Tuesday, July 3, 2018

How Yoga Helps Me Run: My Yoga Journey

This is an update of a post I prepared several years ago. You may also have seen this as a guest post on Jill Conyers' blog. I have since revised and updated the content. 

On my blog, I write mostly about running. I've been a runner for over 25 years. But I've also practiced yoga for over 20 years. I truly believe that runners can't live on miles alone. Be it yoga, pilates, or strength training, a well-rounded runner is a healthy runner!

I share a lot of yoga on my social media channels. If you think about it, what goes together better than running and yoga? Peanut butter and jelly? Bacon and eggs? Milk and cookies? Hugs and kisses? Fred and Ginger? Yin and yang? Stop me, I'm on a roll...



All joking aside, I can't really talk about how yoga helped my running without sharing my yoga journey. Initially, I started practicing yoga to help recover from the birth of my oldest son, who is now almost 21 years old. After his birth I was really anxious--I probably had some post-partum depression--and found that doing yoga in the evenings helped me relax. I started out using a Kathy Smith video for beginners. I'm not very coordinated and using a basic video like this really helped me slow down and learn the poses, and gave me the confidence to take the next step--attending a live yoga class.

My first ever live yoga class was a park district class. I was intimidated by the idea of going to a yoga studio and the park district class was about as low key as it gets. I recruited a group of neighborhood ladies to join me. There wasn't a lot of hands-on instruction and no ambiance--the class was held in a meeting room complete with bright overhead fluorescent lighting--but we learned all the basic poses. After that experience, I felt more confident and wanted to continue yoga. A friend and I found a Pilates studio in a nearby town that also had some yoga classes and signed up for a weekly hatha yoga class.


Hatha yoga, as practiced in the Western world, is simply a series of poses, or asanas that are timed with the breath. Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for breath control. By moving on the breath, the poses flow and balance the body. The breath also relaxes the mind. Learning to control your breathing has huge benefits for runners. Rhythmic breathing, according to an article in Runners World, can help prevent injury.


I find myself using yogic breathing while running, especially on a tough run. Focusing on the breath helps bring me back to my run, and I am able to return to a rhythm, both with my breathing and my running. I also use breathing techniques to get rid of a side stitch, which commonly occurs in runners. By exhaling on the opposite side/foot, I can usually chase it away. Followers of my blog know that I struggle with foot issues, especially on my left side. I find that when I'm tired, I come down too hard on that foot. By exhaling on the opposite foot, I can adjust the load and usually rebalance my stride. What's really great is that after doing yoga all these years, focusing on the breathing and adjusting the breath comes naturally to me.

After practicing Hatha yoga for some time, my friend and I got up the courage to go to a "real" yoga studio. At that time, the only class the studio offered that fit into my schedule was an Ashtanga yoga class. Completely unaware of what was in store for us, my friend and I got on our mats and followed the instructor's lead. Halfway through the class, we were dripping with sweat and exhausted. This was a very serious, focused, athletic class. On the ride home, my unhappy friend would barely talk to me. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic and hooked.


Ashtanga yoga is a very athletic practice of yoga. Like Hatha yoga, the poses and the breath are synchronized. The poses are all familiar to anyone who has done yoga. But that's where the similarities end. The class begins with a series of sun salutations to warm up the body prior to beginning the practice. Each pose is held for 5 breaths, followed by a vinyasa. Each Ashtanga class is a series of poses that are done in the same order.


While practicing Ashtanga yoga, I developed body awareness as I moved through the poses. Since this practice moves fast, proper technique is key. The increased body awareness helped me with my running form and I developed a more efficient and faster stride. Ashtanga also made me stronger, physically and mentally. I started to realize that I could do hard things.

My friend dropped out of our class after about 3 months, saying it was "too hard". I stuck with the Ashtanga practice and reaped the benefits, both on and off the road. I still couldn't get deeply into a lot of the poses, and my instructor told me that if I gave up running, I develop a much deeper practice. I told him that wasn't happening! My plan wasn't to give up running to become a yogi. My goals were to maintain flexibility and develop strength, which I did.


Unfortunately, after about a year and a half of practicing Ashtanga, the owner of the studio decided he was going to take the studio in a different direction, fired my instructor, and changed the class to an Anusara class. Disappointed, I left the studio and practiced at home, using a variety of yoga DVDs. Eventually, a yoga studio opened close to my home and I was able to take classes in vinyasa yoga, which was a great option for me. Vinyasa yoga is very similar to Ashtanga in that there is a vinyasa (plank to chaturanga to upward dog to downward dog) between each pose or series of poses. In contrast to Ashtanga, Vinyasa yoga classes are more free-form--there is no predictable sequence of poses. I found that I liked the variety. The class helped me to stay focused and mindful as we moved through the vinyasas. I continued to develop more confidence and strength with this practice. The owner of this studio was also a runner and I ran my very first half marathon with her! Sadly, she eventually sold the studio and it was time to move on again.


The studio where I most recently practiced was started as an Anusara studio, the very type of yoga that replaced my Ashtanga class. The philosophy of Anusara Yoga is that yoga should be joyful and is a gift that we should celebrate. Anusara means "flowing with grace" and "following your heart". The classes incorporate aspects of all the branches of yoga I've done in the past. These classes are fun and have brought a playfulness to my yoga practice as well as my running. Anusara yoga helped me learn not to take myself so seriously, both in the studio and on the road. These classes are always different and no matter what we did in the studio, I always took to my mat with a grateful heart.


This past year, I've desired a more solitary yoga practice and have been practicing yoga at home. Occasionally I'll lead myself through a vinyasa practice but mostly I've been practicing using classes on YouTube. There are so many good options available now and I like that I can pick the type of class I'd like to do for the day. My current favorite yoga channel is Five Parks Yoga, but there are many others.

Throughout my yoga journey, I've developed strength, flexibility, body awareness, mindfulness, and a sense of calm. I've also learned how to use the breath to help me hold a challenging pose as well as push me through a tough run. Yoga has helped me work through injuries, particularly those pesky overuse injuries. Yoga will always be a part of my fitness journey and I love how my practice has evolved over the years. Best of all, yoga has taught me to have fun and yes, to find joy in the journey. Both on and off the road.


Do you practice yoga? What style of yoga is your favorite? Do you prefer studio classes or videos? Has yoga helped your running?

I'm linking this post with Marcia, Erika, and Patti for Tuesdays on the Run and with Rachel, Marc, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches' Corner.





69 comments :

  1. I used to work out to Kathy Smith in the 90s. I didn't know anyone else even knew who she was! I had quite the collection of her aerobics video tapes. I remember thinking she was so tough. I think when people say they are bad at yoga it translates to they just don't like yoga. I would love to try a class but I haven't found one to fit my schedule yet.

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    1. I was surprised to see that she was still around!

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    2. Another Kathy Smith fan girl here!

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    3. Yes I remember Kathy Smith. I even remember Jane fonda lol

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  2. I think Denise Austin is a KS contemporary. I used to do a yoga video of hers all the time. You're right there is no 'bad at yoga' although many say that.

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    1. Oh yes! My mom was a big DA fan. Remember the Firm?

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    2. I also worked out with Kathy Smith (and Cathe Freidrich, Kari Anderson, and even Denise Austin!. I love yoga for my running, but I especially need it for the calming benefits. Breathing is my friend. And Vinyasa is my favorite form.

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    3. I had some Kari Anderson videos! Blast from the past...

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    4. Oh, gosh, I had The Firm too. And some DA, but I didn't like her style.

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    5. Never was fan of DA but my mom loved her. The perkiness factor, I think.

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  3. I never thought I would say this but yoga and running are tied for the number one spot on my favorite-I-wish-I-could-do-it-everday list. Yes, running has to share the top spot :) I can't imagine not doing either.

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  4. I haven't really given yoga a fair shot. Maybe I will have to give it another go!

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  5. Yoga has improved my running 1000000000%. Ok, maybe that is a bit much, but you know what I mean. From keeping me more balanced, to stretching me out and releasing my tight muscles and tendons, to helping build proprioception and stabilizing muscles, and definitely my breathing. My lung capacity is so much bigger. I don't know where I would be without it!

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  6. By recommitting to yoga at the beginning of the year, along with the #taketheleap and #bringingyogaback challenges, it's awakened me! I felt lost for so many years because I would just do yoga here and there. Now that I'm back to a studio (Ashtanga!), I feel like my old self. I feel stronger, more flexible, I stand taller and I can breathe!

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    1. I think this challenge really showed a lot of us how important yoga is!

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  7. I like yoga a lot, but it's hard for me because I prefer something little more busy and active. I had found a great studio with awesome instructors, but they changed their class schedule around and it no longer works out for me.

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  8. AWESOME post, Wendy! I've been doing yoga for a lot longer than I've been running (7 years vs almost-2), but I it's obvious to me how much both of them compliment each other. I slacked off in my practice a bit at the end of last year and it was around then that my hamstring started bothering me a lot. Since ramping back up (and thanks to this challenge!) the pain has been so much less noticeable! I just need to stick with it!

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    1. This challenge has really made me realize how much I love yoga and how important it is to my running. And I got to connect with you, and that is awesome!

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  9. Great post! I do find yoga makes me feel good. I just have a hard time fitting it in. I need to be ok with just doing a few minutes of it and not a whole class.

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    1. No matter how much you do, you can reap the benefits of yoga! Just like running...

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  10. Great post! I am a yoga newbie just trying to find a studio and a style that I love, and it's pretty hard! It's awesome hearing your story and knowing that this is all part of the process and that I can improve in yoga.

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    1. There are so many different styles of yoga. And you also have to find a teacher that fits your needs.

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  11. Great post! I really need to incorporate it more and after marathon training is over I will definitely be doing so. I have found my flexibility to increase a lot and it's a great way to release my super tight muscles!!

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    1. I'll be doing some yoga later to stretch after my long run I did this morning!

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  12. I enjoy seeing your new poses every day! You are a woman of many talents!

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    1. I don't know about that but I sure do love yoga!

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  13. I definitely think yoga has helped my running! I really enjoy it when I do it regularly, the problem is that I don't always keep up with it. I found it really beneficial to go to a studio a few years ago but now its just not as convenient. I'm glad Ive found some YouTube channels I like (Im also a fan of Five Parks Yoga!) and now I just hope that I can keep up with it regularly!

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    1. I try to do a full practice at least once a week, but there's always some posing during the week!

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  14. I was a very reluctant yogi. My first program was Beth Shaw Yoga Fit which was a Hatha program. Then I discovered Rodney Yee and his AM Yoga For Your Week programs. I didn't really get hooked until I tried hot yoga at CPY which I think is Vinyassa style. I never would have gone if I knew what I was getting into!

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    1. I had a Rodney Yee Yoga for Athletes video that I just loved. Also Ali McGraw had an amazing video. I wonder what ever happened to her?

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  15. I agree that yoga is helpful to a runner. I used to go to classes weekly but with a change in job and being on the road I've given that up.

    I'm not one to do it on my own.

    Someday I will try it again.

    You are mazing and I love the photos of your poses.

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    1. Well, thank you! My yoga selfies really force me to examine my form. I think this has helped me a lot.

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  16. I have been practicing yoga for a long time, too, but very little of that time has been spent in the studio. I've belonged to gyms on & off, too, but I only ever found one class at a gym that I loved -- unfortunately I stopped going to that gym after one year.

    Since all the furkids with problems seem to find me, I just find doing my own thing at home is simpler for me. Although this year I have started to take the occasional studio class too.

    I've never really paid a lot of attention to which style I'm doing, though. And I definitely think that yoga is good for anyone (hello, Mr. Judy, I wish you'd try it) and absolutely for runners.

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    1. I'd like to go back to the studio, but my home practice is serving me well right now!

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  17. I've taken a few classes here and there but haven't stuck with it. Reading your post has inspired me to look into a studio. I've done Bikram a few times and while it is tough, I actually enjoyed. I remember my first time and I almost passed out because it was too hot.

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    1. Yeah, not a fan of hot yoga. I figure, I sweat enough when I run. Yoga is my cool down!

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  18. Yes, I need to get back to doing more yoga. I need the stretching and love the body awareness that yoga gives. also, the yogic breathing is so important

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    1. I love the way all that makes me feel!

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  19. I enjoy doing yoga at Soul Yoga Studio here in Salisbury, Maryland. I actually had to look up what kind of yoga it is, and the website describes it as hatha yoga — there are warm and hot classes. I find that I definitely need the classes rather than practicing on my own to provide structure and get myself away from everything I have to do at home!

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    1. I know I'll need to go back to the studio but for now, my home practice is serving me well!

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  20. Yoga is what got me back to running and really helped me enjoy the journey to enjoying running again. I am so grateful for both and how hand-in-hand they go :-) Great post, Wendy!

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    1. Even when I'm not able to run anymore, I'll be able to do yoga in some form and that is what makes it great.

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  21. I was in a great routine of long runs followed by yoga all winter and spring and I know this helped me stay injury free. When the warmer temps hit and I started adding back in swimming and biking, I've not been as consistent w yoga. I have been doing "all the things" I am more of a yoga studio person but I could most certainly do them at home on line as well. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. I wasn't as consistent with yoga either. But now that I am, I realize how much I need it!!

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  22. Ah, yoga. I wish I could commit to doing it more consistently. It certainly has made me stronger, and my balance is much better (though I still am horribly klutzy when I'm "in motion"). I really have a tough time clearing my mind and focusing on the moment. I hear every thing happening around me, so I get distracted very easily. #excuses

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    1. Sounds like you'd do well at Ashtanga! You're moving so much you don't have time to think.

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  23. Yin and restorative are my favorites. I occasionally do other forms of yoga, but usually I don't want to do yoga as a workout, but for stress relief and stretching.

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    1. I love yin yoga, restorative too. I don't practice them enough!

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  24. Oh look, it’s me! We need to do that again someday soon.

    I loved reading your yoga journey. I am at my strongest when I am consistent with my yoga practice. Vinyasa has always been my favorite because of the variety (and my favorite instructor is a former dancer who really makes her classes flow).

    For home yoga I love yoga download. I have downloaded a bunch of classes to my phone, so I really can do yoga anywhere. I love that it’s an audio format (though they have videos too), so I can focus on my practice without having to look at the screen. The instructors are very good too.

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    1. I've heard really good things about Yoga Download as well as Yoga Vibes. I love that there are so many options for yoga. There's really no excuse not to do it!

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  25. What a journey! Yoga has kept me running too. I haven't been to a studio class in awhile and I'm craving it. I need to find one that would be good for pregnancy and just GO!

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    1. I think yoga would be great for pregnancy, especially as the babies get bigger!

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  26. Yay for yoga! I'm trying to incorporate 10-15 minutes of it into every day. Fingers crossed that I'll be able to keep that up! I've been using Gixo's videos for em'!

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  27. I have been practicing yoga off an on for about 15 years. I started at a Bikram studio. Even though it was difficult, I loved it, but I had to travel about 30 minutes to get to the studio, and adding a 1 hour drive to my day just didn't make sense. I then went to a power yoga studio, which I believe was a vinyasa-style practice. Now I do body flow at my local rec center, which is a yoga-like practice with some elements of Pilates and tai chi incorporated.

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    1. That body flow class sounds intriguing!

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  28. Yoga has helped me in my weight lifting I am sure it could help my running. I think I need to add both to my training. Great reasons to cross train with yoga.

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    1. I cannot say enough how much yoga has enhanced my running!

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  29. I'm not much of a yogi. I like to do it during my off season at home. I really enjoy barre, though, and it's kinda the same. Sorta. Sometimes. ;)

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  30. You always look so graceful strong when you are holding poses. I know it would be great for me to dedicate more time to practice yoga, because I have terrible balance that I need to work on. I know it makes for stronger running :)

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    1. It's just such a nice accompaniment to running!

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  31. I’m not much of a yoga person but I’m trying to work on adding strength at least!

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    1. You can get body weight strength with yoga!

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