Monday, October 19, 2015

Yoga for Runners

This article was first published in the magazine at

Recently I have added sprint training to my workout regimen.  I am strongly attracted to the dynamic, all-out bursts of energy followed by short periods of rest. Sprinting requires careful warm-up to help prevent injury, and the following is my favorite sequence of yoga postures to warm up for running.

Supine Big Toe Balance with PNF technique (Supta Padangusthasana)

PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) technique helps to release the hamstrings by first engaging them, then relaxing into the stretch.  Be gentle with this, do not force any stretch, as we are using this as a warmup.

To get into the posture: Lie on your back with both feet on the floor and knees in the air. Extend your right leg straight up from the hip, and loop a yoga strap around the ball of your right foot. Then, extend your left leg straight forward from the hip and press it down into the floor while keeping the right leg in place.

To add the PNF, press the right leg in a forward direction, like you are trying to bring the leg down to the floor, but resist with the strap so your leg doesn’t actually move toward the floor.  Hold the press for 5-10 seconds, then release the press and gently draw the leg closer to your torso to increase the stretch and hold for 3-5 deep breaths.  Do this three times.

After the PNF, bring the right directly on top of the hip, then move the leg to your right about 12 inches; if the leg were a clock, you would be moving toward 1 o’clock.  Then draw the leg into the stretch again, this time targeting the inner part of the hamstring, and hold for 3-5 deep breaths.

Bring the right leg back to center, then toward the inside so it hovers above your left hip bone, or 11 o’clock.  Draw the leg into the stretch again, releasing the outer hamstring and possibly the IT band.  Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.

Repeat the sequence on the left leg.

Bound Angle Pose (Baddka Konasana)

A nice release for the groins, this stretch is especially good if you tend to run with knees turned in or run mostly on the inside arches of your feet.

To get into the posture: Sit on the floor, or on a blanket(s) if your hips or groins are tight. Bring the soles of your feet together as close to your pelvis as you can get comfortably.  Gently engage the outer hip muscles to press the knees down toward the floor.  If you are already feeling a deep stretch, stay upright.  If you would like more, fold forward toward the floor, making sure the fold starts from the hip creases, rather than rounding the back. You can rest your head on a yoga block.  Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” postures  J

The next two postures can help counteract habits of turning in or turning out while running.  If you tend to “duck footed” or roll to the outsides of your feet, try Virasana to encourage more internal rotation of your thighbones.  If you tend to run “knock kneed” or roll in toward the arches of your feet, try Ankle to Knee to encourage external rotation of the thighbones.  Or do both postures, but spend more time in the one that counteracts your natural tendency.

Ankle to knee (Agnistambhasana)

This posture stretches deep muscles of the hips and encourages external rotation of the thighbones.

To get into the posture: sit on the floor, and bring your left shin parallel to the short edge of your mat, then stack the right shin on top of it, placing the right heel at the outside edge of your left knee.  If your hips resist this position, try sitting on a blanket or block.  If your left knee is off the floor, be sure to support it with a blanket or block.  If you are feeling a deep stretch staying upright, stay upright.  If you would like more of a stretch, fold forward toward the floor, making sure to fold from the hip creases rather than the low back.  There should be no pain or discomfort in the knees; if you feel pain in the knees, try just doing one leg at a time as pictured below.  Stay for 5-10 deep breaths, then repeat with the left leg on top.

Hero’s Pose (Virasana)

This posture encourages internal rotation of the thighbones, and it also stretches the quadriceps, knees and ankles.

To get into the posture: From hands and knees, bring your knees together and your feet just wide enough apart that you can sit between them.  If you are not able to sit all the way down on the floor, sit on a blanket or block.  Make sure the feet point straight behind you and the foot is in the same line as the shin, rather than feet pointing out to the sides.  There should be no pain in the knees or ankles; sit on more props (i.e. two blocks) to release pain in the knees, and place a rolled up towel under your ankles to relieve strain in the ankles.  Stay for 5-10 deep breaths.

Dancer Modification (Natarajasana)

Stretching the quadriceps before running can help keep the knees safe as you run.

To get into the posture: Stand with your feet hipbone width apart. Bend your right knee, bringing the heel toward your bum, and grab the foot with your right hand or both hands to pull it close to your bum, which keeping your low back long rather than arched.  Keep your right knee in line with your left, and imagine lengthening the right thighbone straight down toward the floor.  Hold for 5-10 deep breaths, then repeat with the left leg.

Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

Running can create tightness in the hip flexors, and this posture helps release the hip flexors and lengthen your stride.

To get into the posture: stand with your feet hipbone width apart. Step your left foot back to a lunge position; this can be a shallow or deep lunge depending on your hip flexibility. Make sure your right knee stays directly on top of your right ankle, and try to stack the left heel on top of the ball of the foot.  Draw your belly button in and up to support the low back, and lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor.  On an inhale, raise your arms to the sky, and take 5-10 deep breaths into the lengthening sensation in the front of your left hip, then repeat with the left leg forward.

Happy running!  J

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