GFGL Runner’s Guide to Yoga

GFGL Runner’s Guide to Yoga


Almost everyone you meet in a yoga class is more than happy to share a story about how the practice has transformed the way they feel about their body or has helped them overcome chronic pain and injury. Almost no one knows the pains of long-term exercise better than runners.

Initially, yoga and running seem to be on opposite sides of the exercise spectrum. However, when done properly, these two can develop a healthy marriage of strength and flexibility, and possibly even prevent long-term injury.

“Yoga brings more movement into your body, much more movement in the hips, and a more relaxed face and shoulders [than running does],” says Barbara Ruzansky, owner of West Hartford Yoga in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Most people who run will eventually hear the statistic that, on an average mile run, their foot will strike the ground 1,000 times with the force of the hit being four times the body’s weight. The repetitive motions of running can lead to a tightening and shortening of the muscles and is likely what leads many runners to complain of sore feet, tight hamstrings and creaky backs and knees. Many runners end up sidelined by these injuries or find themselves pushing through long-term pain.

According to, repetitive sports training or any specific fitness conditioning results in structural issues and an excessively tight body.

Without opposing movements, the body will compensate to avoid injury by working around the instability. Yoga can work to elongate and loosen these same muscles and help to prevent injury from overuse better than icing or cutting mileage.

“Over the years, I’ve seen runners especially suffering from joint pain, back problems, muscle pulls, strains and sprains come to class and in a matter of weeks increase range of motion, agility, flexibility, lung capacity, endurance, strength and general body practice,” says Jessica Malstoy, a Denver based yoga instructor.

Malstoy recommends four basic poses, or asanas, to gradually integrate yoga into a workout routine including downward-facing dog, triangle, tree and bound angle or cobbler’s pose.

“Even doing a class just once a week while I was training felt so much better,” says Tracy Sampson, who took a yoga workshop at her local YMCA while training for a marathon last spring, and has since started going to classes weekly. “I didn’t feel nearly as stiff as I did before when I would just do my regular stretches and I felt like my core was that much stronger.”

The main difference between yoga and the stretching most runners do before and after their workout is the incorporation of fluid breathing. Pranayama, or the practice of yoga breathing, is recommended to increase lung capacity and better breath awareness while running. This can also help increase mindfulness, which is recommended to help runners get in “the zone”. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Sanskrit manual on Hatha yoga, states that, “When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still.”

Athletes need regular practice to see long-term health benefits from yoga. Beginning a regimen with a knowledgeable teacher is a good way to start out. Many running communities, marathon organizations and running websites offer links to introductory yoga classes to aid in training and recovery. Dedicated yoga classes for runners will also become more prevalent as the popularity of yoga for runners grows.

For those just starting out practicing a few yoga poses post-workout when muscles are warm will decrease recovery time. Malstoy recommends practicing sun salutations every day (or every other day) as probably the easiest and most common introduction to a yoga practice. The flow makes for a good pre-run warm-up to energize and focus the mind and body as well as overall fitness and health throughout the day. offers a video of some pre-run yoga poses and other sites like are also a great source with interactive videos. Yoga will eliminate the tightness that leads to pain by opening up your joints. But, as with any exercise program, always keep safety in mind.

“The tighter people are, the safer they need to be; especially with runners, who tend to be goal-oriented,” says Malstoy. “A yoga pose requires all the muscles work in tandem, so go slow and drink a lot of water.”

The eventual result is that your body, mind, and breath become integrated in all actions for safer, longer and more rewarding runs.

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