Running and yoga have long been my favorite forms of exercise. In the past couple years though, I’ve started to really appreciate how they overlap and, in particular, how yoga improves my running. After stress fractures and multiple sprained ankles, I wasn’t ready to quit running, but knew I needed to improve my form to prevent injuries. Yoga helps with that as well as with stretching out muscles that are tight from the repetitive motions of running. Here are a couple poses that will appeal to runners but can be practiced by everyone for some sweet stretching. Note: I borrowed some of these from a Yoga Journal article on yoga for athletes several years ago.
Anjanevasana (low lunge)
This exaggeration of the running stride makes the knee joint more stable and addresses tight hips. Start on your hands and knees with your toes tucked under and bring the right foot between the hands, lining up your fingertips and toes (oops…mine aren’t perfect). Keep your right shin perpendicular to the ground (knee above the ankle) and your right knee directly in line with your right hip. Your left leg should extend behind you and be in line with your left hip. Square your hips so they’re parallel to the front of your mat. If your hips are tight, you may start with a 90-degree angle between your front and back thighs. As they loosen, you can lower your hips so the angle increases to about 180-degrees.
Ardaha Chandrasana (half moon pose), variation
with modifications (and "quick take the picture before I fall" face)
This pose is great for improving balance, strengthening your legs and core (in ways running doesn’t target), opening the chest and shoulders and hips, and giving you a better awareness of the position of your body in space. Use a block (if you don't have a block try a stack of books) about a foot in front and slightly to the right of your right toes. Rest your right hand here for balance. Lift your left leg parallel to the floor and extend through the ball of your foot. Extend up through your left arm keeping your hands, arms, and shoulders all in one stacked line. Externally rotate both legs to open the hips. If you need some more stability, you can rest your raised foot against the wall or a door frame. I like to really spread my toes in this pose to give them some stretching after being crammed in running shoes. (Ideally, your right toes should be pointing straight toward the front of your mat, while your lifted left toes should be pointing in the opposite direction…my toes on the floor aren’t pointed forward enough since I was rushing to beat my camera’s timer.)
Janu Sirsana (head-of-the-knee-pose)
Sit with your legs extended and your sitting bones rooted into the mat. Bend your right knee, bringing the sole of your right foot to the inner left thigh. Reroot your sitting bones. Rotate your torso slightly to the left, aligning your navel with the middle of the left thigh. Hinge forward from the hips keeping your back and neck long. Stretch through the ball of your foot and spread your toes. The twisting of this pose stretches the quadratus lumborum, a muscle that runs from the top of the pelvis to the lower back and helps maintain a neutral pelvis as you run.
Vrksasana (tree pose)
Start by standing and shifting your weight slightly onto the left foot. Bend your right knee and use your right hand to guide the sole of your right foot to the inner left thigh, toes pointing toward the floor. Center your pelvis over your left foot and keep it level and parallel to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor, pull your navel back toward your spine, and lengthen up through your spine and neck. Press your palms together overhead and stretch up while your shoulder blades melt down your back. I rank this as my number one favorite pose for improving my running form. It requires me to build strength and balance in my ankles, pay attention to a level but open pelvis, keep my core engaged, lengthen my spine and release tension in my shoulders and chest.
Namaste and run, run, run!