Yoga for non-yogi runners

These views are most my own and I am most definitely not a yogi.

I have never been interested in the yoga in the past. I used to exercise, purely as a means to burn calories and an hour of yoga just wasn’t an efficient way to do this. At uni, I went to Body Balance classes a few times during revision and exams as a way to relax and wind down, but I really struggle to find these classes relaxing and switch off.

Leading up to the Marathon Des Sables, when a lot of people were paying for heat chamber sessions to acclimatise, and with the popularity of hot yoga, I decided to try it. I went to Ella & Fleur Hot Yoga in Cheltenham, and it turned out I loved it. Of course, it wasn’t the same type of heat as the Sahara desert, but I didn’t suffer with the heat during the race, and I think it did give me some balance to have an hour and a half a couple of times a week to stretch out (but sweating like a pig so I felt like I was doing something) and then relax at the end.

I did try a Bikram class in Kingston with a friend, but I wasn’t keen. The studio was very industrial looking, and I wasn’t keen on the Prayanama deep breathing, or the hyperextension of the cervical spine, tilting my head back to face the back wall. I hated moving quickly in and out of Shivasana repeatedly. Shivasana is the “corpse pose”, usually in other yoga classes used at the end of the class for a meditation. This seemed to defeat the object for me. This teacher, according to the friend, says that Bikram is the only type of yoga which should be performed in a hot studio. But then a Bikram teacher with investment in a Bikram studio would say that wouldn’t they!

When I moved to Aylesbury, I struggled to find a local hot yoga studio, and my gym cancelled the yoga class they had on the timetable. In October, I felt some niggles, and hurt myself badly at an ultra in November, which I hadn’t had despite much higher mileage leading up to the MDS; so I suspect yoga may have contributed in part to avoiding injury.

Recently I ran from a friend’s in Enfield, straight into central London and then had some time to kill before meeting people for lunch and dinner, and needed somewhere to shower and change. I booked into a Bikram class in a studio near Victoria called Sohot Bikram Yoga. Oh dear, least relaxing 90 minutes of my life. I left so tightly wound up. It started badly when I walked in and immediately saw a sign asking me to remove my outdoor shoes, so I did and almost slipped straight down the stairs in my socks. I went to the desk to find my booking and payment hadn’t been received (wasn’t really an issue as in a studio which could probably take 40 there were only 4 of us). The studio itself had a weird wirey floor surface, which looked to me to be impossible to clean, and was quite uneven in places (the website advertises hypoallergenic soft studio flooring). There was also a musty and quite unpleasant smell – I’m sure that some may think this is inevitable in a room dedicated to excessive sweating, but I’ve not had this in any of the other 3 hot yoga venues I’ve been to. The website advertises an “extensive filtration system that removes pollutants from the air – Such filtration is normally only found in pharmaceutical laboratories” with “oxygen control – automatically controlling the amount of fresh air coming in.  So we don’t need to open windows which lets in dirty unfiltered air” which sounded dubious to me when I read it, and negative if anything when I attended and wished they could open some windows in between classes to let in some fresh (albeit slightly polluted) air!

The class itself was Bikram, which I now know is quite different from any other class. It follows a prescriptive series of postures beginning with deep noisy breathing, and I find it quite boring. It doesn’t include any of my favourite postures and I don’t feel like I’ve stretched out my running muscles by the end. So doesn’t meet my needs.

What really annoyed me about this class though, was the pseudoscience spouted. One posture was described as being “good for stretching out the pancreas, the liver, and the kidneys (which is good for emotional problems, and especially good for women)”, and one “stopped the blood flowing to the ascending colon and when we come out of it, fresh blood would flow there and flush toxins through”, while one “allowed fresh blood to flow into the wrist joints to help RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome”. All of these claims are completely ridiculous, and I struggle to believe how they can be allowed to preach such unfounded theories as gospel.

A lot of yoga seems too focused on becoming good at yoga rather than looking at the needs of the individual. I know a class is a group activity and can’t be personalised like a one-to-one PT session, but they do always ask if you’ve been before, and actually teachers do give alternatives for beginners or less flexible students. But I dislike teachers who assume that perfecting the yoga is your goal, saying “one day your head will touch” etc. Perfecting technique isn’t my priority, keeping flexible and preventing injury to complement my running and triathlon training is. For others, it could be an hour to unwind and relax. For some, it may well be to become an accomplished yogi. When teachers say don’t do this til you’ve mastered this, it annoys me. I understand they don’t want people falling over/injuring themselves/doing anything dangerous. But when they appear to be all about making your technique perfect and not allowing a stretch at all without the bit before being perfect, I just think what’s the point as stretching is why I’m there. Also, I do personally know my body’s limitations and how I need to adapt things to allow me to get into a pose which will allow me to feel and benefit from the stretch. If I don’t want to turn my feet in (because they naturally turn out significantly compared to the average population) or bend my knees at a certain angle they’ve defined, that’s because it’s not anatomically good for me. There are some things they tell me I’ll be able to get to one day – of course, some I will; but some will always be impossible for me, while some are possible now but not appropriate. Ultimately, I want to adapt and work with what I’ve got to get the best stretch I can now.
This has been a slightly ranty post, I’m aware. But I do want to applaud the benefits of yoga for runners and for all. I’m not spiritual but I’ve dabbled in mindfulness techniques, and I think this side of yoga can be beneficial for many in the right classes and settings. Stretching, flexibility and stability are all brilliant for injury prevention in runners; for general health and fitness in all; and to maintain core stability and balance which will hopefully help prevent falls in the future.Ultimately physical inacvitiy is the single biggest killer, and any activity is better than none. Yoga does not replace the cardiovascular benefits of a good heart raising cardio activity, nor the bone and muscle strengthening benefits of proper weight training, but complements these well as part of a balanced training programme.
There are some good classes around advertised or described as “yoga for runners”, which are worth looking out for. If you aren’t keen on attending a class, there are some great youtube videos and I’ve also heard good things about the black and yellow manual “Yoga for Dummies”.
My favourite poses for runners:
Downward Facing Dog
Stretches calf muscles, hamstrings, and upper back.

Pigeon Pose
Great hip opener
yoga_pigeon_pose_ARTpigeon 2

Crow Pose


Camel Pose
Stretches lower back and hip flexorscamel2.jpg
Cat-Cow Pose
Back stretch

Child Pose
child pose.jpg

Tree Pose
Strengthens standing leg and improves stability

Head to Knee
Back and hamstrings
head to knee

Bridge Pose

Wheel Pose

Corpse Pose


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