Yoga is all about lying on the floor and chanting ‘om’, right? If you are a runner and love to push yourself to your physical limit, you may well think yoga is a waste of time. However many running injuries are linked to a lack of flexibility, misalignment and instability in the core, all of which can be improved by a regular yoga practice.
I'm not saying you should ditch your Saturday morning 10k for a 90 minute yoga class, but how about incorporating some restorative poses into your post-run stretch?
Here are five all-rounders to open your hips and shoulders, and stretch out the fronts and backs of your legs, back, neck, knees and feet:
Benefits: downward facing dog will stretch your hamstrings and calves, lengthen your back muscles and begin to open your shoulders and upper arms.
Method: begin in a table top position on hands and knees, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
On an exhale, turn your toes under, lift your knees and push your hips up and back so that there is a straight line from your wrists to your hips.
Engage your quads and stretch your heels back towards the mat.
Keep a slight bend in the knees if your hamstrings are tight.
Take five full breaths here, moving your shoulder blades down your back and rolling your upper arms out to achieve broadness across the thoracic spine.
Come down to rest for a few breaths in balasana (child's pose).
Benefits: Parsvottanasana is a strong stretch for the hamstrings. It opens the lower back and shoulders and requires core stability to maintain.
Method: from standing, step your right foot forward and left foot back so that there is roughly a leg’s length between your feet, right foot facing straight ahead, left foot turned out 45 degrees.
Hips should be square and facing the front of the mat.
Align your left and right heel.
Take hold of opposite elbows behind your back, rolling your shoulders back and taking an inhale.
On the exhales, fold forward from your hips, maintaining length in your spine and going only as far as you can without curving your upper back.
Take two full breaths here then inhale and come halfway up, lengthening forward then folding again on the exhale to deepen the stretch.
If your hamstrings are short, keep your front leg slightly bent.
Come back up to standing slowly, on an inhale. Repeat with the left leg in front.
Benefits: a spinal twist so will stretch the muscles of your back and neck and will open your chest and shoulders. It will also stretch your calves, hamstrings and hips and requires core stability.
Method: use the same feet to hip position as in the previous pose, Parsvottanasana (in fact you can do both poses on the right side first and then the left side).
Rest your right hand on your right hip, inhale and reach your left arm up high, lengthening through your spine.
Draw your thighs up and your lower abs in to support your back, exhale and hinge forward from your hips, then rotate your torso and bring your left hand to rest on your right shin.
If you have rotated far enough so that your shoulders are vertically aligned, float your right arm straight up and look to your fingertips.
If you have neck pain, look to the floor.
Take five full breaths.
To exit, exhale and look to the floor, engage your lower abs, inhale and come up slowly. Repeat on the left side.
Benefits: Garudasana will stretch your shoulders, arms and upper back while Virasana will stretch your thighs, knees and feet. If you feel pain in your knees while in the pose, it is best to avoid it.
Method: start in a table top position, tuck toes under and sit back on your heels with your hands on your thighs.
If you don't feel the stretch in your thighs, lean back a little.
Raise your right arm in front of your body with a 90 degree bend in the elbow, bring your left arm underneath your right, curl it around and press your palms together.
Raise your elbows to increase the stretch.
Check your posture, ensuring your ribs are drawn in, navel moving towards spine and shoulder blades moving down your back.
Take five full breaths before changing the cross of your arms and repeating.
Benefits: a deep hip opener, this pose can be uncomfortable to hold at first but, persevere (as long as you have no pain in the knees in which case avoid altogether) because it will become easier and is a delicious stretch. It also stretches the hip flexor of the straight leg and is a gentle back bend.
Method: approach from downwards facing dog.
Lift your right leg high behind you, opening the hips, then bend right leg and bring it through to rest towards the front of the mat, making sure your knee is positioned to the edge of the mat.
Sit up straight, using your hands to support a slight puff of the upper chest, adjusting your hips so they are square.
To deepen the stretch, slowly fold forward over your bent front leg until your forehead and arms rest on the mat.
Try to completely let go and breathe deeply into any feelings of tension in your hips.
Start by holding for five breaths before you push back up to downwards facing dog and repeating on the left side, but you can lengthen the time you spend in the pose as it becomes more comfortable.
Happy running. Namaste.
I like the 'pigeon' pose (never heard it called that before though!). It is great for hip flexors and keeps my hips and back feeling looser after a run.