Many runners find yoga to be an incredibly helpful addition to their workout regimen. It can help us increase the range of motion in areas that, traditionally, get overly tight due to the repetitive movements of our sport. Yoga is also beneficial for strengthening some of the muscles that can get a bit lazy without prodding. And let’s not forget about all the good yoga does for the mind—not to mention the nervous system.
But we’ve learned that not every type of yoga is ideal for every stage of training, and so it may come as no surprise that there are some yoga poses that runners—particularly those dealing with some of the physical ailments typical to long-distance runners, like arthritic knees or extremely tight IT bands—might want to approach with caution.
Don’t take this as a pass to skip your next session on the mat, though! Overall, the benefits of yoga far, far outweigh any potential problems you might encounter.
Movements To Modify
Pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits may serve you well in running, but in yoga, “It’s really important for runners to be honest with where their body is, tightness-wise,” says Tanya Siejhi, a certified yoga therapist, licensed massage therapist, and founder of Healsci Yoga School in Sarasota, Fla. “Sometimes in class we’re driven to push for more, reach for more. But you have to be really mindful of when you reach your edge—particularly with forward folding, because runners’ hamstrings tend to be so tender.”
This is important to keep in mind, because in many classes, like a vinyasa flow class where you’re going through repeated sun salutations, there are a lot of forward bends. You can still do them, of course—just modify by bending your knees a bit (or a lot) to reduce the strain on areas that are tight.
Another type of movement Siejhi advises runners to approach with caution is anything that involves crossing the midline—eagle pose arms, for example, where you spread your scapulas wide across the back of your torso as you entwine your arms in front of you, or laying on your back and crossing your leg over to the opposite side—because these movements can put a great deal of stress on the outside of your joint. When doing these poses, be careful to allow your body to move into them rather than trying to force it into those positions in order to get all the benefits without the risk of injury.
Bad Knees? No Problem.
If your knees are an issue, there’s no reason to push them into any position that doesn’t feel comfortable. Siejhi offers the following as examples of poses you may want to consider modifying; however, as you’ve read here a few times already, it’s important to listen to your body first and foremost.
Use a block or bolster to prop up your front hip and don’t try to force your front shin to be parallel to the mat (it’ll feel better to keep that front knee bent further).
Thunderbolt Or Diamond Pose
Sit on blocks rather than attempting to sit back onto your feet or between your shins.
Don’t bend quite so deeply. Consider placing a block or pillow beneath your bottom knee to offer support.
A good rule of thumb for those with knee issues, according to Siejhi, is, “If you’re getting pinching in the hip or knees, back off of that stretch. Instead, go for muscle activation of the opposite muscle that you’re stretching.” For example: In a low lunge, instead of stretching the quad of your back leg as you press forward, ease up on the depth of your lunge and try activating your glute and hamstring muscles.
It’s also wise to keep props handy in a class—even if you’re the only one with blocks. Remember, using props in yoga isn’t a sign of weakness. They simply offer a way to add to your yoga practice. “The more props you have, the happier your body is going to be,” Siejhi says. “We often think of props as being for people who can’t get into a pose, but I prefer to think of them as something that makes my body happy.”