Yoga For Runners
As most of you know, I am a devoted yogini. What some of you may not know is that I was a PRO track athlete for twelve years.
I ran for one of the best clubs in Vancouver (well the one that has produced the most champions) under a coach who taught me the foundations of what it meant to be a great runner. When my career ended abruptly due to knee injury, I was devastated and it took me years to process the fact that the Divine had another path for me to follow.
This was my first lesson in surrender.
Over the years and especially during times of ‘spiritual crisis’ where I stepped away from my yoga practice, I came back to running (distant running, not competitive) and this has been my saving grace, my form of meditation and it has been my loyal best friend keeping me company when I lived in strange countries, holding my hand through my darkest moments and revealing to me, my truest nature.
Deep, I know. I am sure that many of my runners out there feel the same way.
I did not realize the power of unifying my yoga practice with my running practice but in doing so, I have, without knowing, protected my joints and body and have given myself the mental space to be able to run farther, faster and harder than I ever had before.
Here are some of my favourite poses to help you become a stronger, faster and more agile runner:
1. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) - Stand with your legs 3 ft apart right toes pointing forward, left toes in at 45 degrees, both legs straight. Raise your arms up to shoulder height, take a deep breath and reach your right fingertips forward in space. Bend at the waist and hold your right big toe, ankel or shin raising your left hand to the sky and gaze at your left fingertips.
Hold for 10-20 Breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
2. Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III) - Straighten both legs and firmly plant your left foot into the mat. Raise your right leg so that it is parallel to your hip, keeping both hips aligned. Straighten your arms and hold them out in front of you in prayer or folded at your heart.
Hold for 5-10 breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Crescent Moon Pose (Anjanyeasana) - Come into a lunge pose bringing your left knee down to the mat and your right leg at 90 degrees. Extend at the waist, straighten your arms and place your hands in prayer. Inhale as you bring your arms and hands over your head, stretching your hip flexor and abdomen.
Hold for 10-20 breaths and repeat on the oppositie side.
4. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) - Bring your right shin parallel to the front of your mat with your ankel flexed and your right sit bone to the mat. Stretch your left leg and toes toward the back of the mat and square your pelvis. Breathe here until your hip begins to open and then lean forward resting your chest on your shin or as far down as possible.
Hold for 25-50 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
5. Cow Face/Shoelace Pose (Gomukhasana) - Sit on your right sit bone bringing your right leg over your left leg (like a shoelace), stacking your knees, whilst flexing both ankels. Lengthen your spine and breath into your outer hips.
Hold for 15-20 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
With regular practice of these yoga asanas, you will notice your tendons, ligaments and joints strengthen, improved flexibility and a better quality of muscle tissue which will greatly improve your running form and time.
Asana of the Week: Urdva Dhanurasana - Upward Facing Bow Pose
Expansive, limitless, liberating, I can literally feel my heart space expand as I inhale and exhale in Urdva Dhanurasana. Yogis before us have deemed this asana the one which stimulates all chakras.
Urdva Dhanurasana is one of hatha yoga’s complete poses and what I love is that I can simply practice this pose at any point in time in my day to align myself with my breath, intention and subtle body. It is perfect for days when you are unable to get a full practice in, yet like a full practice, has the power to evoke the feeling of coming home or complete surrender.
For complete instructions for how to perform Urdva Dhanurasana please click here.
On a personal level, I use this pose daily, to work deeply with my intentions. I truly feel that the vulnerability of this asana, exposes and diminishes traces of the ego that work counterintuitively with my truth and I appreciate the wisdom that it brings me.
The Sacred Sun Salutation - Surya Namaskar A
For those of you who are unfamiliar with yoga, the Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskar as it is referred to in Sanskrit, is traditionally a worship of the Sun deity giving thanks and gratitude for the warmth, light and prana (life force) that it graciously provides.
The Sun Salutation is a moving meditation linked with breath. Each pose or movement begins with an inhale or exhale and remains succinct in a 12 pose flow sequence as shown in the diagram.
The sun salutation is a beautiful way to greet your day as it stimulates the chakra energy centers of the body and heightens awareness and connection with oneself and the divine energy. It is normally practiced first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and serves to warm and release any tension in the body, energizes the mind and offers spiritual upliftment.
I have practiced this daily for as long as I can remember and it has a profound effect on my psyche each day. During dark days when I am feeling especially emotional or vulnerable or even through days of overcoming addiction, this practice helped me to engage in mindfulness and supported me in ways that nothing else could.
I would encourage you, whether you are ‘into’ yoga or not, to try this beautiful yet, simple, ancient practice as it will help you to cultivate your own sense of devotion to whatever it is speaks to your heart. If you are in a moment of darkness, practice a few rounds of Sun Salutation and your feelings will most certainly pass or you will gain greater clarity and less attachment to the feelings.
Step By Step:
(info from yogajournal.com)
1. To begin, stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Distribute your weight evenly over both feet. Establish a slow, steady rhythm for your breath. Find your center.
2. Next, inhale and stretch your arms out to the side and overhead into Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute). Reach your heart and arms to the heavens, sending your greeting to the sun.
3. As you exhale, hollow out your belly and fold into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), connecting down into the earth. Keep your legs firmly engaged.
4. Inhale and lengthen your spine forward into Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend). In this pose, the gaze is lifted, the spine is extended, and the fingertips can stay on the floor or rise to the shins.
5. Exhale and step or lightly hop your feet back behind you into Plank Pose. Your wrists should be flat on the floor, shoulder-distance apart, and your feet should be at hip distance. Take a full breath in as you lengthen through your spine.
6. Exhale and lower into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), keeping your legs straight and pushing back into your heels or bringing your knees to the floor. Build heat in the center of your body as you hold this challenging posture.
7. Inhale and carve your chest forward into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog), directing that energy out from your heart. Pull your shoulders back and open your collarbones. Engage your legs but relax your gluteal muscles.
8. Exhale and roll over the toes, coming into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Ground down through your hands and feet as you lengthen your spine. Remain here for five breaths.
9. On your fifth exhale, bend your knees and look between your hands. Then inhale and step or lightly hop your feet between your hands, returning to Ardha Uttanasana.
10. Exhale back to Uttanasana, surrendering into the fold.
11. Inhale, reaching your arms out wide to your sides and coming to stand through a flat back. Feel a renewed sense of energy as you draw your arms overhead into Urdhva Hastasana.
12. Exhale and return to Tadasana, your home base. Remain here for a few breaths, feeling the movement of energy through your body, or continue on to your next salute.
Me and one of my mentors, the lovely Kino MacGregor, after completing the Primary Ashtanga Series today!
It was an incredible feeling to practice with someone I have looked up to in my practice for many years. What stood out to me the most was the simplicity of her direction and count. Many teachers today incorporate their own styles and trademarks into the classical series which is wonderful and definitely serves a purpose but for me, just practicing in silence with the traditional Sanskrit counts helped me find my single-pointed focus and I was deeply engaged. Kino offered the richness of a traditional Ashtanga practice, which I plan to bring more of into my own daily practice from now on.
See my post on Ashtanga Yoga for more details.
Ashtanga Primary Series
Today I had the absolute pleasure of workshopping the Ashtanga Primary Series with one of my mentors Kino MacGregor:
Kino MacGregor is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. The youngest woman to hold this title, she has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series. Kino spent seven years working with her true teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (“Guruji”), on her frequent trips to India.
Kino is dedicated to carrying the torch of Ashtanga yoga throughout the world and sharing the amazing tradition of Ashtanga yoga with everyone who is inspired to practice. In her unique, inspirational and playful approach Kino helps all her students expand and deepen their understanding of yoga and life. Yoga found its expression through her message of spiritual strength, balanced flexibility and emotional peace.
Nearly a hundred students packed together at the Semperviva City Studio as Kino led breath count and a mysore style traditional Ashtanga practice. It felt incredible. It was as if the entire room was breathing together and I could really feel the tradition emanating from her brief instruction.
Ashtanga yoga is the style that I most frequently practice and have done so for the last ten years of my practice. I studied a mysore practice in India and in London and now practice Vinyasa Yoga which is based upon the Ashtanga Primary Series.
The practice of Ashtanga yoga is not only an physical asana practice but a spiritual discipline based on the philosophies of the Yoga Sutras. I have been fortunate to study the sutras both in Sanskrit, Tibetan and English through my teachers at my yoga ashram in the Bahamas, where I retreat each year for intense practice and study and in doing so, my physical practice has been strengthened as it is now dedicated to a higher purpose. I appreciate that yoga is considered a physical practice in the West and that it attracts many to its door because of that; however, I would encourage you who do practice to delve deeper into the philosophy if it calls to you as there is so much richness in the pages of the books, pastimes and stories of this rich philosophy.
As you will come to learn through practice, Ashtanga yoga is a very strong and intensive practice used to control the fluctuations of the mind. One of my teachers, teachers, often refers to yoga as “the end of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs” and this is the definition that rings most true for me.
Ashtanga Yoga Background
(info from Ashtanga.com)
Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript “said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy”.
The text of the Yoga Korunta “was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927” Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga yoga from his yoga shala, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, according to the sacred tradition of Guru Parampara [disciplic succession].
Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
- Yama [moral codes]
- Niyama [self-purification and study]
- Asana [posture]
- Pranayama [breath control]
- Pratyahara [sense control]
- Dharana [concentration]
- Dhyana [meditation]
- Samadhi [absorption into the Universal]
The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable.
However, defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana—are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35). For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the “Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga” (Flynn).
“The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated from the heat of vinyasa then carries the impurities out of the body. Through the use of vinyasa, the body becomes healthy, light and strong (“Ashtanga Yoga”).
Whilst practicing Ashtanga yoga, one must observe
- Tristhana: the union of “three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place.
- Posture or Asana ”the method for purifying and strengthening the body
- Breathing - the technique performed with vinyasa is called ujjayi or victorious breath
- Bandhas are essential components of the ujjayi breathing technique. Bandha means “lock” or “seal” (Scott 21). The purpose of bandha is to unlock pranic energy and direct it into the 72,000 nadi [energy channels] of the subtle body.
- Dristhi - the gazing point on which one focuses while performing the asana (“Ashtanga Yoga”).
Practicing asana for many years with correct vinyasa and tristhana gives the student the clarity of mind, steadiness of body, and purification of the nervous system to begin the prescribed pranayama practice (Flynn). “Through the practice of pranayama, the mind becomes arrested in a single direction and follows the movement of the breath” (Jois 2002 23). Pranayama forms the foundation for the internal cleansing practices of Ashtanga yoga(Flynn).
The four internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi—bring the mind under control. When purification is complete and mind control occurs, the Six Poisons surrounding the spiritual heart [kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (sloth), and mada(envy)]—”will, one by one, go completely”, revealing the Universal Self. In this way, the correct, diligent practice of
Ashtanga Yoga under the direction of a Guru “with a subdued mind unshackled from the external and internal sense organs” (Jois 2002 22) eventually leads one to the full realization of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga.