Something I’ve struggled with over the past two years is my yoga practice. When I began this blog, it was supposed to be a platform for me to chronicle not only my running, but my Ashtanga yoga practice. There was a time when Ashtanga was my primary focus, and running was just a thing I did on the side. I used to practice Ashtanga yoga six days per week, and sometimes my practice could take upwards of three hours. In 2013, trying to be an Ashtangi and a runner nearly broke me. I was practicing the third series, also known as Advanced A, and could do some seriously crazy (but cool) shit. I could put my leg behind my head and do things that most people would think are seemingly impossible. I have some really cool videos of it, but I still can’t figure out how to get them on here unless I put them on YouTube. Sometimes I watch them and can’t believe I’m watching the same person.
Three days before running the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon, I was practicing yoga with my teacher, David Garrigues, at his shala – the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia (aka AYS). I had a weird ache in my groin area, but I went ahead to run and finish Boston (before the bombs) anyway. My leg hurt the whole time, and I was limping badly for days after. Fast forward to a doctor’s appointment a week later…I ran Boston on a fractured femur. It was the femoral shaft, not the neck so it actually wasn’t the worst recovery ever – I was back to running in four short weeks. I was training for a marathon in Alaska at the time, so I needed to keep my endurance up. I’d booked the whole vacation around this marathon and going to Alaska is NOT cheap, so not running was not an option. With the whole 50 state goal thing, it would mean I would have to go back to Alaska if I didn’t run it. This was about the time my yoga practice took a backseat to my running.
Around this time, I began increasing my cross training and started having less and less time for yoga. I struggled to keep up my intense practice, and by summer had abandoned my third series practice and just stuck with primary and second series. By fall, I was lucky if I got on my mat once per week. In 2014, I almost boycotted yoga altogether because suddenly I went from a 3:30-40 marathoner to a 3:06 marathoner with the goal of breaking three hours. After some research and discussions with medical professionals, I was certain my yoga practice was what was holding me back from getting faster. But halfway through 2014 and after months of zero yoga, I started with muscular/soft tissue injuries that were never a problem when I was on my yoga mat regularly. A hamstring strain, plantar fasciitis, a calf strain, and Achilles tendonitis. It was clear that my body was rebelling, and I was pretty sure it had a lot to do with my lack of stretching and yoga.
So I returned to my mat, and tried to pick up my Ashtanga practice again. Just primary series, nothing crazy. But ashtanga is an extremely intense workout. A devoted ashtangi could practice regularly and use it as their sole form of exercise. If you are really into it and embrace the lifestyle, you’ll be extremely fit just from this practice alone. I can attest to this – I actually was my thinnest when I was a devoted ashtangi – close to being just around 100lbs – and every single person who took it just as seriously was very similar. You need to be very light to be able to put yourself in a lot of those postures, and my teacher was not afraid to come over when you were struggling with a posture and grab onto part of your body and say “You can’t do that because you need to lose this”. As awful as that sounds, he was usually right. Once you are really in the ashtanga mindset, it truly is enough.
So here I was, trying once again to do it all. And once again, I stopped practicing because it was just too much. I was too tired from running. I didn’t have enough time. I was too tight to get into postures that used to come easily to me. The reasons and excuses were endless. As the summer began, I really didn’t want to struggle with my Achilles anymore so in a moment of desperation, I Googled “Yoga for Runners”. A bunch of Yin Yoga videos came up. Yin…I forgot about that. When I was in the height of my practice, one of my fellow ashtangis used to take and teach yin classes because they would enhance her practice and help athletes. I even went to a few of them because I remember how good it felt. I changed my search terms to “Yin Yoga for Runners” and found a whole host of videos. I’m proud to say that I’ve been practicing 5-6 times per week again. But this time around, my practice doesn’t make me break a sweat. Not one drop. Sometimes it’s 20 minutes, other times its 90 minutes. I look forward to my practice every single day.
So what’s yin yoga? It’s a practice that focuses on holding postures for an extended period of time. It’s focus is to release muscles and connective tissue during the practice. An article on Competitor.com that I came across while researching the topic says it best:
For endurance athletes, Chung advocates yin yoga — the feminine, calming counterpart to more masculine, on-the-go, high intensity yang movements like running. Yin yoga focuses on the lower body, with a lot of work in the hips, Chung said, and because of the mellow, slow and focused approach, can be surprisingly intense and restorative. Maintaining poses for five minutes or longer has a dramatic effect on the tight, sore and often inflamed muscles, tissues, fascia and joints that runners have.
“Holding a pose for more than 72 seconds has an amazing ability to restore and rebuild connective tissue and the skeleton as well,” Chung explained. “Runners, cyclists and triathletes use their bodies in precise ways; they use the same muscles to do the same things. Yoga can bring awareness to the actions you’re placing on the body and, aside from the biceps, we hit just about every muscle.”
Yes, yes, and yes. This is exactly what I need in my life! I even have a book that I bought years ago by Sage Roundtree about running and athletes and using restorative yoga as a tool. As a certified RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher), I already have some great ideas for some sequences based on my own needs that I want to try to post. Until then, I’ve had some luck with some videos that are already out there and I want to share. I keep my mat in my living room and end up watching TV while I practice because it can be quite boring if you are fidgety and impatient like me. I’m hoping over time I can train myself to sit in postures for minutes at a time without a distraction, but it helps with the intensity and to take my mind off of the stretch. Here are some that I’ve done and enjoyed:
- Yin Yoga for Runners – Hips and Hamstrings
- Yin Yoga Class – Deep Stretch for Cyclists, Runners, Hikers, Athletes
- Yin Yoga for a Deep Stretch
- Yin Yoga Hips and Thigh
- 90 Minute Yin Yoga to Open the Adductors of the Hips
- Yin Yoga – Hips and Lower Back
- Yin Yoga Class – Hips
I have a few more on my list to try, so I’ll keep posting classes that I try and like for anyone who is interested! Will I ever take up an intense Ashtanga practice again? I can say pretty confidently that I will, but it won’t be while I’m trying to break three hours in a marathon. I can still pull out a few Ashtanga tricks on a good day…like when I was at the lake last week:
Ever try Yin Yoga? How about Ashtanga? Do you include yoga in your training?