Yoga and running are complementary activities.
Yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice of unifying the mind and body through breathing and moving through poses (or Asanas).
Now, in the West, the practice often diverges from its spiritual origins, and it is practiced widely as a way to calm the mind and develop overall fitness.
Whilst they may seem like running and yoga have nothing to do with each other, the two disciplines are a perfect match!
Yoga helps runners develop their flexibility, balance, muscular strength, and mental focus, whilst also reducing their risk of injury.
And for yogis, running helps them to strengthen their cardiovascular fitness and to set tangible goals.
In this article we will dive into the world of yoga and running, we will cover
- The benefits of running for yogis,
- the benefits of yoga for runners,
- where to practice yoga,
- how often you should practice yoga as a runner,
- and a sample week calendar, combining yoga and running.
Ready to get stuck in to the world of yoga and running?
The Benefits of Running for Yogis
1. Running Improves your Cardiovascular Fitness
For those whose main sport is yoga, their cardiovascular system could benefit from being strengthened by having a running routine.
Running is notoriously (and rightly so) a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Having good levels of cardiovascular fitness certainly helps when it comes to longer, more dynamic yoga practices.
It is common for yogis to majorly increase their heart rate and work up a real sweat during their practice, and not uncommon to have to take a breather mid-practice.
2. Running Lets You Set Solid Goals
As well as improving a yogi’s cardiovascular fitness, having a running routine can be useful for yogis in terms of creating tangible goals.
One of the great things about running is that, unlike yoga, it gives you a great deal of feedback metrics. You can track your running progress via pace, distance, or heart rate, meaning that you can set clear goals.
Some examples of tangible goal examples could be; running your first half marathon, or running for an hour non-stop.
Having goals and reaching them is a great incentive to keep at what you are doing.
For yogis, setting and reaching running goals can be an excellent psychological motivator for their overall fitness journey.
The benefits of practising yoga for runners
Combining yoga and running as part of your regular fitness schedule boasts many benefits for runners.
There are countless styles of yoga (Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Yin, just to name a few). Each of these styles benefits runners in different ways.
Below, I am going to highlight three major benefits of a regular yoga practice for runners; the gains you can make when it comes to flexibility, strength, injury prevention, and mental toughness.
1. Yoga Develops Your Flexibility and Strength
Having good flexibility means having the ability to move our joints through a full normal range of motion. Whilst strength can be defined as the ability to overcome resistance and exert force.
Having good levels of both strength and flexibility are often an overlooked aspect of a runner’s fitness. However, they are both essential building blocks of a successful runner.
Combining yoga and running is a great way to develop both your strength and flexibility.
- Related: Try These 6 Yoga Inversion Poses
Personal trainer and coach Brett Durney at Fitness Lab spoke to us about the benefits of having good levels of both strength and flexibility as a runner. He told us that;
“Good levels of flexibility and the ability to control flexibility with strength through active stretching will help with running efficiency.
Having a good range of motion across the various different joints in the body will help the biomechanics of your running ensuring that you are utilising the full range and power of each joint in each running movement.
As an example, if we envision someone with really poor hamstring flexibility, the likeliness that their gait in running is going to be affected (shorter running stride) and this will result in other muscles up and down the chain being affected & also will result in inefficient energy usage.”
2. Yoga Helps to Prevent Injury
Certified stretching and yoga teacher Will Thomas from Yoga House Miami spoke to us about the benefits of practising yoga for runners. He explained to us why stretching out our bodies as runners is so important.
‘it lets us know on a regular basis exactly where the small imbalances and tightnesses are – all while correcting them at the same time.’
Yoga can help runners to listen more closely to their bodies. You may end up catching an injury at an earlier stage, saving you a whole lot of strife.
3. Yoga and Running Help to Strengthen Your Mental Toughness
Yoga isn’t simply a physical practice, in its purest form it is also a philosophy and a lifestyle. One philosophical aspect of yoga is its teachings on balance– not just a balanced body, but a balanced mind.
Yoga and running are similar in the sense that they can both get hard.
In my personal experience, I have found yoga to be a very useful practice for training my mental toughness- which I can then apply to my running. Yoga is a perfectly controlled environment where the only thing holding you back from nailing a pose is yourself.
When a yoga pose gets hard, I work on balancing it out with an inner softness.
This can be as simple as not berating yourself for not being able to touch your toes, and instead focusing on your breathing.
This may sound like woo-woo, but I’ve found it to be a very practical technique.
How To Practice Yoga and Running
Have the benefits of yoga left you curious about incorporating the practice into your own training week?
Here’s a quick guide as to how to kick start your yoga practice as a runner.
Where can I practice yoga?
Yoga, much like running, is a pretty minimalistic sport. When you strip it back, a runner just needs a good pair of shoes, whilst all that a yogi needs is a yoga mat.
This means that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to practice yoga in a proper yoga studio, with a group of fellow yogis, led by a yoga instructor.
If you like, you can do yoga from your own home!
Although going to a yoga class does indeed have its benefits- someone to correct your form, a community, a more ‘authentic’ yoga experience, and maybe a cup of chai tea after the class.
However, for someone who’s just started out implementing yoga and running, practising yoga at home can be a more sustainable approach.
Recently, largely thanks to lockdowns, there has been a surge in interest in yoga videos on YouTube.
These are excellent for a running and yoga newbie. A certified yoga instructor talks you through a routine from your own living room, and you can pick and choose your yoga class to one that fits with your running schedule– be that the type of yoga class, or the length.
And, if you’re in a pinch, you can pick a yoga class as short as 10 minutes!
Here are some popular certified yoga teachers on YouTube:
Adriene Mishler from Yoga With Adriene
Shona Virtue on YouTube
Kassandra Reinhardt from Yoga With Kassandra
How often should I practice yoga?
This one’s personal.
Some runners swear by a daily yoga practice, whilst others feel the benefits from a once-a-week practice.
Having said this, the general advice from the yoga community is that it’s best to practice yoga at least three times a week.
Practising yoga three times a week is the frequency needed to see considerable gains in flexibility, balance, and strength.
However, if three times a week seems too much for you and running is your top priority, it is more important to have a yoga practice that is sustainable, even if that means practising it just once or twice a week.
As with anything, the longer you stick to it, the more solid and effortless the habit will become.
Yoga and running are no exceptions.
A Sample Week Calendar
Sounds good? But what does all this look like in practical terms?
Below is a sample week calendar that balances both yoga and running.
- Monday – Rest Day
- Tuesday – 3 Mile Training Run
- Wednesday – 5 Mile Race Pace Run followed by a 7 minute post-run yoga cool down sequence
- Thursday – 30-60 minutes of a strength based yoga session
- Friday – 3 Mile Training Run
- Saturday – Rest day
- Sunday – 8 Mile Long Run and finish the day off with a soothing yin yoga practice
As you can see from the sample plan, rest days are important!
You don’t want to overload yourself by piling on the strength-based yoga on your rest days.