We’re psyched (and a little starstruck) by this guest blog from Roisin McGettigan, Olympic runner and co-founder of Believe I Am. Ro shares some great insight on yoga and running — and the importance of maintaining balance in sport and in life…
Yoga for Runners — The Yin for the Yang
By Roisin McGettigan
This is as much a self-motivation blog as anything else. The yogi-runner is alive and well in our society and more people are harnessing the benefits of this beautiful combination. Yet, sometimes we (I) need to be reminded of the reasons why we should keep up this healthy habit in order to get on the mat! Once I finish documenting the evidence of the benefits of yoga, I’ll get back into practicing. If I had sense I would.
I see yoga and running as yin and yang — as complementary exercises. Running is “yang” — fast, aggressive, high-energy exercise. Yoga is “yin” — slow, soft, passive exercise. They are two sides to the same coin and can support each other.
Running is a great outlet for our natural competitiveness. It’s a way to push ourselves to the limits, where we “get after it” and feel alive! The benefits of running are widely documented — increased cardiovascular fitness, increased energy levels, increased serotonin levels (happy hormones), and disease prevention (and much more). Running can be an exhilarating and freeing activity, a mood enhancer, and the perfect antidote to a sedentary work life. However, despite its perks, it also can be stressful on the body since it increases cortisol levels (stress hormones), creates muscular imbalances, and increases muscle and fascia tightness, amongst other ailments. Without proper build up in training, conditioning, and rest, too much running can cause injuries and can lead to overtraining, which is no fun.
Just like the exhale needs the inhale, our bodies need relaxation after exertion.
Chilling out and really relaxing isn’t easy for everyone. Serious runners (I am going to generalize based my own experience) are competitors. They love to race, to win, to be the best, and to be their best. They are achievement-oriented. Their competitive nature allows them to win races and go “ballz to the wall” over and over again. We can become addicted to the post-run endorphin buzz and this amped up feeling — the need for speed can be an incredible craving (some people find it hard to slow down even when it’s to their own detriment). For me, running can be a stress reliever, but sometimes if I’m maxed out, running can cause more stress — and a yoga class should probably be in the cards instead.
Yoga can support the racing body and mind — it can force you to do proper stretches, keep you limber, and help you fully relax. If you find yourself injured and unable to run, yoga can help you heal. It has been proven to decrease stress by reducing the tension-triggered cytokine (a type of protein) that can make you feel tired and moody, and it can allow healing to occur. Breathing exercises can activate “nature’s valium.” “Deep, slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and releases the body’s own valium — GABA (short for gamma-Aminobutyric acid),” according to Dr. Sara Gottfried. Powerful stuff.
Yoga also focuses on intention and cultivation of gratitude, mindfulness, and attention, which benefits running and many other aspects of life. Read our previous blog about the importance of relaxation for runners. Practicing these habits is essential for attaining a peaceful, calm, and focused mind. Yoga can be a powerful tool to strengthen these neurological patterns and cultivate this conscious way of living.
Something that yoga isn’t intended to do is to promote competition or comparison with others. Although competitive nature is adorned in our western society, without keeping it in check, competitive nature can lead to exhaustion, distress, and the overwhelming sense of being trapped in a rat race. Yoga can provide a beautiful space to reflect on our overreaching competitive nature, and to see that in many contexts it’s just ego and silliness.
“I think that runners should aim for restorative yoga practices. Although the hot ‘power’ yoga classes exist, I think that what most runners need is to learn how to feel totally relaxed and give something back to their bodies, rather than just find another way to push it.” ~Ro
It’s essential to be able to relax, especially before a race, going to sleep at night, or during a hard workout or challenging life event. Once you master the ability to relax, you can use it at will in many areas of your life. Runners should not aim to be the most flexible in the class — it’s just not a requirement to run fast. But on the other hand, overly tight hamstrings and hips can cause serious injuries, so try to find the sweet spot.
Both running and yoga have the ability to bring us into the present moment by guiding our thoughts and attention into our bodies. Our minds can be obsessive little dictators — racing off to ruminate on the past, or bouncing around our never-ending task lists, hopping from “he said” to “she said,” then onto dinner plans, etc. Even studies have shown that our minds spend nearly half our time on something other than the present moment! Exercise has the potential to bring us back into the here and now — to truly engage in the sacred space where life unfolds, moment by moment, breath by breath.
Created by pro runners Roisin McGettigan and Lauren Fleshman, Believe I Am is a collection of transformative designs and apparel that utilize sports psychology techniques used by pro athletes to help aspirational women succeed in life and in sport by developing positive beliefs about themselves. Since discovering Believe I Am (via our pals at Oiselle), we’ve been inspired by Ro and Lo, and have have utilized their designs to help anchor our own beliefs and, well, this stuff works. Be inspired at www.believeiam.com.