2. Find a Teacher Who Understands Athletes
The ancient Hindus might be pleased to find yoga classes at nearly any gym these days. But you should choose your class carefully, Rountree warns.
“Sometimes you pick a class because the time that works for your schedule. But you might find yourself in a hot flow class for starters, and that might not be your best match,” she says. “Introductory, Level 1 classes are good for bringing you up to speed not just on what to do it and how to do it, but also why.”
You can follow along with yoga classes online, but Rountree recommends taking a class in person at least every once in awhile to keep your practice fresh, when you can do so safely. In-person classes also allow a teacher to help you make adjustments. Most importantly, do your due diligence with who the teacher is and how they teach, she says. “Not every yoga teacher will understand an athlete’s body.”
3. Practice Regularly
It’s better to spend a little bit of time, 15 minutes or so nearly every day, practicing yoga than “bingeing on one 90-minute class once a week,” Rountree says.
4. Learn to Tune In and Zoom Out
The more you practice yoga, the more awareness you gain of your body and your breathing.
“There’s a constant checking-in during practice: ‘How am I supporting myself?’ ‘How could I do it better?’” Heiling says.
By focusing on your breathing in each posture, “You learn to focus on something other than the discomfort you are feeling in the moment. That’s the point. You’re supposed to be in discomfort. I’ve never PR’d in a race where I felt comfortable. But yoga helps you zoom out mentally, to focus on your breath rather than on your discomfort.”
5. Enjoy Learning to Be Comfortable
There’s also a time to let it all go. Overachieving Type A athletes who are accustomed to pushing themselves may have the most to gain from yoga. You learn to lie still on your back at the end of practice and just breathe.
“As runners, we’re experienced with feeling discomfort, but it takes skill to be still,” says Rountree.
Adds Heilig: “If you’re doing high-intensity training, you have to have a shut-off valve. You need all those chemicals to leave your system so your body can do some repair work.”
Is it worth all that time on your mat? No question, says Heilig. She has run 17 marathons and six ultramarathons, and, at age 39, she says, “I’ve never been this healthy or this strong. I love the sport, and I don’t feel burnout. Yoga is such a small investment to keep you in it for the long run.”
[This article was updated on August 24, 2020]
By Lisa Watts. Lisa started running nearly 40 years ago in college to clear her head. Seven marathons, countless half marathons, and a few two-day relays later, she still swears by early morning runs to sort things out. It’s even better when a few friends come along for the miles.