Running is never easy. There is a point on almost every run when I think, why am I doing this? Just give up and go home.
That said, running has given me countless happy moments: completing the ‘City to Surf’ from Sydney Harbour to Bondi beach; doing a park run with my Dad on his 80th birthday; experiencing bliss while running on the North Coast of Ireland with the sun sparkling off the sea.
Running is one of the things that brought me to Yoga. In my teens and twenties I ran regularly, and I read that Yoga was good for injury prevention. I began to practise Ashtanga Yoga and quickly found that my core strength increased dramatically and my lower back pain vanished. As I studied Yoga in more detail and specialised in teaching Yoga to athletes, I moved away from the Ashtanga method and taught and practised movement sequences that were more beneficial to people who enjoyed sport (running and football in particular).
Yoga complements running in a number of ways, although for me, the main benefit comes from re-educating the body to move in a more functional way.
Repetitive movement through a single plane will cause muscles to contract and shorten. Shortened muscles can pull parts of the skeleton out of alignment. For example, for a runner, this may mean your quadriceps and hip flexors become shorter and stronger, forcing your pelvis to tilt forward; this can, in turn, put pressure on your lower back. To counteract this, we need to introduce movement patterns that allow the pelvis and spine to move freely, while strengthening the posterior chain. Stability around the pelvis, spine and ribcage is also vital for functional movement.
A regular Yoga practice can help improve posture that has become misaligned through repetitive exercise or injury.
I teach my students how to fully activate their diaphragm to create stability and support in the torso and maintain functional alignment through the pelvis, spine and ribcage.
All my sessions include spinal articulation to ensure the spine moves through multiple planes, paying attention to every joint and supporting structure.
Dynamic and Eccentric Stretches
Yoga involves moving the body through a series of postures regularly, to optimise strength and flexibility. These postures are a careful combination of dynamic stretches and eccentric holds.
Dynamic stretches will activate muscles in preparation for sport and reset muscle length following activity that causes muscles to contract.
Eccentric stretches strengthen a muscle while it is in its lengthened state. Static, eccentric stretches are best avoided directly before activity, but can be incorporated in a separate Yoga session to improve mobility.
Strong muscles are less prone to injury and adequately lengthened muscles facilitate full range of motion around a joint.
Careful placement and continuous correction and realignment of the body by the practitioner will improve proprioception (awareness of the body in space) over time. This is particularly important for children who are experiencing rapid growth, or for older runners who lose proprioceptive sense as they age.
Movement through every plane of motion will stretch and allow the body’s extensive fascial sheath (the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones, and joints) to move fluidly and without restriction.
As well as breathing, postural alignment, spinal articulation, a mix of dynamic stretches and eccentric holds and some free-flowing movements, all my sessions involve a seated or supine mindfulness practice. This allows brain activity to settle and the body to completely relax. Over time this builds up an appreciation of living in the moment and an openness to simple beauty. I have personally found this appreciation is also more evident when I run; I have an awareness of my surroundings and living in the moment, that I may not have felt so keenly had I not practised so much Yoga. That said, I know many people who feel it is running that brings them into the present moment, so perhaps the two are inextricably linked.
For me, Yoga and Running make a perfect match. Yoga has facilitated my running and running has enhanced my Yoga.
Last Sunday I ran a 10 mile road race in Liverpool. The last 4 miles were into a wild, 50mph head wind. Those last 4 miles taught me a lot. Sometimes in life we will experience hardship; if we push through that hardship, we can overcome it. Everyone experiences hardship at some point; we are all in the same boat.
In the spirit of Yoga and Running, be kind and support each other.
And Never Give Up!
Sheila McVitty is the founder of Yoga for Athletes Ltd. She has practised Yoga for over 20 years and been a runner for as long as she can remember. Sheila currently works with Academy and Professional Footballers at Manchester United Women FC, Everton FC, Bury FC and Salford City FC. She is currently completing an MBA at Salford University and has ambitions to lead a sporting organisation, creating a sustainable, vibrant culture, with the well-being of its people and the wider community at its heart.