Why do I run, when it ruins my yoga?

Just the other day when I was teaching a class, I compared doing an hour and a half of yoga to that of running 9 miles. Now anyone who has ever run 9 miles is thinking it’s an over statement, and maybe it is, but I shall explain my line of thinking. All things fitness that seem impossible had their start in the “I can’t do that” vocabulary. But they eventually move towards more of the poker language “I’ll see your 10 pull-ups and add 2”, or “I’ll see your 5 miles and add 5 more.” It’s how you get to the crazy idea of running a marathon. The day that you go out for a run and 10 seems easy is the day you start thinking a 1/2 marathon at 13 miles might not be so bad. For all the people who tell me they can’t do yoga because they can’t touch their toes I just want to say “Well, I couldn’t run a marathon either, until I trained for it.”

Runners tend to gravitate towards my classes and teaching style, for one main reason : I don’t chastise them for being runners. If anything, I praise them for it and ask them when their next race is. I also incorporate a lot of great poses that deal with runner specific over-use injuries. But I also don’t sugar coat it with runners. The truth is, running will not make your physical practice of asana better, but yoga will definitely make your running better, physically speaking. As long as runners can make peace with that idea, it will make it a whole lot easier to push through 1st series ashtanga yoga for 90 minutes. You are bound to be tight, but without yoga you will only get tighter and probably experience more injuries that will sideline you.

So my comparing 90 mins of ashtanga yoga to 90 minutes of running was to make the point that they both take about the same amount of time to accomplish, and that during both you will have to overcome the quitter’s mind. That during 90 minutes of either activity you are probably going to wonder “What was I thinking to do 90 minutes of yoga/running.” Something is going to hurt, some posture, or mile is going to be brutal, and you might start to lose your motivation. When doing anything physical you are going to run up against that voice in your head that is the pessimist, the nay-sayer, the weakling. This is where running and yoga are similar. They are both a battle of the mind, more than a battle of the body. Your body can do just about anything. Hence the reason why the New York City Marathon has 50,000 competitors , the Marine Corp has 30,000 and the Chicago marathon has 40,000, just to name a few. 1% of those people are competing against each other, while the other 99% are competing against the weakest version of their self. The nay-sayer voice that around mile 16 loves to tell you, “You can’t do it.”, is the same voice in yoga that will try to tell you you can’t come up out of a backbend either. The voice is the same, it comes from the same place and can be put to rest the same way no matter if it’s running or yoga. As my teacher, Tim Miller, likes to say “Experience is the remover of doubt.” Every time I run 5 miles, it erases the doubt that I can’t run 6. Every time I run 6, it erases the doubt that I can’t do 7. This can carry on until the 26th mile is finished.

This is how I see the similarities between running 9 miles and ashtanga yoga; the surya namaskars are equivalent to the first mile of any run you go on. It’s the warm up mile, where you find your legs and the rhythm of your breathing. The standing poses are equivalent to a 5k (3 miles), it’s enough of a run on a busy day. The seated postures, up to Marichyasana are equal to about 5 miles. Right in the heart of what are commonly called the speed pump poses in ashtanga there is navasana, bhujapidasana, kurmasana. These are like mile 6, where you start second guessing yourself, and this crazy idea of staying fit. Mile 7 of a 9 mile run starts to smooth out just a bit as you start thinking you’re in the home stretch. Just like the poses baddha konasana, upavishta konasana, and supta padangsthasana do in yoga. You might think backbends are mile 9, but they are only mile 8, you must save enough energy after backbends to complete your inversions and come in strong to savasana. Savasana is equivalent to the cool down after a long run. I can tell you from experience, you don’t just sit down after a long run, or you will quickly stiffen up. You will struggle just to get your shoes off later, if you don’t incorporate a good cool down. Savasana is necessary and so is a good cool down walk after a long run.

Around mile 19 of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Around mile 19 of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

I think this is why for years now I have loved practicing ashtanga yoga, and I continue to be a runner. I was a runner long before I was a yogi – I am a distance runner at heart. I like the rhythm of my breathing, I like the rhythm of my legs and arms working together, and I love how my pessimistic mind doesn’t win out. Most runs and most yoga practices I conquer my negativity. I push through the rough spots and I always come out on the other end better for it. Running may be making my yoga practice harder, tighter, but I know that what I conquer while running makes me a better yogi in mental capacity. While yoga makes me a better runner in physical capacity. There is no doubt in my mind that they both make me better spiritually. Staring down your weakness has a profound way of changing you.

Not once in 4 marathons have I hit the infamous “wall” (Mile 21), which in no way means I’m discrediting it. I just happen to run slow enough and have conditioned my mind enough into an “I can” attitude over “I can’t.” Plus to be honest I haven’t run a single marathon trying to beat another person, or a previous time. Simply put, I run them just for the sake of finishing and for once more tackling my inner demons that love to tell me “No”. I remove my doubts by doing the things that I thought couldn’t be done.

Crossing the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon, May 2010

Crossing the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon, May 2010

So if you’re a runner and haven’t yet tried yoga, I strongly advise you do. Now! Put on your running shoes and head straight over to a studio near you. If you can, find Ashtanga yoga. I think you will like the similarities I just mentioned. I am not telling you it will be easy. I’m being completely honest telling you it’s hard. Running tightens you, it’s gonna be brutal, but it will save you from injuries and even burn-out. It will also give your running longevity. I foresee myself being a runner for just as long as I am a yogi. This is good place to insert my favorite Forrest Gump quote and no it’s not “Run Forest, Run.”, it’s “We was like peas and carrots.” For me, yoga is the peas and running is the carrots. Let’s see if this works “Do yoga, Forest, do yoga!” Nope, it doesn’t work, but I hope I have made my point.

Postures I suggest for runners:
Supta padangustasana (reclining hand to toe pose) – One of the best stretches for the hamstrings
Virsasana/Supta virsasna if appropriate (Hero’s pose. reclining hero’s) – for the quads and shins. If you recline in this one it is great for the psoas
Gomukasana (Cow face pose)- for the external hip rotators
Malasana (Garland pose) – for the lower back and feet
Halasana (Plough pose) – for the upper back and hamstrings
Agni Stambhasana (Fire log pose)- for the glutes and IT band.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward bow pose)- for the whole front body. Modify it by lying over a stability ball – it is just as good for you.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Why do I run, when it ruins my yoga?

  1. I stumbled on this post at the exact right time in my life. Thank you! Everything you said about the similarities between running & yoga are so true in my case! It was like you read my mind.

    I have been practicing yoga since 1998, Ashtanga since 2001. I have been dedicated to my yoga practice to the exclusion of all other activities until 2 years ago when I decided I would take up running again (I had been an avid runner in my late teens). I realize now my biggest mistake was running at the expense of my yoga. My excuse was I was so tired from running 30+ miles per week, I didn’t have the energy to tackle the primary series… So I let my yoga slip.

    During those 18 months of running, I suffered the expected IT problems, but also achilles bursitis and eventually a serious stress fracture in my right foot. After the fracture hit (June 2013) I decided to stop running and return 100% to Ashtanga. I was tight at first, but after a couple of weeks, I found myself right back where I left off.

    But, almost 7 months later, I discovered I am dying to run again. I miss the freedom of hitting the trail and feeling the sun on my neck, the sound of my breathing, and the easy way that my thoughts drift in and out. So, I’m working out a plan that will cut back the insane miles I was pushing before into something not only more manageable, but will make sense for my yoga practice.

    I don’t want to sacrifice yoga for running, because as you said: yoga only improves your running. I’m considering running 2-3 times per week, incorporating walking and running instead of just running, and the rest of the day carrying on with my primary series – business as usual.

    I guess what I want to hear is that running is not going to take away from my yoga, but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it. In fact, I’d love to hear that my yoga won’t suffer… but tell me the truth! I can take it!


    • Sorry for the late response. I know exactly how you feel. Running is difficult to walk away from, if it’s in your heart. Since I ruptured a disc in my back about 6 years ago I never run more than 4 days a week, and only 4 when I am training for something. Otherwise I stick with running 3 days a week, I also ride my bike, row and sometimes rollerblade. I just believe in moving whenever you can with whatever means makes you happy. Running will always cause you to tighten up, but it’s manageable. The longer miles have a worse affect. I stick with distances between 3 and 6. I never go over that unless again I’m training for a race. I have myself been considering taking a year off from running to see if I can finally achieve Viparitta Chakrasana. I have attempted taking a running break before, but just like you I eventually miss it. So all in all I try and go with what feels right and I am not too hard on myself about whichever way it is that I’m leaning – whether it is more running or less. Enjoy what you do, that is the greatest reason to do anything. I’m so glad you enjoyed my writing, people like you are what help me put my thoughts out there, so thank you very much for sharing.
      Namaste and happy trails!

      • Thanks for getting back to me! Since writing this comment, I’ve been working on running a single mile again. A tough pill to swallow after so many long miles! But, I’ve taken it as an opportunity to learn and grow as opposed to a time to feel frustrated. I like your method of sticking between 3 and 6 miles. My goal is to get a few 5ks under my belt. Last year, I ran a few races, but each one was with an injury and I just feel like I need to give myself that “gift” of running a race and feeling good. I have been running 3 days a week, yoga 4 days, and it seems to be ok so far. The only effect at this point is a little stiffness of my knees in the Marichyasana grouping. That’s ok! I have the tools to work through it (mentally & emotionally more than physically).

        My fall project was to work on Eka Pada Galavasana. I’m finally feeling that leg flying higher and higher, and little victories like that remind me that everything has to be in balance — running, yoga, legs, arms and chest.

        Thanks for sharing with me! And You have definitely gotten yourself a new reader! Namaste 🙂

  2. Sorry I’m taking over this post! But, I wanted to check in! I need some advice: I’m having a hernia repaired next week; the doctor told me 1 week before I can run, 2 weeks before yoga. As a yoga instructor, can you give me some idea on how to get back to yoga after my surgery? I’m guessing I should go easy on twists & backbends until I’m fully recovered, but…? I’m open to any and all insight you may have!


    • Sorry for late reply. We are in the middle of moving. Sorry to hear that you have to have surgery. I healed my back the log slow way after an L5/S1 rupture so I never had surgery. I would expect your return to running to be long and slow as well. Walking prob right away. Build back up into your running I took to biking way more during my recovery. It took me a year and a half before I was back to running, but again I opted out of surgery. My yoga practice was back to full tilt in about 6 months. Backbends are always more healing than forward bends with slipped or ruptured disc. Forwrad bending is usually when a slip will happen and will continue to create compression on a slip. People are very afraid of backbends but they have immense healing benefits. Most people have weak backs and bad posture which will make matters worse. runners tend to have very tight hip flexors which will pull the pelvis forward and create more compression. Work on those hip flexors with all sorts of backward movements. Anjaneyasana is great for all runners. Scar tissue will develop after surgery so best plan is movement, whatever movement works and feels good. Twisting is very therapeutic for the sinovial fluid that helps keep the disc spongey and healthy. Dr.’s do not always understand what yoga is and how it can be done safely but definitely listen to him until he releases you to return to your normal activities. Good luck. I know back issues are a bummer, and back pain is a nightmare. Stay positive and experiment with the asanas until you find the best one’s for you. But try to not shy away from back bending asanas.

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