There are good reasons to make time for yoga in your schedule. A regular practice can help you get stronger, nab a new personal best, and banish those nagging aches and pains that seem to crop up every time you push the pace or your weekly mileage. The flexibility, range of motion, and mental sharpness that you gain when you’re on the mat, will help you get more out of your time on the road. And here’s the good news: yoga doesn’t have to require a big investment of time or money. “When it comes to yoga a little bit goes a long way,” said yoga teacher Erin Taylor, author of Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes. (Velopress, April 2016). “When you’re practicing in a way that’s relevant, and really supporting you in achieving your goals, it shouldn’t just be another workout. It should be a balancing factor to everything else that you do.” In as little as five minutes a day, you can use yoga to correct imbalances caused by stress, injury and illnesses, and help you reach your fitness goals whatever they are, said Taylor, founder of Jasyoga, who is the yoga coach for the Oiselle team. Here are some tips from Taylor on how to make the most of your time on the mat.
Find your imbalances
Because running requires repetitive forward movement in one plane of motion, the front of the body can become very tight and shortened, while the core can become weak, and the glutes can stop firing. “All these things are going to force your body to ultimately compensate in very unhealthy ways,” said Taylor. “If you don’t address that you will get injured eventually.” A great way to correct those imbalances is to do postures that strengthen the muscles one leg at a time. This can help you develop the hip stability and core strength you need to run more efficiently. “If you really strengthen those areas, and nail a lot of standing balancing poses, imagine how much more power that would add to your stride,” Taylor said.
Tailor Your Practice to Meet Your Needs
Design a sequence that specifically addresses your specific weaknesses, whether it’s lack of flexibility or core strength. That is going to make you a more resilient runner. “Athletes get the most benefits when they’re drilling into their unique imbalances and picking postures and a style that supports bringing the body into balance,” Taylor said.“Spending five minutes to address something specific is so much better than popping into a random class where things are moving quickly, you’re looking around, trying to keep up with what other students are doing. It’s not going to serve you.”
How long you spend on the mat doesn’t matter as much as getting to the mat on a regular basis. “Consistency is key,” Taylor said. “Doing a little bit every day is going to help you so much more than doing one random yoga class a week.”
Whether you’re in a studio, or on your own at home, it’s easy to get caught up in pushing to achieve some ideal expression of a posture. “There’s this perception of what a stretch should look like,” said Taylor. But it’s better to focus on moving slowly and safely into a posture with proper alignment, while tuning into how your body is moving, and the sensations you’re experiencing while you’re in the posture. “It’s important to slow things down enough that you can really improve our awareness in our body and respond accordingly,” she said. Use a mirror to observe how your body moves and maintain proper form, and correct imbalances. Remember, yoga is meant to be a restorative practice to help aid your recovery. When you slow down, you can feel little tweaks and issues that you didn’t know were there. “It’s not a contest,” said Taylor.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
It’s the most powerful tool that you have, as it can help you focus and relax at the same time, which will help you perform your best no matter the task, said Taylor. The pace and ease of your breath also clues you in to your level of effort. Many people inadvertently hold their breath when they’re pushing the pace or the distance, which only keeps their body from working efficiently. “If you can practice using our breath to focus and calm ourselves on the mat, you’re more likely to do that in the last few moments of a race,” she said.