Running and Yoga are in many ways polar opposites, which is one reason why I have always found them to be the perfect combination for a happy healthy life. I have been running for over 30 years, and it is a sport that has changed my life in many ways. Often when I run, I forget I am running, don’t notice the ever present pounding, the extreme exertion, or the massive amount of sweat. It is as if I am floating. I also become aware of my own athleticism as I push beyond my limits; it is an extremely invigorating feeling. Endorphins are flowing, warm air brushing against the skin, the sound of the pebbles under foot, and the sweetness of running just a little bit faster than the day before.
I tried yoga for the first time almost 20 years ago and loved it from the first breath. I found yoga to be a wonderful compliment to running; quite, calm, meditative. It stretches tight muscles, helps improve breathing, and encourages mindfulness. In yoga, the movements are soft; and the breath is timeless, connecting one to the divine.
As a running coach and a yoga instructor, I find that my running students usually embrace yoga and its many benefits; I can’t however say that the yogis I know necessarily embrace running. Over the years, several of my yoga teachers have actually warned against the dangers of running, it will ruin your joints, shorten your life, and compromise your yoga practice. Why, I have always wondered can’t yogis embrace their students who run?
There are a lot of misconceptions about running. Studies have proven that runners have a lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. We carry less fat, have better bone density, improved mental health and usually have a healthier diet than non-runners. A Boston University of Medicine study discovered that running stimulated cartilage in order to repair damage, and increasing the production of certain proteins which actually make the knees stronger. So, turns out that running is actually good for the knees. In addition, a 2008 study found that runners have a 25% lower incidence of arthritis than non-runners. The evidence is in, running is officially healthy!
In the second sutra of The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, he tells us that “Yoga is stilling of the changing states of the mind.” Stilling the mind is a very challenging endeavor. The average person has almost 60,000 thoughts per day, the mind is constantly moving from one thought to the next with a seemingly endless string of randomness. I most often find that running slows down my thoughts, makes each thought more clear and meaningful. I have had some of my clearest moments during a run. Experts believe that of those 60,000 thoughts, up to 80% can be negative. Many runners find that the exhilarating feeling of running tends to lead to more positive thoughts while on a run and even after the run.
Yoga studios and clubs are finding more and more runners and athletes attending classes. Yoga teachers, please welcome runners into your classes; we can be some of your best customers. If you loosen our hips in class on Friday, I guarantee after a Saturday morning long run, we will need those same hip openers again. Yoga students, if someone sits next to you in class with extremely toned legs, wearing a race t-shirt, please be kind and patient, chances are we aren’t getting anywhere near the floor in Uttanasana (forward fold) and our heels are several inches off the floor in down dog. Welcome a runner into your yoga class, and chances are they will come back again and again because runners are extremely loyal and once we find something we like, we stick with it. I know that yoga joins the many into one, so I will continue to move forward on my quest to unite runners and yogis.