by Yoga Dublin teacher Olwyn Kearns
As someone who has run on and off since my teens and only discovered Yoga in my late 20s it was a long time before I figured out to make the 2 work together. This is really my story. When I lived in San Francisco I used to run 6-8miles a day at a decent pace. I never went much further than 8 because I would get a niggling pain in my right knee at around the 8 mile mark. I didn't know much of anything about the body at the time and just went on what I had heard from my Dad over the years who had run the Dublin City Marathon 3 times. When in my late 20s I discovered yoga I pretty much approached it like I did my running I pushed myself till it hurt. So I would have my on off phases of both running and yoga. I would find after a strong yoga practice of pushing myself too hard - I couldn't run the next day. And after pushing myself in a run I coudn't push myself through the primary series in Ashtanga the next day. Or quite simple I'd do both and injure myself. So I opted for Yoga and pushed running to the back for a few years. But despite all I heard and knew about running being hard on your joints etc I missed it and longed for the freedom of the road.
Many years later after only taking a short run here and there, inspired by my partner training for the marathon and also motivated by the simple fact when the kids are on school holidays it's a lot easier to go for a 30-45 minute run than practice yoga for 90 minutes. I found my way back on the road. After the first few runs those old niggles and pains started to come back. I knew as a yoga teacher I could not allow myself to be injured not only would I not be able to teach but running around after my daughter would be impossible. So I approached it with a Yoga mind.
Approaching with a Yoga mind - I slowed my run right down for the first 15 minutes every day for 1 week and observed how I ran. How I placed my feet on the pavement how I held my arms/ shoulders, my core, I observed my breath. I noticed I leaned heavily in to the outer edges of the feet - which pretty much explained my knee and hip pain. So I tread in a more balanced way. When I was pushing myself my old yoga habits crept back.. holding my shoulders tightly up around my ears. Credit to all the yoga teachers who pointed it out in my yoga past - I relaxed my shoulders. And by starting slowly I found a better rhythm of breath so even when I picked up pace I could as in my yoga practice go with the flow.
Approaching my Yoga post run with different mindset. My big mistake in the past when running is I'd come in post run and approach it with the same vigour I had in my run. I would over-stretch, push myself too far. After 45 mins running and tightening all my muscles I would try and do my normal yoga practice. This time round I approached with caution I still did a flow but slowed it right down so I could observe my alignment even more than usual. How I placed my feet aligned my knees. I took extra special caution not just of my hamstrings but also IT band, hips, tendons at the back of the knees. Thankfully after years of a strong yoga practice I knew pulling back would actually help me go deeper. That it was okay to bend my knees in a standing forward bend as long as I was working my feet and engaging the muscles in my legs. I knew I did not have to get my heels to the floor in donward dog. If I held my shoulders incorrectly while running I took the time to counter that. Although I was feeling the benefits of core work from my run I took the time to add in some more. I took time to breathe 5-15 mins of pranayama. I took longer in shavasana 15-25 mins instead of 5. I gave my body time to recover.
Teaching my partner how to stretch safely post run was invaluable as I teach other runners and athletes who have never been on a yoga mat. Just as every 'body' is so different and unique on the mat so too is every 'body' on the road. It is not a one size fits all approach it is really understanding what each individual needs during and post run.
I can honestly say with this approach both my running and yoga practice has become stronger.
During school term I know I have the luxury of both a long run and a leisurely long yoga practice. During school holidays I quite simply have to go with the flow a shorter run a shorter Yoga practice (which can be anything from pigeon in the hallway to uttanasana while waiting for the kettle to boil) but I make sure I hit the right spots for my body post run to keep injuries away. Always including those moments where the body can rest. Legs up the wall being a personal favourite when time is short - I can still answer a 6 year old's 100 questions while doing this though sometime there is the luxury of her working furiously colouring a picture that I get to truly rest.
Olwyn's next Yoga for Runners workshop is this Saturday, 1st October in Ranelagh.
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