Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What do YOU think Wedenadays 4 - Is Yoga good for Running?

Good morning! It's already three days into February, can you believe? 2010 has been a flyin'!

Thanks for reading Part 4 of What do you think Wednesdays.

Let's just jump right into it.

What do you think.....
Is Yoga good for Running?

I am clearly no Kara Goucher, and clearly no Rodney Yee, but I run sometimes, and practice yoga sometimes, so… that counts for something, right?

In my humble, non-expert, but still-should-be-good-for-something opinion, YES, yoga has been good for my running.

Without getting too verbose, I’ll try to sum up how I think I’ve benefited from yoga.

The following is a list of generic/common benefits of yoga:

* Relaxation of Muscles
* Increased Energy Levels
* Improved Cardiovascular Endurance
* Improved Core Strength
* Improved Flexibility and Balance
* Enhanced Overall Muscle Strength
* Enhanced Immune System
* Improved Digestion
* Weight Control

To spare you from death by boredom, I’ll try to stick to the important bits!

Relaxation of Muscles:
This one’s pretty self explanatory. Running hurts. My leg muscles get tight. My tummy cramps. My neck and shoulders cramp. Yoga stretches and soothes. Relaxation of muscles: check!

Increased energy levels:
Hmmm.... Though I find yoga to be invigorating, restorative, stimulating, and exhilarating, I don’t think it has contributed much to making me MORE energetic overall as a human.

Improved Cardiovascular Endurance:
For runners and endurance athletes, this statement might make you chuckle. Yoga? As Cardio? I personally don’t think yoga, even Bikram Yoga (aka oven yoga) can come even close to running in terms of improving cardiovascular endurance. However, that being said, there are challenging yoga sessions that left me panting. I think “improved” is an overstatement, but it does help somewhat.

Improved Core Strength:
(Boat Pose: Image source)
Bingo! This one’s huge for me. My lack of core strength slapped me in the face when I first started running. I was so weak, I would get too tired to hold my upper body upright on long runs. Even worse, with my weak core, I couldn’t support all the movements of my hips. Hello Pinched Nerve!

Yoga, with all its balancing poses, has helped my core strength tremendously! According to this LA Yoga article, yoga "[is] way to help runners with core strengthening, since running forces athletes to work the major muscles, while the stabilizers (tendons, ligaments and minor muscles) are often neglected.”

Every week, I do a 60-min or 25-min Core Yoga Class at home. (Available from SUPER awesome website BTW). HOLY CRAP. My abs are so ripped up, I call it The Situation.

Well, not quite, but my core strength is MUCH better. Thank you navasanas!

Improved flexibility and balance:(Standing Splits: Image source)
This one is by far the most important benefit, in my opinion. According to super Yogi Baron Baptise and Kathleen Finn Mendola in their article "Yoga for Runners",
A typical runner experiences too much pounding, tightening, and shortening of the muscles and not enough restorative, elongating, and loosening work. Without opposing movements, the body will compensate to avoid injury by working around the instability. Compensation puts stress on muscles, joints, and the entire skeletal system.
The article further goes on to explain that

Knee pain, too, is related to other parts of the body. If the ankles are weak or the hips are not aligned, that can put strain on the anterior ligaments in the knees.... Due to constant forward motion, hip flexor muscles shorten and tighten and cause hyperextension in the lower back. This constantly arched position holds tension in the back and can hamper the fluidity of the hamstrings as well.
Um..... wow. Has Baron been stalking my blog or something? Cause he just recapped all the injuries/pain I've been having, like tendinitis, ITB pain, pinched nerve in my lower back....

When I first started running, I kind of threw yoga off. I used to be little miss Gumby, but run ning, combined with a desk job did something unexpected to my body; it made me stiff as a board. My hip flexors especially were so tight! So much so that last February, I pinched my nerve in my lower back. That was NOT a fun experience. Running also put a lot of strain on my quads, as they constantly felt tight, swollen, tired, and heavy. I pushed through it and got tendinitis. Because my hips were weak, I got ITB pain.

Back in Octoberish of 2009, I got serious about my yoga again. It became a mandatory weekly workout. At first, I was so inflexible, I could hardly hold the poses I used to be able to do perfectly. I was shocked! Had I gotten that tight/stiff? wow.

But now, 5ish months later, I'm glad to say I'm back to being 96% of my original flexibility. My ITB pain is but a memory. My quads feel much better. My tendinitis has fewer flare ups. I think balancing the muscles being used, giving them appropriate flexibility, and stretching out the tightness caused by running has been crucial. I think without yoga, I'd be running with a lot more pain right now!

Enhanced overall muscle strength:
Yes. Yoga has improved my overall strength. I can now hold poses deeper and longer. I can balance without toppling over. I know yoga will never replace weight training. You can't hypertrophy through yoga. But using gravity and your own body strength goes a long way in developing strength.

I think the trick to gaining strength through yoga is choosing classes with "power" in the name. I like the "Power Vinyasa Flow" classes from I am too much of an adrenaline junkie to be able to yawn through "let's touch our toes and take a deep breath" kind of BS classes. I want to be challenged. I want to work out, I want to get strong! So I stay away from classes like "Gentle Hatha Flow" or "detox yoga", or anything targeted towards beginners. I think power yoga and other challenging classes def has muscle strengthening capabilities.

I've never tried yoga with weights... I don't know if I'm coordinated enough for that :)

Enhanced Immune System:
Dubious claim, in my opinion. I still get sick.

Improved Digestion:
Yup. I'll let em rip during yoga sessions. Keeps me from feeling dyspeptic. :)

Weight Control:
I suppose if I stopped with all those damned chocolate-covered, peanut butter filled pretzels from Trader Joes, I would lose weight.

In a nutshell; I have found yoga to be extremely beneficial to my running. The flexibility and fluidity I regained in my hips/quads is remarkable.

To be honest, I only look at yoga from an athletic point of view, not a spiritual one. I really couldn't care less about mantras, shakras, cosmic energies, ayurveda, or any of that sort of mysticism. I think yoga as a physical practice can be separated from its spiritual origin. In fact, a lot of that mumbo-jumbo scares me and turns me off. But I know that deep trikanasanas and utktasanas make me stronger, so I will keep at it.

Also worth mentioning is that I do all of my yoga at home. I use, which is an amazing website for at-home yoga classes. I highly recommend you check it out. Dawnelle is my favorite instructor BTW :) They have everything from 20 minute classes to 60+minute classes for all levels and styles. I like to crank up the heater in my house to about 75 degrees and have a nice, warm, long, yoga session.

I know this has turned more into a "let me preach at you about yoga" rather than a "what do you think?" but forgive me. I love to talk about myself, obviously :)
So thank you for listening to me go on and on, but What do you think?

  • Do you practice yoga for running?
  • Do you have a stretching regimen instead of yoga?
  • Or do you cross train instead? Do you find that cross training is enough to balance out your muscles?
Again, I very much appreciate your wise thoughts!

Happy Humpday!


  1. I think those are all great points. The one I related to the most was the core. I needed a lot of work on my core when I started running and the long runs would kill me too. I really need to incorporate yoga more, but things have been crazy here.

  2. I wish I could do yoga but all the changes in positions leaves me feeling light-headed whenever I try. So, I stretch after runs and cross-train with weights on my cross-training days. Seems to work for me but not nearly as relaxing.

  3. Physiologically there is no "cross-over" from yoga to running. However, from running to roga yes. The cardiovascular demands of yoga are no where near the demands of running. If you believe that it helps then it does. The mind is a powerful thing but the heart and lungs are far less impressionable.

  4. I've only been running for about a year, but I've practiced yoga for years. I've found that yoga is beneficial for my tight muscles and all the hip openers has helped me get rid of the pain I experienced when I initially started running. I can't credit yoga entirely though...I've been strength training too, and the combination of ab, upper body and lower body (hello squats and lunges!) have made feel more stable when running and better yet no more pain!

  5. Excellent topic and tons of info - thanks!

    I have tried yoga for running - in fact, I took a class called Yoga for Runners. I ended up injured from pushing myself beyond my own limits instead of easing into it very gradually.

    I definitely see how yoga can be beneficial, though, and would love to try again. I just have to know my limits and recognize that I don't have to go quite as deep into the pose as Mr. Pretzel Man beside me.

  6. Hi Julia,
    I have got to try Yoga at least once! I think I am frightened...does that sound so stupid? I know that Yoga would kick my butt and I am so not as flexible as I used to be:( If it is going to help my running, strengthen my core, and give me irresistible sexy abs....then what the hell am I stalling for? Great topic today..thanks for sharing!

  7. I've only done it once, and it was Bikram ("hot") yoga, and it kicked my a$$! But I LOVED IT. I think Yoga is great for running - stretching is supposed to improve endurance, so there ya go! Plus it gives the muscles some work without any impact, etc. :)

  8. I've always thought yoga is great for runners. I wish I did it more, because I really liked it.

  9. I see you have dismissed other components of yoga as useless mysticism. Ayurveda is the sister SCIENCE of yoga and is the most complete medical science on record. It is superior, safer, affordable, and MUCH more effective than our health care in the west. Respectfully, opinions about subjects which we have no experience in are wasteful and will mislead less knowledgble and less informed readers of your blog. If your goal is to babble to babblers, that is fine, but you seem to be thoughtful and educated with a purpose for writing. Ironically, yoga means UNION, and you dismissing integral parts of it while you practice it is a divisive(not union) contradiction in terms.Just think if you were born in India u would be saying, "I am really into Jesus but the bible is not my cup of tea". Chocolate shoestrings wants God not because she is to suppose to, but because....?????? After you dismiss this as off the subject, THINK again, IT is always THE SUBJECT.

    Thanks C.S.

  10. Hi Adrianne,
    Thanks for your comment. I def agree that Eastern medicine is very useful; I'm from Japan, and my through my entire childhood, I relied on herbs and Chinese herbal medicine to treat my illnesses. I'm not trying to mislead my readers in anyway, or imply that ayurveda is dismissible. I may have put it ineptly, and saying mumbo jumbo was not the smartest choice, but I simply wanted to talk about the physical strengthening/stretching benefits of yoga. That's why I haven't touched upon the "mental" aspect of yoga either (and there are many). I just wanted to say the poses help me in my running; I'm not claiming to be a yoga expert; just someone who enjoys it physical benefits. I'm sorry if I offended your beliefs in anyway; that's not what I was trying to do at all

  11. great points! i'm TERRIBLE at yoga and dont benefit from it... atleast i dont see any benefit. i'm hardly flexible and i am not into my breathing.... just not for me!!!

    thanks for sharing though! :)

  12. I love this!! I am posting something about my new found love for pilates tomorrow, with the same kinds of benefits! Wonderful!

  13. I love YogaDownload! I think yoga is great for running, not only because of what you mentioned, but because it brings a lot of balance (not in the literal sense). When I do yoga on my 'active rest days' I feel like like I'm accomplishing something without putting my body through the grinder. I'm less likely to lose motivation when I start my Sundays with yoga (hence the reason why I've been slacking these past two weeks), but I also feel like I'm just happier.

  14. I'm a Rodney Yee fan too. We love to do his power yoga tape. :)

    I cross train quite a bit, but I also add yoga into the mix since it is so good for your core!

  15. As much of a old school type as I am, yoga does help. It makes you looser, more flexible and stronger, it arms, core, and hips. That being said, I always struggle with the dilemna -- do I run or yoga? And running always wins. I also suck at yoga -- I am inflexible, weak and it just feels awkward. But I know it is good for me.

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  17. I'm the Indian who always scoffed at yoga until I got injured. Now I do some basic yoga stretches that focus on the core. Thanks to your write-up, I've downloaded the core and runners' 20-min sessions. Would love to hear from you about what helped the pinched nerve. I'm down with the same due to an angry piriformis!



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