My partner Lee is an avid runner. He runs about 50 km per week and is proud of his 4 minute per kilometer pace. After we moved to the Hague, Lee also adopted the Dutch custom of cycling everywhere. Whilst these activities are great for cardiovascular training, they also have a downside – they do not improve flexibility.
As I began my yoga teacher training, I nominated Lee to be my yoga teacher training guinea pig. He was hesitant if not downright obstinate at first, “I’m not flexible enough!” he proclaimed. “Yoga is not exercise!”, he added. But to be supportive (aka, to stop my constant nagging), he relented. In our first session, when I instructed him into a forward fold (basically touching his toes), he winced and shot me a dagger gaze. He could not reach past his knees because his hamstrings were so tight. When I asked him to sit in a simple cross-legged position, his knees were nearly up around his ears! But yoga compensates for inflexibility with props like yoga blocks, blankets, bolsters, etc., which when used properly, allow even the most inflexible of us to get into yoga poses.
As we continued to practice, Lee’s tight hamstrings loosened. He started to touch his toes. He gained flexibility in his hips. His running improved. He became a yoga convert!
Myth 1 debunked: You do not need to be flexible to practice yoga
The stretching involved in a yoga practice is a great way to improve your flexibility. It is a commonly held misconception that you have to already be flexible to practice yoga. In fact, the opposite is true: a regular practice of yoga is a sure way to become more flexible.
For runners like Lee specifically, an article published by Runner’s World following benefits runners can expect from practicing yoga:
Yoga practice strengthens both the key supporting muscles used in running and the underused muscles. The movement on the mat develops strength in the core, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors which will help runners to stay injury free.
We need strength to perform exercise but also the flexibility to move with freedom and ease. Yoga poses held for long periods of time create elasticity and loosen up the muscles, joints, ligaments and connective tissues that will ultimately help to run with more freedom.
Breathing is one of the most important parts of Hatha yoga, the breath nourishes and guides the asana (posture) practice. Through conscious breathing we are more aware of sensations in the body, we learn that slower breathing is more relaxing, faster breathing is more energizing. When running either in sprinting or long distance we can breath to bring about a more relaxed mental state or feel more alert and focused. Breath work will increase oxygen intake and can help reduce performance anxiety.
Yoga will not only balance out the body but the mind too. Yoga teaches us to look after our bodies and having that balance of training hard and taking time to rest, recover and heal.
The foundation for efficient movement in running is posture. Yoga teaches us to elongate the spine without adding any tension. Alignment is key in yoga and as we learn to stand taller, stronger without tension we can practice this in our running technique.
- Back health
For many runners back pain is a common concern. From constant impact through the legs to the back it causes strain. Yoga twists and gentle cat/cow stretches mobilise the back to help prevent any problems, for instance in the spinal discs.
Yoga helps to control emotions, which is useful for moments of discomfort. Learning to work through intense poses it on the mat is a lot like enduring a long run. Relaxation and meditation techniques in yoga help to clear the mind of worry, encouraging a better nights sleep to allow for a clear mindset prior to a big event.
- Mental strength
Through yoga you cultivate improved concentration and the ability to overcome the ego, learning to accept the body and mind you have on the day and only push it as far as it will go.
Have you discounted yoga because you think you are not flexible enough?
If your answer to this question is yes, I encourage you to sign up to a Yogaward introductory class armed with a few props. If you don’t have yoga blocks, you can use books. If you don’t have a yoga strap, you can use a belt. No yoga bolster? No problem! You can use a pillow or sofa cushion.
One of the great things about Yogaward classes is that they are online so students feel less pressure to achieve the perfect pose. Most of our classes are at the beginner level and we always provide modifications to suit even the most inflexible among us.
So, if you’re suffering from inflexibility, please join one of our Zoom classes. You might even see Lee there!