Yoga can make a faster, more efficient runner and helps reduce the risk of injury.

As the weather gets warmer, the prospect of lacing your sneakers and hitting the running track is increasingly enticing. Whether you’re looking forward to jogs in the park or preparing for a big ticket event, such as the Medibank Melbourne Marathon October 14, conditioning and nurturing your body is one of the most important steps to avoid injury and ensure optimal performance.

Yoga can be the perfect complement for running, according to Medibank’s Clinical Director Dr Sue Abhary. “It aids in developing muscular strength, flexibility, core stability and range of motion, which can reduce the risk of injury. It is also great for balance and posture, breathing efficiency and mental focus, all of which are needed if you were to be participating in any endurance event”.

Kristi Clark, a Senior Facilitator at Power Living Australia Yoga, has been a runner for many years and uses yoga as part of her training ritual. A former Olympic level rhythmic gymnast and marathon runner, she knows how much strain intense physical activity can put on both the body and mind.

“One of the pitfalls of being a dedicated athlete is that we push ourselves so hard for the goals that we want to achieve that many of the ‘extra’ tasks surrounding a healthy exercise routine can get dropped to the side,” Kristi says. “As a runner, this often shows up as our commitment to warming up and cooling down properly.”

A yoga routine does not need to take more than five minutes pre-run, and 20 minutes post-run. Of course, like anything else in life, the more time we commit, the greater the benefits to be gained. But what’s most important is that you set goals that are actually achievable in your exercise and life regimes.

Moving through a gentle series of yoga postures before a run can start to warm the muscles that will be used, as well as bringing more lubrication to the joints and connective tissue surrounding the body.

Yoga is one of the best methods for creating a moving meditation (meditation meaning one point of focus, rather than stopping our thoughts). Throughout your run, instead of focusing on your to-do list or having those same old conversations running over and over again in your head, draw your awareness to your breath. See if you can start by listening to the sound of your steps, feel the ground underneath your feet, then slowly draw your awareness to how you are taking air in and out of your lungs. As you get into the groove of your pace, simply observe the rate of your breath. Listen and feel the air entering and exiting your body.

Use this increased awareness to take you right into your post-run yoga regime. Taking up to 20 minutes after a run can help prevent injury, and also allows the space to take in the experience of your run. Sit with what you’ve just experienced, physically and mentally. Acknowledge how hard you’ve pushed your body. Instead of seeing your run as ticking a box, allow this activity post-run to be a time to just be with yourself. Focus on the muscles that just worked so hard and find a balance between the dynamic energy of fast movement

“In yoga, the focus is to deepen, lengthen and extend the breath, which is then paired with movement,” says Dr Sue Abhary. “The yogic breath is a full and smooth diaphragmatic breath in which the inhalations and exhalations are completed through the nose and are done so in equal length. With practice, this style of breathing can help extend the breath for a longer duration, which may allow for improved endurance due to the greater amount of oxygen, and because of its rhythmic and calming nature, it may also help to reduce stress and mental focus, which can enhance the running experience.”

Breathing techniques are key when it comes to conditioning the body for long term training, but physical issues can be another hurdle as runners undertake full time training in all earnest. Many runners will often face hip alignment issues, which can be a cause of pain during and after running.

“Strength imbalances or asymmetries can cause a runner to favour one side over the other, which ultimately can pull the hip out of alignment,” says Dr Sue Abhary. “Many yoga poses allow for greater focus on the hip joint and on stretching the muscles like hip abductors, iliopsoas and quadratus lumborum – helping the hip flexors to loosen and lengthen. Since the hips stabilise each leg during the stance phase of the running gait, strength in that area is particularly vital. Hip weakness throws off all that stability, resulting in excess movement not only at the hip, but also at the knee.”

There is nothing worse than gearing up for a year of fitness and preparing to hit your physical peak, only to be thwarted by strains and pains that could’ve been easily prevented. And who knows, by incorporating yoga breathing and stretching routines into your workout, that jog through the park could lead to smashing a personal best in the Medibank Melbourne Marathon all before October.