Running and Yoga: A match made in heaven? How Yoga has helped Sarah Oxley run in spite of sciatica and having 3 wonderful kids. This is a personal story of a long time yogi, mom and runner who explains why she thinks yoga has been essential for her running (and maybe the other way round too, in some ways)
I have been running regularly since my twenties. Back then I never really suffered from injuries and I was definitely what you would call a lazy runner – not in the sense that I dawdled through them – more in the fact that I rarely warmed up properly and post run stretching was an unfortunate evil which I only did if I could be bothered – which was hardly ever. Of course being young meant that there were no serious come backs; I rarely got injured. Indeed, I was very happy to abuse my body in this way for years and years.
The unfortunate truth of life is that eventually we all get older and more prone to the risk of injury. On top of that life events can significantly affect how you approach any fitness activity you enjoy. Take me – I am now in my forties and life has also blessed me with 3 children. Both have had implications for me and my running.
When I turned 40 a wise gym friend turned to me and said “watch out – from now on you are not only more likely to suffer from injuries more easily you will also find that it takes you longer to heal fully.” I didn’t believe him at the time – I mean why would I when up until this point I had rarely suffered at all from injuries? Why on earth would things suddenly change?
However, it turned out that he was right and truly wise. It did not happen straight away but as the months ticked along I did noticed that I had to start taking a little more care. I had to take time to do my warm-ups and cool downs, otherwise I would hardly be able to walk the next day as a result of stiffness. I was more likely to pull a muscle as well. I soon realized that I need to start taking care of my body – properly.
My 3 pregnancies left me with a twisted pelvis and permanent sciatica along my right side (and that is before I even get started on muscle weaknesses!) As a result, my runs can aggravate my sciatica greatly leaving me feeling a little uncomfortable for days afterwards. I can also get back ache along with stiffness down my hamstrings which isn’t at all pleasant.
So, where does yoga fit in?
Yoga was something I dipped in and out from the age of 20. However, since turning 40 it has accidentally become something of a best friend. In fact, I can safely say that I couldn’t got through a day without doing some yoga – whether it be 10 minutes or an hour. Most importantly yoga and I have come to an understanding which is, it simple plain terms, that without it I am pretty certain that my running days are numbered!
So, what exactly is it about yoga which makes it so valuable a buddy? Well, I guess for me practicing yoga is in the same league as giving your car a service (except that your body is taking the place of your car). It really does help to keep everything in as good a working order as possible. I know this for a fact because if I stop practicing yoga, I start to notice that I don’t feel as good as I usually do and when it comes to running, I certainly do not run as well and as enjoyably as I do when yoga is part of my life.
So, what is it about yoga that has helped me so much?
Yoga is holistic, offering a complete balanced exercise program.
Yoga is not just for flexibility – it has the potential to strengthen, align and balance out your entire body. In addition, because everything in yoga is linked to the breath it enables you to really get to know your body intimately. You cannot stop it as you have no choice but to really feel and focus on everything that you are doing.
As I breathe and flow through my asanas for the day, I learn, where I feel strong and flexible and where I feel tighter and weaker; I sense where my imbalances are and also where I may have pushed my body too much. A sensible flow of asanas will address all these areas helping to strengthen the weak muscles and lengthen the tighter ones.
Going back to my sciatica problem – I have been told it is partly due to the fact that I am right dominate (in other words I use my right side over my left) – since practicing yoga regularly I am managing to balance the two sides a little more which is helping me to manage it.
Going back to flexibility, it is indeed a superior stretch session. Let’s face it for many of us stretches are done as quickly as possible; some days we do them well, other days we may skip a few or avoid them altogether. Life is busy after all and we may not have time – sound familiar? When I practice yoga, I undo the ‘damage’ of not taking enough time to stretch out. Because a yoga practice combines building flexibility, and strength and balance your stretching work is cleverly incorporated. So, if life demands get in the way of a good stretch session, a yoga practice at another time will help repair the ‘damage.’
Indeed, I have to admit that I often do some yoga before and after a run now rather than traditional warm ups and cool downs. A series of sun salutations are a great way to warm up before a run.
Post run, there are some wonderful poses which help your body recover like “parsvakonasana,” “anjaneyasana,” “ardo mukha svanasana,” “malasana” and the beautiful “kapotasana” (my personal favorite). There are numerous others of course; the beauty of yoga is that you can chop and change according to what you need after a particular run.
Yoga is transferable – you can practice on and off the mat
Yoga helps my runs on the mat but also during my runs. The internal body awareness that you learn as you practice on the mat, you start to naturally take with you when you run. For instance, you start to think about how your striking the ground with your foot, whether you are running with good posture, how you are breathing, how your muscles are feeling etc. It also helps to soothe your ego enabling you to accept and respect your limitations on any given day. You start to develop real body respect which will stop you from pushing too far and so help you avoid injuring yourself. A yoga mentality teaches you to pause, take stock and listen, and practice self-love.
So there you have it. Yoga has helped me continue to run because it has permanently changed my relationship with my body for the better. Yoga is the perfect exercise system for holistic health; it trains both the body and the mind. Many of us push and push hoping that will make us fitter and better; our bodies are often seen as the enemy or traitor, especially when the results we want don’t seem to come our way. Consequently, we push more and more and potentially abuse ourselves more and more. With yoga I have learnt that this is not the best way. Treat your body right and your body will thank you for it and reward you with helping you to enjoy life to the full include doing what you love. So, what are you waiting for, take a breath, practice some yoga and see it change your life for the better.
About the Author – Sarah Oxley – Yogi, Mom, Runner, Swimmer
Sarah lives in Aylesbury along with her husband and 3 children and when she isn’t teaching or practicing yoga she is usually out for a run or a swim. She gained her 200 hour Yoga Alliance Certification in 2014 and BWY accreditation in 2015 with TeachYoga.com. Since qualifying, Sarah teaches yoga part time in the Aylesbury area (Buckinghamshire). She also has 6 years experience of teaching pregnancy and postnatal yoga classes.
She has a growing interest in yoga therapy and is hoping to train in this area in the near future. She tweets at twitter.com/SarahOxleyYoga
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