Friday Five: 5 Ashtanga Yoga Poses for Runners

Since I’ve been back on my yoga mat recently, I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’m being very cautious and making sure I don’t overdo it like I once did. Being too flexible can be a bad thing for a runner looking to see an improvement in speed. We absolutely need to stretch and need some degree of flexibility, but being too flexible could cost you seconds, even minutes. It’s all about balance and priorities. I’m not saying you can’t have a sick yoga practice and be a runner, that’s totally fine. Once I dropped my daily practice, I also dropped about 25 minutes off of my marathon time. However, I also started having some injuries that I never, ever had with a daily practice. I never had muscular/fascial issues, and I started getting muscle strains (hamstring, calf), plantar fasciitis, and for the coup de grace – Achilles tendonitis. It’s obvious that yoga, to some degree, is extremely important for me and I needed to find some balance. So since my goal is to go sub-3 in a marathon, it means laying off the yoga and taking it down several notches. Like there was a time that being able to do this was a totally normal thing for me and happened on a daily basis:

imageSorry for the blurry picture – it actually came from a video that someone took of me once! My leg definitely doesn’t go there anymore, by the way. Anyway, that’s the world of Ashtanga Yoga, and the posture above (called durvasana) comes from the third series (also called Advanced A). These days, my practice doesn’t go further than primary series, and occasionally some second series because I like to do back bends (that’s a post for a different day). Since I’ve been dabbling in the Ashtanga world again, I’m realizing how many postures really can be beneficial to runners – particularly from the standing sequence. As runners, there are the traditional stretches that we all gravitate to – like triangle pose (trikonasana, one of my favorites), or pigeon pose. These are poses we all know (to some degree) and love. But there are so many postures out there that can really benefit your running. The next time you unroll your yoga mat to stretch, give these a try and see how they feel!

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)

imageEveryone knows downward facing dog – that’s an awesome stretch for the calves, hamstrings, Achilles, low back, etc. The next time you are post run and find yourself hanging out in down dog, lower down to the floor and try this counter stretch out. The only body parts in contact with the floor are the hands and tops of the feet, but you could drop your legs onto the mat if it’s too much. Drop the shoulders down the back and be conscious not to hunch the shoulders up by the ears. You also don’t need to drop the head back so far – that’s just how my teacher made us do things. Looking straight ahead is totally fine. Some of the benefits from this pose include:

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens the spine, arms, wrists, and glutes
  • Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen
  • Stimulates abdominal organs

Parsvakonasana A & B (Extended Side Angle)

Parsvakonasana A
Parsvakonasana A

Parvakonasana A: If you do this pose correctly it will be an amazing hip opener and stretch the side of your body out. Next time you are doing triangle pose post run, drop into a lunge (don’t let the knee go over the ankle!) and reach overhead. Focus on turning your hips forward rather than squaring them over the thigh and you will feel an incredible hip stretch. If you hand doesn’t reach the floor, no worries: just bend at the elbow and rest it on the top of your thigh.

Parvakonasana B: I like to do a modification of this pose. Drop the knee down (don’t hyper-extend here: keep the knee and ankle lined up!), square your chest over the thigh, and sink into the hips for a deep hip stretch. On your exhale, rotate so that the outside of your arm connects with the outside of the thigh. You don’t have to put your hands in prayer, even the smallest twist will be beneficial and therapeutic. The full expression of the posture keeps the back knee off the floor, but I find that dropping the knee and sinking into the hips is a better stretch for my hips and gets me deeper into the twist.

Prasarita Padottanasana, A-D (Wide-Legged Forward Fold)

Most runners do forward folds to stretch the hamstrings, but playing around with your hand positioning in a wide legged forward fold can change the effect. If you just came in from a long run, chances are more than just your legs are sore. Your neck, shoulders and back might be sore from maintaining an upright position. From parsvakonasana, you could stand up and make your feet parallel and begin this sequence. It’s a set of four forward folds, and you can do all four or just do one or two. I like doing all four. It’s like the first one (A) is just releasing the hamstrings and relaxing. The second one (B) is a deeper hamstring stretch because there’s less support. The third (C) is my favorite, because it opens the chest and shoulders and finally the last one (D) is the deepest of them all. I come up to standing after each fold and readjust before going into the next one.

When completing this posture, be sure to keep weight in the balls of the feet. Some of the benefits from the pose:

  • Strengthens and stretches the inner and back legs and the spine
  • Tones the abdominal organs
  • Relieves mild backache

Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

imageI used to really hate this pose. I don’t really know why. In Ashtanga, you are supposed to hold each posture for five breaths, but I would always count really quickly when it came to this one. When I hurt my Achilles, I can’t remember who mentioned to me about Utkatasana being a really good stretch for it. I never thought of this posture as a stretch, I thought of it more as a strengthening posture. Oddly enough, once I looked at it a little differently, I started to enjoy it. You don’t have to reach your arms up over your head – you could simply extend them out in front of you of reaching is too much on your shoulders.

  • Strengthens the ankles, thighs, calves, and spine
  • Stretches shoulders and chest, calves
  • Stimulates the abdominal organs, diaphragm, and heart
  • Reduces flat feet

Uthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose)

image

Another posture that used to hate has recently become a favorite. I get a really good stretch down the back of one leg while working on my leg and ankle strength on the opposite side. If you can’t reach your toe, don’t worry – just bend at the knee and hold the outside of the knee gently. The posture actually has three parts: the first is holding the leg out in front of you, and then you open up the hips by rotating the leg out to the side. Once you’ve held each for about five breaths, you bring the leg back to center release the toe (or knee) and hold here – now you are working your core.

  • Strengthens the legs and ankles
  • Stretches the backs of the legs
  • Improves sense of balance

There are tons of posture out there, and these are just from the standing sequence of the Ashtanga yoga syllabus. Next time you are post run and looking for some new ways to stretch, try one or two of these!

Do you stretch or practice yoga post run? What are some of your go-to stretches/yoga postures?

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16 Replies to “Friday Five: 5 Ashtanga Yoga Poses for Runners”

  1. I try to stretch after all my runs, but sometimes I’m just not as successful as I’d like to be. I always do downward dog and I love love love pigeon/paranoid pigeon. I will definitely be trying to add these into my post-run routine! Hope you have a great weekend!!

  2. Holy effing crap, Allison. How do you DO THAT?!? Isn’t it weird that being flexible is bad for running times? I loved learning that because I didn’t feel like such a loser for not being able to bend over and touch my toes. I only stretch when I’m coming off an injury. I need to do more of it, I know, I know.

    1. You and me both, sister – for me, I’m either all in with the yoga/stretching or not at all. I am trying my hardest to practice yoga twice per week lately just in case I slack on my post run stretching. It’s so hard to stick with it, though! Not enough hours in a day!!

  3. I had no idea it would hurt your running to be too flexible! That’s so interesting. I don’t think I have to worry about that though as I’ve never been very flexible to begin with. My hips are always so tight so I rely on pigeon pose to stretch them out on my own. I really love your description of these poses and the modifications you can do. That final pose – yeah, I definitely have to bend me knee to do that one LOL!

    1. One of my teachers always told me that if I stopped running, I’d be a better yogi, or if I stopped doing yoga, I’d be a better runner. I always believed her about the first part (obviously I would be more flexible without running) but never about the second part until I actually stopped doing yoga! But I practiced six days per week, at least two hours each day. It was a little excessive 🙂

  4. I too found it very interesting that your marathon times improved when you stopped practicing yoga every day. I wonder why being flexible hurts speed? I thought it’d improve your speed! *cue “the more you know” jingle*

    I will definitely give some of these poses a try! I’m looking to get more into yoga. I’m not very flexible or coordinated so naturally I stink at it, LOL. My thing with yoga is that a lot of the poses KILL my wrists. I sometimes have to stop in the middle because they hurt my wrists and hands so badly. And then I wonder what I’m doing wrong because the instructor says I should be feeling it in a totally different area of my body! Haha….one day I’ll get there…one day 🙂

    1. A lot of people have trouble with their wrists when they begin practicing. Mostly in downward facing dog. If you find that happening, drop down to your knees for a little break! It gets better with time!! When I was teaching consistently, I usually just wanted the people to get in the pose, whether they felt it in the right place or not! As long as it isn’t hurting you, it will help you 🙂

  5. Nice poses! I took my first yoga class this past winter and really enjoyed it. I know I have tight hips, so all the stretching was really good for me. I haven’t done much yoga recently, but it feels good to know a few more stretches that I can do post-run. 🙂

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