out when tasked at holding something heavy for a lengthy period, and they may appear skinny and saggy.
This is because while running, there is no strenuous activity that specifically targets the individual muscles of every part of our body. Yoga however incorporates a wide range of exercises that are designed to target every single specific muscle group, in ways that enhance definition, strength, flexibility, and endurance.
By practicing a balanced routine of exercise, we can ensure that each area of our body is receiving enough attention to further enhance our capabilities holistically.
Improved Mental Strength
Mental strength is something that comes into play in many areas of our life. While running especially, it is essential that we have the ability to remain focused and to constantly push ourselves to the next level.
Without mental strength, we would see ourselves easily give up when things got difficult. If our mental strength is at a low level, at the moment, that our legs began to really hurt or we got really out of breath we would see ourselves quit but Yoga can help with this on a number of levels.
Yoga places a lot of emphasis on awareness of the breath. This helps us to learn how to breathe deeply and to use our lungs to the best of their ability.
Obviously, this helps in running because breathing properly and deeply is the main way that we can ensure our bodies are receiving enough oxygen to feed the muscles to push on. At the same time, we learn how to overcome the niggling thoughts that tell us to quit.
In advanced Yoga practice there always comes a time when things begin to hurt. It is at this time that we learn how to push ourselves to continue past that pain barrier and allow the body to relax even deeper into the pose.
By learning to not respond to the internal struggle of the mind, we can ensure that we are able to break through to new heights. This is very important for running too.
Yoga To Reduce Risks For Injury
Not only does Yoga improve the various physical and mental capabilities of the body, it also helps to protect it from sustaining injuries while exercising. As we will see below, it can be used before exercise to help the body warm up, it can be used after exercise to help the body cool down and it can even be used during exercise to make the most of the bodies warmth to improve flexibility and perhaps even just to mix things up a bit.
So how can Yoga help us to prevent injury?
At the very core of all Yoga, practice is awareness. If we are in tune with our awareness, we are better able to observe the processes that are occurring in the body. This will help us to understand the capacities and limitations that our body experiences.
By paying close attention to the body, we can ensure awareness of any strains or even little tears as they appear which if left unchecked could turn into debilitating injuries.
Our minds have the ability to forewarn us of danger and by learning to remain focused on the body and the mind, we can watch out for those telltale signs that mean we are either going too hard, getting carried away or taking too many risks in our approach to exercise.
Utilizing Yoga to develop greater balance in the body ensures that each of our muscles is functioning correctly in accordance with all of the other muscles in our body. If our legs are strong but our core is, weak we will eventually experience pain in the lower back and find ourselves to be exhausted before our legs reach their maximum capacity.
At the same time, if our arms and shoulders haven’t been strengthened we see that they too become overwhelmed before everything else.
Using Yoga to develop greater strength and endurance in the muscles that don’t get the majority of the workout from running will ensure that we are able to run for as long as we possibly can and with the least chance of overstressing our bodies.
When we have encouraged greater levels of flexibility in all of our muscles, they are better able to cope with higher levels of intensity while exercising. At the same time, they are allowed to reach increased range throughout their motions, which helps the muscle to function properly.
Without maximum flexibility, our muscles may have good strength at low range but if pushed beyond that they will quickly give-out and this puts them and other muscles at risk of being injured.
Maximizing flexibility is something that happens naturally while practicing Yoga because every action of Yoga requires
some area of the body to reach the peak of a particular stretch. When a peak is reached the body remains in that position for a certain amount of time, and once the body has adapted to this position it is then able to stretch a little further next time.
Using Yoga to keep the body agile and flexible is one of the main ways to prevent injury from running and all other forms of physical exercise.
Key Emphasis On Leg Stretching
Since it is possible and even recommended in some schools of Yoga to develop your own routine, as a runner you can place greater emphasis on stretching out all of the muscles in the legs that get a major workout while running.
Ensuring that the feet, hamstrings, calves and quads are at their maximum flexibility improves blood flow throughout the entire leg muscles groups. Not only does this help prevent injury but it also allows these muscles to function better during actual running.
Many runners notice an improvement in their running ability after only a single session of focused stretching of the leg muscles.
11 Specific Yoga Poses For Runners
Now we are getting onto the actual Yoga practice. All of the following poses are great for specifically improving, protecting, and strengthening the muscles involved in running. Regarding the chapter above, these are the poses that you are going to learn to incorporate into your daily life and running routines.
They are all very basic and you don’t need to be very flexible to start doing them right away. They will help you over time to increase your flexibility and the range of movement in your muscles and tendons. Start slow and pay close attention to your body. It will tell you what it can and can’t do, so take it at the right kind of pace that your body can handle.
Rather than write out a full description of each pose I have provided videos that shows you the step-by-step process to correctly perform each move, along with a simple overview that explains what effect each pose has on the body.
Mountain Pose has multiple benefits, including improved posture, stronger knees, thighs and ankles, and a firmer core and glutes.
Tree Pose helps to strengthen the calves, ankles, spine, and thighs. It helps to stretch the inner thigs, groin muscles, shoulders, and chest. It also builds balance.
Chair Pose strengthens muscles in the thighs, ankles, spine and calves. Furthermore, it helps to stretch the shoulders, chest, and spine.
Standing Forward Bend
Standing Forward Bend stretches the calf, hamstring, and hip muscles. It also helps to strengthen the knees, something of significant importance for runners.
Half Moon Pose
The Half Moon Pose helps to relieve lower back pain, strengthens leg, hip, back and core muscles, and increases flexibility of spinal muscles.
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose stretches the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groin, and calves, strengthens the knees, improves digestion, relieves backache and sciatica, and reduces flat feet.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
The Garland Pose stretches the ankles, groin and back torso, improves balance and strengthens calves, thighs, and hamstrings.
Low Lunge Pose
The Low Lunge Pose helps to stretch thigh, glute, and groin muscles. It helps to strengthen the back and also improves balance.
Bharadvaja’s Twist is ideal for stretching the chest, shoulders, hips, and spine. This pose also massages the abdominal organs, helps relive lower back pain, neck pain, and sciatica, and improves digestion.
Head-To-Knee Forward Bend
Head-To-Knee Forward Bend stretches the spine, back muscles, shoulders, hamstrings, and groin, stimulates the liver and kidneys, improves digestion, and relieves fatigue and headaches.
The Warrior Pose is one of the most famous yoga poses and it helps to strengthen the legs, shoulders, back and ankles. It also tones the core muscles and improves balance and posture.
So there you have eleven key poses to incorporate into your running routine. Start at the beginning and work your way through all of them. If possible, try to organize them into a system that allows you to flow easily from one move on to the next.
Remember to time these movements with slow inhalations and exhalations of your breath. This is done to help the body and mind to settle into a natural rhythm that is aligned with the breath and is the whole purpose of Yoga practice.
Mental Yoga Exercise
Yoga isn’t just about the physical body; it’s also about the mind. Through Yoga practice, we learn to focus the mind and tap into its ability to affect our reality. With regards to running specifically, we are going to learn to use mental techniques of Yoga training to aid us in our ability to heal and recover, as well as increase performance.
These techniques are also a great aid in relaxation, are vital at times when you feel you have exhausted yourself, and need a little attention to recuperate, or when you feel agitated or anxious.
Find yourself a quiet spot where you can relax without the fear of being disturbed.
- Allow yourself to relax and take three full deep breaths.
- Focus on the feeling in your feet and allow your mind to settle there for a few benefits.
- Imagine that your feet are beginning to fill up with strength and energy.
- Notice how this makes you become very aware of your feet and the energy there. By doing this, you are actually sending more energy into your feet and increasing flood flow there. This will promote greater healing and recovery.
- Now more your attention up to your ankles and do the same. Settle your mind into your ankles for the span of two to three breaths and feel the energy there. At the same time, imagine them filling up with strength and even more energy.
- Repeat the process through your entire body, continuing up one muscle group at a time. This will have the effect of developing your ability to focus, promote faster healing and recovery, and also develop greater strength in those specific muscle groups. Science has repeatedly proven that this kind of activity has a very positive effect on the capacity of the physical body, and Yogi’s have been practicing this kind of thing for thousands of years.
Another exercise that will help you to improve your levels of performance while running is called ‘Mental Running’.
It’s an activity that takes place only in your mind. Even though it doesn’t actually take place in the real world it still has an effect on your physical body, when practiced enough times throughout the week.
Once again, find yourself a quiet spot where you can relax without the fear of being disturbed. For this exercise, you aren’t going to move a single inch in the real world. Everything is going to take place in your mind.
- Imagine that you are about to embark on your favorite run, one that you have run so many times that you can easily recall every point along the route.
- Begin by changing your clothes and putting on your running shoes (remember that you are imagining this, not actually doing it)
- Imagine the feelings that you feel in real life while getting ready. Do you feel excited about getting outside in the fresh air? Have you been waiting for this for a whole week, overburdened by other commitments and now the time has finally come to be free? If running sometimes feels like a chore to you, just imagine that they are positive feelings; this will help you ti inspire a very positive attitude to running.
- Once you are ready, set off running in your mind, imagine yourself at the beginning of the route, see everything that would see, hear everything that you would hear and feel everything that you would feel in real life.
- Continue on along the entire route, imaging yourself at peak performance the whole way.
- Make the mental journey as realistic and precise as you possibly can, noticing all of the specific points as if you were actually there in real life, and make sure that you imagine how good it feels to be in such good shape.
This kind of practice is used by top athletes to boost performance, not just in relation to running but also to every kind of exercise and sport imaginable. They refer to it as ‘Mental Game’. Having a strong mental game has the effect of improving your ‘physical game’ and if practiced enough will definitely see you experiencing a major boost in your performance. Combining the two above mental exercises into a running routine, will also ensure that you are not just boosting your performance levels, but you are also aiding in the recovery and healing process, which will cause you to be able to reach new heights in your ability.
Getting Started: Adding Yoga To Your Running Routine
To get started with combining Yoga and running it is wise to begin with the basics. First, you will want to learn the essential poses of beginner Yoga and then you will want to figure out how to incorporate this into your running routine.
Once you have learned the essential poses that will be outlined in the next section of this report, you are going to enter into a trial and error phase to figure out what works best for you.
Follow these simple steps over the course of one month and pay attention to the results of each particular style.
- Practice Yoga for 30 minutes ONLY BEFORE you run, every time that you run for one week.
- Practice Yoga for 30 minutes ONLY AFTER you run, every time that you run for one week.
- Practice Yoga for 15-30 minutes ONLY HALF-WAY THROUGH your running sessions, every time that you run for one week.
- Practice Yoga for 10-15 minutes BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER your running sessions, every time you run for one week.
As an added option, you can try practicing Yoga at different times of the day, either early morning, midday or evening to see which of these times is best suited to your lifestyle.
Run, Yoga And Run Some More!
Now that we have come to the end of this report, you should have gained a decent amount of insight into the various practices of Yoga and how you can apply them to your running routine.
By now, it should be very clear that not only will Yoga affect your physical body in a way that improves flexibility, strength, and balance but it will also enhance mental strength and ability too, allowing you to speed up recovery, promote greater healing, and even boost performance.
Take your time to study the basics of Yoga to ensure that you know all the poses that you want to incorporate, maybe try going to a class too to get some personal instruction from a Yoga teacher, or just set yourself a regular routine at home that will see you quickly develop in the way that you want.
Remember that even though Yoga has a long list of poses that are very specific and the same goes for the different routines that it promotes, at the heart of it all is quite simply awareness of the body and the breath. Use this to your advantage and play around with the different forms and styles.
Develop your very own poses or stretches, or mix up the ones that you learn to find what suits you best.
Take into account that you are using Yoga to enhance your running and so you may find that you want to incorporate a lot of poses and stretches that focus specifically on your legs. At the same time, you might have very specific weaknesses in areas that you can tailor your Yoga to, in order to fix and improve those areas.
Regardless of what some might think, Yoga is not set in stone, in fact it’s quite the opposite case; it is very adaptable and can be suited to any level of ability, or disposition, so make it yours and have fun with it.
Once you have gotten through all the ‘leg work’ regarding Yoga, learning the forms, and working it into your routine, you are absolutely guaranteed to see results. After enough time practicing and training in this way you will wonder why it took you so long to make Yoga a part of your life. Take your time with it and don’t push yourself too hard, Yoga just like every other form of physical exercise is not completely free of risks and if you overdo it you might find that it actually has a detrimental effect on your running and even other areas of your life, but this goes for pretty much everything.
Learn the essentials, take your time, and see what works best for you. Make Yoga a part of your life and you are guaranteed to make leaps and bounds towards your peak levels of strength, flexibility, endurance, and all-round performance.
If Yoga can promise you all of that, you have to ask yourself, what are you waiting for?
Get out there and Yoga!
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