Virbhadrasana ISatara Hill Half Marathon 2015, an unforgettable experience. The visit was intended to deliver a talk on ‘Role of Yoga’ in making ‘Runners Better Runners’. It ended up being a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ making its way to the list of my proudest moments. Unprepared, unplanned, unexperienced & unexpectedly, I completed my first Half Marathon at ‘Satara Hills Half Marathon 2015.’ The unshakable believe, some of the runners, had in my ability to do “it” convinced me to believe in myself. In retrospection, I realized the only reason, I was able to complete this run normally, was because of my intensive yoga practice.

The title of my presentation at the Satara Hill Half Marathon 2015 expo was “Stiffness to Stillness…. with YOGA.” The title had different kind of impact on different groups of runners. Experienced and elite runners comprehended and related to the topic immediately, whereas the other group of slightly inexperienced runners did not see any correlation between Stillness and Running.

The word STIFFNESS is not new to the running world. Most of the runners at some point have experienced injuries like Knee pain, Shin splints, Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, Flat feet, Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), Hip pain or strain, Sciatica, Hamstring strain or pull, Groin strain or pull, Lower-back pain, Upper-back or shoulder tightness or pain etc. Undeniably, stiffness is one of the main culprits which cause these injuries.

Experienced runners who have overcome these problems or did not allow the problems to hold them back and emerged as better runners have done so because they know the right form, the right technique, the correct deep breathing pattern, focusing on strength building, muscular balance, warm up before a run, static stretches after a run, working with restorative postures after a long run, hydrating adequately, resting well, studying, doing research, following and applying the required rules of running without any lapse. Running is not merely an activity for them but a way of life which is performed in totality with the right elements in place.

For them,

“Running is Meditation while in Motion”

Meditation is difficult to define in concrete terms. Looking at someone sitting in a particular posture, with eyes closed and with fingers arranged in a certain mudra is definitely meditation. But that is Passive Meditation. Being 100% involved and evolved with the current act whether it is eating, cooking, cutting vegetables, taking shower, walking, jumping, running etc. too is a form of meditation called Active Meditation. You are completely in the moment. The vehicle here is concentrated focus. And that is what I meant, when I used the word ‘Stillness’.

Running, without inculcating a habit of all the above mentioned elements can prove to be disastrous

RunningRunning, as a fitness regime, has gained popularity in the last few years. It is the most simple and the most inexpensive thing to do with benefits galore. Regular running is bound to improve cardiovascular health, bone health, self-esteem, weight-loss etc. It takes us around the world, helps build up a strong social network and much more. But running alone and not applying the other required elements, which are a must, may lead to some of the downside.

Myotatic Stretch Reflex – Reflex is defined as an ‘involuntary or almost instantaneous movement in response to stimuli’. “The stretch reflex (myotatic reflex) is a muscle contraction in response to stretching within the muscle. It is a neural mechanism that responds to changes in muscle length (stretching) by attempting to resist the change in length.” Myotatic Stretch Reflex provides the ‘strength’ required during dynamic movement, allowing us to continue in a stabilized way, otherwise the body will collapse without control (Yoga Anatomy).

Use of Myotatic Stretch Reflex repetitively, over a longer period of time, however, has another effect. It leads o shortening of the muscles reducing the flexibility to a state of diminishment, if static stretches are not made a part of regular practice. So, on one hand, Myotatic Stretch Reflex provides the strength for running, on the other, it causes muscle fibers shortening leading to stiffness and therefore culminating into a host of injuries.

Muscular Imbalance – As mentioned above, repetitive movement shortens muscle fibers and over a period of time, the muscles tend to remain in the shortened form, if not stretched regularly. Also, running being a sport specific activity results in Muscular Imbalance as certain muscles are constantly being overused while certain others constantly underused.

Running does create muscular imbalance but before the concept of muscular imbalance reaches the stage of running, it is already in a matured state in our body due to our lifestyle. Our day to day activities, desk bound job, postural misalignment etc. has already played havoc and lead to several Muscular Imbalances, which gets transferred onto running, as well. Running with already established muscular imbalances further multiplies the injuries. These imbalances not only reduce efficiency but also, utilize more energy than required while running.

Blog Picture 2Sympathetic Nervous System – Central Nervous System has two branches: Sympathetic Nervous System and Parasympathetic Nervous System. Sympathetic Nervous System is the process of stimulating ‘Fight or Flight’state, increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, decreased blood flow to lever, bladder, kidneys and increased blood flow to the working muscles temporarily. Running induces Sympathetic Nervous System. It is important to work on stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System as well which helps maintain the homeostasis in the body and bring the body back to normal and peaceful state or else one may end up with various problems as mentioned above.

YOGA has the potential to bridge the gap and create the right Balance & Symmetry required

Yoga is a multi-dimensional science touching upon each and every aspects of our lives, be it Social, Personal, Physical, Physiological, Mental, Psychological, Intellectual or Spiritual. Yogic practice helps develop wholesome personality and help live life fully. From a runner’s perspective, let us focus only on the two limbs of Yoga i.e. Asana & Pranayama. Practicing just these two itself is bound to show sea of change.

Asana – There are lakhs of asana which can be performed standing, sitting, lying down on the abdomen, lying down on the back or in inversions. Not only that, there are many variations to the asans as well. It means you can twist, turn, turn upside down, and bend (forward, backward, and sideways) in so many ways. There is no way that even a single part of your body, muscle, gland; joint is left unmassaged due to this gamut of movements. Balancing and symmetry is natural in the practice of Yoga asanas.

Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Posture

Asanas can be symmetrical as well as asymmetrical. Symmetrical postures work on the whole body in a symmetrical and balanced way. With asymmetrical postures, we work on one side of the body and then the other side. The moment you start with asymmetrical postures, the first thing you become aware of, is the imbalances in your body, which is quite expected because of the repetitive movement of running. Using this awareness, you can use the asymmetrical postures to create the right symmetry and balance in your body.

Many Asymmetrical postures are a great combination of stretch and strength. You get double benefits with just one posture, not to mention the other numerable benefits, which comes as an added bonus. As stiffness reduces and flexibility comes to the optimal level, a runner needs less energy to move the joints and can use the energy for making his run long, comfortable and enjoyable.

YOGA – a perfect combination of Endurance, Strength, Flexibility, Restoration & Recovery

Flexibility With the static stretches
Strength Building With strength building postures in which you lift your own body weight
Injury Prevention Not only gives you the symmetry and balance to prevent injury but at the same time helps deal with chronic and stubborn injuries as well
Seasonal Training You can design as per your requirement. Hence strength building asana when not training hard and simple stretching when at the peak of the training
Post Run Recovery Restorative Postures has the capacity to restore your body in short time and get you back on the road faster than expected
Props One can use various props designed especially to perform yoga postures with support. These props are of great use when you have injuries or when the body is so tired that you do not want to use the tension in the muscle and let it go. Helps speed up recovery

Pranayama – Comprising of the words Prana + Ayama, which means ‘pranic capacity or length’. It is a process by which breathing quality improves and the internal pranic store increases. Yogic breathing is deep in nature. Full inhalation fills the lungs from bottom to top and full exhalation empties the lungs from top to bottom.

Runners more often than not, end up in shallow breathing. It means they are using only the upper part of the lungs. Maximum number of capillaries is situated at the lower portion of the lungs where we have the exchange of oxygen with carbon dioxide. Pranayama works on the upper lungs as well as the lower lungs. Deep breathing helps increase oxygen intake and release more carbon dioxide from the blood. Also, the two important muscles of breathing, diaphragm & intercostal muscles are optimally used during the deep breathing, keeping the lungs supple & breathing rhythmic.

Running increases lung capacity but combining it with pranayama practice, on a regular basis, will enhance that capacity even more. Runners know the value of VO2 max. High VO2 helps pump large amount of oxygen rich blood to the working muscles thereby increasing the running efficiency.

Pranayama activates parasympathetic nervous system thereby nourishing and healing the body. It increases the blood flow to the digestive system and is responsible for cellular growth and regeneration. The sympathetic nervous system stimulated by running can be settled with the practice of Pranayama.

Make your Running Meditation in Motion

The awareness of body and mind that one acquires, with regular practice of YOGA, gets transmitted to running naturally. This awareness further gives a deeper understanding of the running form, running technique, breath involvement etc. Watching one’s eating pattern and following the required rules and regulation, one can reach a point where running becomes an effortless enjoyable process. It does not seem like an act with too much effort any more. At this point, you have reached the point of Active Meditation where You and Running are no more two different entities but have become ONE.

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Shammi GuptaShammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporates, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporates.