Make Sensations, Not Shapes

I am oddly flexible for a runner. I can get my palms to the ground without bending my knees, do a full splits, and I have a pretty fantastic backbend. So, it probably does not surprise you that when I talk to runners about yoga, the first thing I hear is that they are not flexible enough to do it. Well, guys, I am here to convince you that you are ALWAYS flexible enough to do yoga!

Ever since Yoga Journal Magazine started publishing professional yogis on their covers, the focus of yoga moved to the shape of one’s body in a particular posture. In a forward fold, the focus was on how Sean Corne could get her belly flat on her thighs with a smile on her face. People who had a naturally large range of motion in their hips, hamstrings, and lower backs looked at these photos and knew that they could make the same shape. But what about athletes? What about runners? What about every normal person? What is yoga when you can’t touch your toes and when that shape is just not something your body does?

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Later was the birth of Instagram, where advanced shape-making yogis were able to show off their beautiful bodies in postures that just looked like a wild contortion. This further distanced runners from yoga because in reality, many of those shapes were simply NOT going to happen for them. Running changes your body and makes your muscles stronger and tighter. For many of us, postures like Compass Pose are just out of our natural range of motion.

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So, if you can’t participate in the full version of the yoga postures, what is a runner to do in a yoga class?

Make sensations, not shapes!

 Next time you are at your yoga mat, instead of focusing on getting the palms to the floor with the legs straight in a forward fold, focus on the SENSATION you are feeling in the legs. In a forward fold, notice where you feel the sensation and notice how slight changes in the posture can change the sensation dramatically. It is important to realize that no two people will look the same and feel the same in the same posture. So instead of making that forward fold look like it does on Instagram, make it FEEL right. Make sure that, although your knees are bent in a forward fold, that you have sensation in the hamstring muscle, NOT in the lower back or the back of the knees.

 Next time you are in a yoga class, grab some blocks and straps. USE THEM! Modifications to a posture are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign that we understand that yoga is there to create space and sensation, not to create a picture worthy shape. In reality, modifications are a sign of strength.

And if you have a competitive streak and you really need to be better than the other people in the room at something… remind yourself that it is unlikely any of them can run 10 miles in one day. That is a little bit of ego, but hey, roll with it.

So guys, do this for me: Go to a yoga class and repeat the matra “make sensation, not shapes”. Go in with an open mind and have fun. Once you let go of attachment to particular shapes of postures, suddenly yoga gets a whole lot more fun.

The Friday 5: My 5 Favorite Balancing Poses

Hey everyone! For today’s Friday Five I am going to talk about my five favorite leg strengtheners. This post was inspired by Judy’s post on the importance of single leg stability. It’s super important for runners to have strong legs, but also have stabilizing muscles in our legs for balance. So these five yoga postures (and movements) not only help gain stabilizing muscles in your legs and hips, but also a lot of strength and flexibility. Remember to do each posture on both sides!! Also, Sydney (my cat) is featured in all of the photos. 🙂

Standing Splits

We’ll just start with a posture that I find incredibly challenging. It requires extremely flexible hamstrings and hips, which not all of us have. Start with your feet together in a forward fold. Then shift your weight to one side and lift the opposite leg as high as you can. Once the leg is lifted, draw the hip of the lifted leg down very slightly. As a modification, you can use blocks or books beneath the hands or bend the standing leg.

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Standing Splits – For me this is one of the most challenging poses

Standing Stick to Knee to chest

This is a movement, not just a single posture. Start in standing and reach your arms up over head. Shift your weight to one side and hinge forward at the hips while lifting the opposite leg. Stop wherever you start to lose balance. Eventually you may get to the point you that you can create a “T” with your torso and legs. This is called Standing Stick. Hold for one breath, and then begin to lift back up, bend the lifted leg and once you are upright, pull the lifted leg in towards your chest. Return back to standing sticks. Make sure to draw your hips in towards center so that one hip isn’t popping out. Repeat 4 times and do both sides.

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Standing Sticks

 

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Standing Knee to Chest

 Standing hand to big toe pose

This is another very challenging pose that requires a lot of flexibility. Start in standing. Shift your weight to the left and draw the right knee towards chest. Then, draw that knee up a little higher than you think you need to using your right hand hand. Take the index and middle finger of your right hand around your right big toe. Begin to draw the leg forward and then out towards the side. The leg does not need to be straight, and as with any standing posture, feel free to lean up against a wall. Make sure that your left hip is not popping out and try and draw it in towards center. Repeat on the other side.

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Hand to Big Toe Pose

Eagle Pose to Standing Stick

This is a bit of a strange posture. Start in standing by taking your right arm over your left arm and see if you can bring your palms together (if not, that’s ok. Just get it as close as you can). Make sure your feet are together and then bend the knees and drop your seating bones back (like there is a chair behind you). Take your left leg over your right (just like your arms are but the legs and arms are opposite). You can try to wrap your right ankle around your left leg, if not, just let the foot stick out. This is Eagle Pose. Hold for a breath or two.

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Eagle Pose

Then, unravel the right leg away from the left leg (keep the arms the way they are) and start to kick that leg straight back. Now you are in standing stick again, with the arms in a different variation. Take a breath and then slowly come back into eagle pose. Repeat 4x and do both sides.

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Standing Sticks with Eagle Arms

 Half Moon Pose

Most people benefit from a block or pile of books for this pose (or chair as well). Take the block and place it out in front of your feet. Come to standing and hinge forward at the hips for a forward fold. Place your right hand on the block and make sure your wrist is stacked under the shoulder. Shift your weight to your right foot, take your left hand to your left hip and begin to lift the left leg up. Keep the foot flexed and take your left hip above your right hip so your left toes are facing towards the left. Maybe lift that left hand.

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Half Moon Pose

Thanks everyone for checking this out and thanks to Mar on the Run, Eat Pray Run, and You Signed Up for What?! for hosting the linkup.

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What is your favorite balancing posture? Do you work on single leg stabilization?

Short Core Sequence for Runners (and everyone else too)!

Core work is usually everyone’s least favorite exercise to do. In yoga classes, I rarely get suggestions for it, and when I do sequences with a lot of core exercises, usually everyone complains or makes some pretty mean-looking faces. Even though people don’t like it… it’s still important to do. In fact, I think the less you like it, the more important it is that you do it! So… I’ve put together a short core sequence using yoga postures. I picked sequences that should not bother your back, but still give you more strength and body awareness. Let me know what you think in the comments. Enjoy!

Do you hate doing core work? What are your least favorite exercises to do? 

The Friday Five: Five Yoga Poses for Runners

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, I want to do a shout out to my mom. Today is her birthday! She’s pretty awesome, and is a yoga teacher, too! I’ll be heading home in two weeks to celebrate with her.

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We do slightly resemble each other. 🙂

Thanks to Mar on the Run, Eat Pray Run DC, and You Signed Up for What?! for hosting the Friday Five Linkup. This week I’ll be talking about five yoga postures that are great for runners.

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Reclined Pigeon Pose

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Start on your back with the knees up and the cross the right ankle on to the left knee. Go ahead and lift that left foot off the ground and hug around the left thigh. Keep both feet flexed to protect your knees and ankles. This is a great stretch for the outer hip, glutes, hip flexor… pretty much everything in the hip region. If it hurts your knee, back out a little. Switch sides when you’re done.

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If you want to go deeper, come down on to your hands and knees or downward facing dog. Draw the right shin forward and place it on to the ground. Eventually (with lots and lots of yoga), your right shin will be parallel with the front of your yoga mat. Draw your left leg back a little until the entire left leg is on the ground. Make sure the ankle comes out straight from your leg. Now, bring your attention to your hips. Draw your right hip back and left hip forward and make sure that you are not flopped off to one side. Come down to your forearms or lengthen the arms long. Be sure to do both sides.

Low Lunge

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Come on to your hands and knees. Step your right foot forward between your hands and bring your left knee back maybe two inches. Make sure that your front ankle is not behind your front knee, so that your knee is stacked over the ankle joint. Now, you can lean a little dropping your pelvis towards the front heel (it wont go far, I promise), or lift up and out from your hip bones so that your hips are drawing away from the front leg (this is the more proper way to do the poster). Hang here for a few breaths with your hands on the ground or on blocks. Low lunge will really open the front part of your hips, quads, and the outer hips. It should feel really good, so if it doesn’t, back out a little.

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If you want to go deeper, tuck the back toes under and lift the back knee up. Feel as if the power from your back leg is coming from your hamstring muscle lifting towards the ceiling.

Hamstring Stretch

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This posture is a simple stretch and is super great to do right after a run. Come back into low lunge (posture before this one). Come back half way until the front leg is straight and your hips are stacked above your back knee. Flex the front foot. Place your hands onto books, blocks, or the floor and begin to draw your chest forward. Try to keep your back long, so I want you to feel like you are drawing your chest towards the toes… not your head. Breath!

 

Bridge Pose

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Alright, now that your hips are warmed up, come on to the back with the knees up and your hands by your sides with the palms down. Make sure that the feet are hip width apart. Just start by pressing your feet down into the mat as if you were standing up. The power from this posture comes from your feet! Press your hands down into the mat and draw your lower back to the floor and your belly button towards your spine. Now lift the hips up. If you want to go a little deeper, from here try to draw the shoulder blades towards each other and roll the arms under your shoulders. Press into your feet a little more and lift those hips up! Notice how much strength you have in your outer hips and glutes!

Half the Lord’s Fishes Pose (weird name, huh?)

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Come to your seating bones and extend the legs out in front of you. Take your right leg over the left leg so that your knee is bent and the palm of your foot is down. Keep your left foot flexed and take your right hand behind you right up against the spine. You want your spine to be very long. If you want to go deeper, once you have the right leg over the left, bend your left knee and draw it in so your left foot is towards your right glute. Take your right hand behind you up against the spine and either hug your right knee, or bring your left elbow to the outside of the right leg. Don’t forget to breath and do both sides.

Hope you enjoyed this short little (written) yoga practice. Gaining range of motion while working on your training will only help keep you from getting injured AND it’ll make you feel good. Namaste!

What is your favorite yoga pose or stretch for runners? Feel free to give a shout out to my mom for her birthday!

 

Practice Running Fast Through Yoga

I have taught a lot runners and triathletes yoga. So, when I ask those students why they do yoga, I get a list of reasons including stretching, strengthening, relaxation, etc. Rarely, do I hear people say that they practice yoga to run faster or push harder. It seems counter intuitive. I know that in order to run faster, you need to train for it… you have to be strong and you have to be running at that speed in training. However, I think yoga has another benefit that makes us faster.

It teaches us about suffering.

Hard postures can teach us about suffering through hard races.

Hard postures can teach us a thing or two about suffering through hard races.

I don’t mean the suffering that you get from an injury. This suffering is the slight discomfort you get from holding a pose for a little longer than is comfortable. If you want to feel it, go into plank for about 30 seconds, and I promise you will suffer… just a little. Poses like extended side angle, boat, half moon, and many others, can teach us a lot about our minds and how we react to suffering. There are days when you will find that quiet place within yourself, but there are other days when you just can’t shut the mind off. When you start a yoga practice, more often than not, you can’t turn your mind off.

So… what does this have to do with running fast?

When I was running in the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon last weekend, I allowed myself to push a little harder than normal, to a place where I was just beginning to feel that same suffering that I get in more difficult yoga postures. Holding that level of suffering for 13.1 miles is not easy. It takes practice. But most of my running, lately, has been very slow. I didn’t push to that level of suffering in my running… I did it in my yoga practice. And trust me… no yogi ever enjoys holding hard postures. More than any other part of yoga, holding postures takes a lot of practice.

So, we don’t always have to push our minds only in our running. We can do it by practicing simple, but challenging, yoga postures. Sometimes we can practice by remaining seated and quiet. Create PR’s for how long you can hold a chair pose and you’ll see how quickly your mind is able to adapt to running just a little harder. I am certainly not the first person to think of this. Scott Jurek uses matras from his yoga classes when running long distance. It creates a quiet place in his mind when the going gets tough. He just repeats the mantra over and over and reminds himself why he is doing what he is doing. He uses his mind as his super power.

Many of us have the physical capabilities to run faster, but what stops us is that little voice in our heads that says that we have had enough! It takes a lot of practice to push past that voice and continue moving, even though moving isn’t exactly comfortable… even when moving makes us suffer. The simple act of sitting still and quiet can teach us that discipline. We all have this untapped mental power that only requires a little bit of practice.

Pose of the Month: Bird of Paradise

Yoga can teach us a lot about patience and how we perceive progress. We can go to class to after class and feel that we don’t improve fast enough or find ways to get deep enough into new postures. This is usually because we don’t see the small amounts of progress that is made each week. So, I am starting a Pose of the Month Challenge. This way we can track our progress and see it happen over a rather short period of time! Here’s the deal:

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Each month, I am going to pick out a posture to do, and I will take a photo of myself at the beginning of the month. Then, I will challenge myself to do the pose each day for one month. At the end of the month, I will take another photo to see how far I’ve come. I challenge you to do the same! You can use the same posture I am, or you can pick one of your own. The important thing is that you set an intension and stick to it each day.

This month’s pose is… (drumroll please)

Bird of Paradise

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Bird of Paradise is a posture that I have always struggled with. It requires an immense amount of control, balance, and flexibility in the hamstrings and hips, which are two places that I am not flexible. This posture features a very challenging bind as well. You can get into the posture from binding in extended side angle pose, then scooting the back foot forward, and finally standing on the non-bound leg. It’s very difficult, and is a posture that I have always wanted to improve on.

This photo was taken of me in the posture just two days ago:

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By doing this posture each day, eventually, it will become second nature. It’s a way to see results in yoga rather quickly. In fact, usually you end up seeing results in a little over a week. Make sure that you still warm up before going into the posture you have chosen. At the end of the month, go ahead and take another photo and see how far you’ve come. You’ll be amazed how much easier it gets to transition into the posture after just a little bit of practice.

Join me on this fun challenge!

What poses do you struggle with? Have you ever just made an intension to figure out a single posture?

Runners CAN do yoga!

I love running with people. I find it to be really beneficial and fun to delve into a more social side of running. I’m sure that it wouldn’t surprise you that on social runs, I often end up talking to people about yoga, but the conversation often goes something like this…

Runner: What do you do when you don’t run?

Me: I teach yoga.

Runner: I didn’t think runners could do yoga.

This conversation almost always sends me into a fit of rage. Of course runners can do yoga!! In fact, runners NEED yoga. Not only does it help stretch out overused and tight muscles, but the mental benefits are exactly what you need to get through the last few miles of a long run. Somehow, yoga got the rap that it is only for people who walk in ready to chill in full splits. It also got the rap of being something “extra”… not a workout, but this thing you sometimes do… like once a month… you know, if you have the time.

I promise you, consistent yoga will help your running.

This is not only because it will help keep you limber and less injury prone, but learning to quiet your mind is the only way you can beat the negative thoughts that ALL of us struggle with. Yoga teaches us about our bodies, our breath, and tendencies we might have in our thoughts. It also teaches us how to set an intension (and stick with it), it teaches us how to not fly off the handle when someone does something you don’t like, and it makes us strong. If you can do a handstand, you’ve got some serious core strength.

Check out her handstand! She is so strong!

Check out her handstand! She is so strong!

Sometimes I hear how runners probably can’t touch their toes, and that is why they can’t do yoga.

I have been running a lot longer than I have been doing yoga. I was a sprinter by the time I was 6 and I played soccer starting at 11. When I began my yoga practice (as a disgruntled adolescent that was going because their mom said they should), I could barely touch my knees. My hamstrings were like rocks. Over the years, my practice started to get more consistent and eventually, my palms were on the ground.

Standing head to knee pose took many years to build flexibility through consistency and perseverance in my yoga practice.

Standing head to knee pose took many years to build flexibility through consistency and perseverance in my yoga practice.

Am I now a better yogi because my hamstrings are loose? 

NO! Absolutely not. Nothing happened when I touched my toes, well, besides me touching my toes. No rainbows or unicorns appeared. I just touched them. No one high-fived me or threw a party. Maybe I look a little “prettier” (to Yoga Journal Magazine‘s standards) in some postures. I am, however, not “better at yoga” for it. I still lay in relaxation trying to quiet my mind, just like everyone else.

If I have not convinced you yet, here are some runner’s that practice yoga:

Scott Jurek
Shalane Flanagan
Kara Goucher
Lauren Fleshmen
Meb Kefkezighi

They practice for various reasons. Some are looking for the mental benefits, others are looking for strength and flexibility. Regardless, yoga can give you all of these things.

Elites are not the only ones! Here is a pretty awesome (AND FAST) blogger who has a beautiful yoga practice.

So, don’t let the negative talk win. All runners can do yoga. All runners should do yoga.