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Love a good run? Joggers and serious runners can benefit from the movements and deep stretches offered by yoga.
Your yoga practice doesn’t have to be about getting into the deepest, most dramatic yoga poses. Instead, look at yoga as a complement to your already-active lifestyle. Running and jogging are sports of repetitive motion; because of that, runners tend to get tight, sore, and stiff in the muscle groups that are being repeatedly taxed. (You know the feeling.)
Running has become more and more popular in recent years, with over two million people competing in half-marathons annually. And for good reason: Running is excellent exercise and fantastic cardio—and for many runners, it serves as moving meditation or deep-thinking and processing time.
But research shows that runners experience sport-related problems at a pretty substantial rate, with up to 50 percent of runners dealing with an annual running injury. Yoga is an excellent complement to running that can help prevent injury—but some poses will be more healing and helpful than others.
So, what are the best poses for you to do before and after a run?
Before a Run: Yoga Poses to Warm Up
Doing yoga before a run is a great way to warm up your body, prepare your muscles for the movements ahead of you, and enter your run connected to your breath. Your yoga practice before a run should mimic the action of running and it should be dynamic, or moving (as opposed to longer static holds in poses).
Lunge poses—like Warrior I, Warrior II, and High Lunge—are great options since they fire up your quads and glutes and stretch your hamstrings. But instead of going into the pose and staying there, try transitioning in and out. For any of these lunge poses, step your feet into a lunge stance and then use a two-breath cycle: inhale, lift your arms overhead, exhale, lunge your knee; inhale, straighten your legs, exhale, lower your arms. Try moving in and out of the pose five to 10 times.
Chair Pose is another perfect pre-run pose, as it wakes up your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. It also engages and strengthens your core, an important factor as core support is also needed in running. Instead of practicing a static version of this pose, come in and out of it. You can use that same two-breath cycle: Find a Chair Pose stance; inhale, lift your arms overhead, exhale, bend your knees and settle into Chair; inhale, straighten your legs, exhale, lower your arms. Try moving in and out of the pose five to 10 times.
Short, dynamic sequences—like Sage Rountree’s parking lot yoga—are also great options. Parking lot yoga is an easy sequence you can do at a trailhead or in your driveway before you head out for a run. It doesn’t require a yoga mat, your hands don’t have to touch the ground, and you can do it with your running shoes on. It involves balancing and moving in and out of lunge poses—helpful preparation for a run, since it mimics what your body will be doing as you start your jog. The general sequence starts in Mountain Pose. From there, you lift one foot, hold it in balance, and then slowly step back into a lunge. Then from the lunge pose, you move in reverse: Mindfully step back into the balanced stance with one foot lifted, and then return to Mountain Pose.
Post-Run: Yoga Poses to Recover
After a run, yoga can offer deep recovery benefits. Consider that post-run, you’ll want your practice to offer restorative properties to the parts of your body that just worked so hard. Below, some good options for maximum recovery.
Moving between Low Lunge and Runner’s Lunge (also referred to as Half-Split Pose or Ardha Hanumanasana) is a nice combination sequence for recovery. These two poses allow you to stretch your hip flexors and then settle into a deeper hamstring and calf stretch: two things crucially needed post-run. To begin, set up in Low Lunge with your back knee down. Keep your hands on the ground and shift your weight back to straighten your front leg (moving to Runner’s Lunge). Travel between these two poses three to four times and then stay in each one for at least 30 seconds (or longer, if it feels good to do so).
Supported Fish Pose is an important (and restful!) pose post-run. For long-distance runners, good posture is essential. Even the most mindful of runners might experience stiffness in their shoulders and upper back after a long run. It’s easy to allow your shoulders to lift toward your ears or roll forward during a challenging run. Supported Fish is a good antidote. To access this pose, prop a bolster on a block to make a ramp. Lie back over the bolster so your head is higher than your heart, and let your arms drape off beside you. You can stretch your legs out straight or bend your knees. Rest here for several minutes.
Doing yoga before and after a run can help your body prepare for and recover from your routine. Just remember: A little bit of yoga can go far. So when in doubt, roll out a yoga mat or take some time to just squirm. You’ll quickly find the places in your body that want to move or stretch. Heed your body’s advice: You’ll feel better—and likely suffer from fewer injuries—because of it.
Alexandra DeSiato offers yoga for healthy aging and thinks of yoga as a tool for illness, aging, and injury. Her most common in-class cue is “just squirm around on your mat,” which follows from her belief that the best yoga practice is the one that follows from deep self-listening. You can find tips and sequences—and a fresh approach to yoga for healthy aging—at Yoga for Aging Athletes, the blog she co-writes with Yoga for Athletes expert Sage Rountree. Connect with her at alexandradesiato.com.