Yoga and running, for me, have a double effect on both my physical and mental states. They feed off each other, and have done for me what nothing else has been able to in terms of managing my stress levels and staying fit.
On a physical level, yoga has helped open my body, releasing the muscles I tend to carry my stress in (primarily hips, neck and shoulders). Since I don’t have a lot of time to exercise, yoga has also been my primary form of strength training. It’s amazing how strong my upper body and core have become because of my yoga practice.
On a more psychological and emotional level, yoga has helped me relax my mind when it gets too “busy”. It has also helped me manage the panic attacks I tend to get when the stress becomes too much. By noticing the changes in my breath and heart beat that precede one of these attacks, I can use the more restorative poses and breathing techniques to keep the panic from being as severe. And many times, I am able to avoid having an attack at all.
With running, I initially weaved it into my routine because I needed to get more cardio and lose a few pounds. I chose running because it was the most convenient, since I could run while the kids were at their various activities…all I needed was my shoes. I knew running could help me meet my physical goals, but I never expected that it could help me manage my stress. When I’m running outside, breathing in the fresh air (well, SOMETIMES it’s not so fresh, but we won’t go there in today’s blog), focusing on my pace, my form and my breath, I can’t help but relax. It’s a great outlet for me when I get that “nervous energy”, when I can’t seem to sit still either mentally or physically. It never fails me…after every run, I feel more relaxed, confident and “quiet”. I don’t even need music anymore. I just enjoy listening to the sounds around me…noisy cars and all.
Yoga and running complement each other very well, in my opinion. Here are some key benefits I’ve experienced by combining running and yoga:
- Strength and flexibility: Since running can add extra pressure on the joints, using yoga helps me stretch properly after my runs, keeping my leg and pelvis muscles flexible. Also, yoga is an excellent way for me to cross-train, as it helps me strengthen my muscles in the lateral directions they don’t move in when running.
- Breathing: Yoga teaches breath awareness, and practicing the various breathing techniques helps to increase lung capacity. This translates into a more efficient and healthy run for me, as I feel much more in control when I’m breathing properly.
- Balance: Running and yoga both develop core strength and postural awareness. A strong core and good posture are crucial to improving or maintaining balance, which can diminish as you age.
- Resistance: The cardiovascular improvements I’ve gained from my running have helped me build up my stamina and endurance, which are crucial when I practice the more active “power” yoga.
- Mental and physical focus: When I am holding postures for a long time, it forces me to be focus on my breath and how my body feels, which helps me stay centered. This is critical now that I am running longer distances, as long distance running requires mental (as well as physical) focus and discipline.
- Stress relief: Both yoga and running force me to be in the moment and to “let it go”, so it’s impossible for me to worry about all the things going on when I am doing either of these activities.
For me personally, I find that yoga and running are all I need to keep me mentally and physically fit. I do love to ride my bike as well, so I use that as a back-up cardio activity about once a week.
Right now, my schedule goes something like this:
- Monday: Rest Day, but I usually at least walk the dogs for a mile or two.
- Tuesday: Run with my running group at 5:30 a.m. We usually work on speed work or hills during these runs.
- Wednesday: A little bit of Power Yoga and Spinning/Biking.
- Thursday: Run at 5:15 a.m. with one of my running buddies. We usually do an easy run of about 4-5 miles. On Thursday evening, I attend a Deep Stretch yoga class, so I can work on releasing my connective tissues and joints.
- Friday: Yin/Yang Fusion Yoga at 5:15 a.m.
- Saturday: If I’m not teaching, I get my long run in first thing in the morning, then try and make it to a Power Yoga class. If I am teaching, I usually have to push my long run to be on Sunday.
- Sunday: If I didn’t get my long run in on Saturday, then I do it on Sunday first thing. Then I try and make to a Power Yoga class before going to teach my two classes.
Sometimes I have to tweak things, depending on “life stuff”, but for the most part, my routine is pretty regular. My Type A personality does much better when I have my routine planned out, which helps me handle stress much better as well. So I try not to switch things up too much.
What about you? What do you do when things get stressful? I’d love to know what activities you use to help you stay stress-free. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing here, e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.