Running is addictive. What starts as a way to counteract our largely inactive 21st century lives, can quickly draw you in to a world of PBs, Pace tracking, early morning runs in the dark and marathons. But it is a very yang activity. In a world where we are constantly rushing around, meeting deadlines and squeezing things in, it might not be helping us to find a balance. It is an activity which requires muscles to activate and contract, but not to release. It is also a fairly linear exercise with the majority of the work being done by pulling arms and legs forwards and backwards and completely excluding spinal movements such as lateral flexion and extension.
These yoga poses will lengthen out your muscles, especially your back and legs and balance out the body with a more yin activity that encourages release.
Try to keep your breath steady and deep throughout, holding poses for around 8 breaths and move slowly between the poses to help find space in the body.
1. Child's Pose - Bālāsana
This pose is about switching on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which is the complete antithesis to the literal fight or flight of running.
Starting on your hands and knees, draw your bottom to your heels reaching your arms ahead of you on the floor. Let your forehead be supported by either the ground, block or blanket. This lets the Vagus nerve, which runs across your forehead and is directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, be activated.
Ensure that your bottom is on your heels - if it doesn't reach then place a block or blanket between the heels and bottom. You can also place a blanket behind the back of the knees if they feel too compressed. Be sure that you are supported rather than hanging in the air so that you can fully release. Your hands, forehead and bottom should be grounded.
Breathe into the back of the body, drawing your attention to the parts of your back that feel the tightest.
You might like to gently roll your head from side to side.
2. Down Dog - Adho Mukha śvānāsana
This pose will allow you to create space in the back of the legs and spine.
Start on the floor, on your hands and knees, placing your knees below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spreading your hands, index fingers parallel, tuck your toes under. On a exhale, lift your knees away from the floor sending your hips up and back.
Keep a deep bend in the knees and the heels lifted away from the floor. This allows the spine to fully lengthen. From here think about lifting your sitting bones up towards the ceiling making a pyramid shape with your body.
Then with your next exhale breath, start to straighten the legs by pushing your thighs back and allow your heals to stretch toward the floor. Do this only as far as your lower back can stay long and open.
Reach your hands into the floor, lengthening the arms and allow that length to continue into the spine, up to the hips reaching for the sky. Position your head between your upper arms to avoid it hanging, this allows the full length of the spine to stay aligned. Draw your gaze between your feet but keep your focus soft.
3. Low lunge - Anjaneyāsana
This pose opens up the front of the hips (the hip flexors) which have to work really hard when running to pull your leg forward.
Start in mountain pose at the top of your mat. Step one leg backwards into a long lunge and drop the back knee gently to the ground. Ensure your that your front knee is over your front foot making a 90 degree angle. If your back knee is sore you can place a blanket underneath. Try to keep the weight on the back leg forward of the kneecap.
Place your hands on your hips and ensure that they are square to the front. You can keep your back toes tucked under or untucked, whatever feels better for your back knee.
On an inhale, raise your arms to the sky. Keep the arms inline with the ears. With every inhale breathe encourage the front of the hips to lift and continue that movement up into the front of the body, allowing the chest to draw gently to the sky. Do not drop your head back. After 8 breaths, place your hands back down on the floor alongside your front foot, lift your back knee off the floor and step to the front of the mat, returning to mountain pose. Repeat the pose on the other leg.
4. Lizard Pose - Utthan Pristhasana
Opening up the hips will give you an easier stride in your running. This pose will create some much needed space in the inner hips.
Starting on hands and knees bring one foot forward to the outside of your hand. Turn the toes out very slightly so that they face the same direction as the knee. Ease your back leg back keeping the knee down so that you feel a stretch at the front of the back hip. Just like with the lunge, you can pad the back knee with a blanket and keep forward of the kneecap.
Keep your hands underneath your shoulders inline with your front foot. If they don't reach the floor, use some bricks under them instead. Be high up enough so that your spine can stay long and keep your head lifted inline with your spine.
If you feel like you can go deeper into the pose, bring your elbows down onto the floor or bricks. Keep the spine long. Allow the front knee to open further by rolling onto the outside of the front foot. After holding this pose for 8 breathes, bring your hands back underneath your shoulders and step your front foot back so that you are on hands and knees. Repeat the pose on the other leg.
5. Locust pose - Salabhasana
It's crucial to keep your spine healthy by strengthening it in extension (backbend) and this pose will do just that.
Come to lie on your front. Bring your legs together, draw your arms alongside your body and allow your shoulders to relax. You can turn one cheek to the floor if that is more comfortable than having your forehead down.
On an inhale lift your head, chest and legs, and draw your arms in line with the side of your body, turning the palms to face the body. Squeeze your legs together, keeping them parallel.
Keep reaching your fingers long behind you and keep your gaze forward and down to ensure the back of your neck remains in line with the rest of your spine. Try to lift your head and chest as high as your legs and vice versa. Once you release from the pose, take child's pose to rest.
6. Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Simultaneously open the back of your body and front of hips with this pose.
Lying on the floor, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, hip distance apart, bringing the heels close to your sitting bones. Inhale and pressing into your feet, lift your buttocks off the floor so that your hips become the highest point. Press strongly into the feet and arms to find as much lift as possible.
On your next inhale, lift your chest a little higher so that you can roll your shoulders underneath you and clasp the hands together to help open the chest even further. If you can't clasp the hands, grab the edges of the mat instead.
Imagine you are squeezing the brick between your knees so that you keep them parallel, rather than swinging out. Keep pressing your hips up by squeezing your glutes strongly. To come out of the pose, move your shoulders out from underneath you and then slowly roll down the spine to relax.
7. Reclining Hand To Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana
This is a good pose to stretch the back and outside of the legs.
Lying down on your back, legs lengthened along the floor, bend in one knee and bring your thigh into your torso. Hug your thigh to your belly and take some deep inhales and exhales.
From here, you can start to lengthen the foot up towards the ceiling, straightening the leg. Use a strap or a scarf around the foot so that you can keep your shoulders on the floor. Don't feel like you have to fully straighten your leg, you'll still be stretching the back of it if your knee is bent. It's important that you don't strain to reach your foot if that means your shoulders lift.
Once you've stayed with the foot reaching for the sky for 8 breathes, take the strap or scarf into the opposite hand to the leg you're working with and draw the leg over to that side so that it comes across the body. Allow the leg to reach all the way to the earth, but feel free to bend the knee again if the stretch is too intense. Take the free arm out, along the floor so that you are in a spinal twist and gaze to the hand.
Hold for another 8 breathes then swap sides and repeat on the other leg.
8. Reclined spinal twist - Supta Matsyendrasana
This pose will twist out your spine, releasing muscles in your back and glutes.
Lying on the floor, hug both knees in towards your chest. Gently let your knees roll over to the floor on one side but keep your shoulders grounded. Keep your knees high up towards your chest so that they are at least as high as your hips and stacked on one another.
Allow the hand nearest the knees to gently rest on them and take the opposite arm out, inline with the shoulder. Take your gaze to that hand allowing your head to turn in the opposite direction to your knees.
Allow the breath to expand your ribs and to soften the body. Don't worry if the your shoulder is not on the floor, just let it feel weighted and ground it down gently with each exhale. Once you have stayed here for at least 8 breathes, draw the knees back into the centre, the chest and repeat on the other side.