Why Every Runner Needs Yin Yoga

This article first appeared in mindbodygreen.com and is written by Sharee James

If you were to complement your running with the deep stretches practiced in Yin yoga, ailments like joint wear or tight hamstrings could become a thing of the past. Unlike more dynamic types of yoga — like Bikram, vinyasa or Ashtanga — that develop stamina and strength in the muscles and joints, Yin yoga is comprised of seated or lying down postures. This slower practice emphasizes work on the tendons, ligaments and fascia of the hips, legs and lower back. This allows for a deep release of tension, improved circulation and greater flexibility.

What Is Yin Yoga?

From an energetic perspective, the poses help to open the meridian channels of the body and get the stagnant Chi or qi moving, improving organ function, immunity and emotional well-being.

The poses are typically held for a longer duration (2 to 5 minutes), and the pacing and transitions are much slower. The idea is to stretch deeply, then hold the stretch, finding and staying with your “edge” in the pose. This can sometimes feel pretty intense, but will result in greatly enhanced flexibility in the long run.

Incredible Benefits For Runners

Yin yoga is of particular benefit to runners because of its lengthening and releasing effect on the fascia. (Forgot what fascia is? Start here.) Once thought to be of little consequence to anatomists and health care professionals alike, these sheets of connective tissue, when subjected to repetitive movements (like running!), can shorten and tighten in ingrained patterns around muscles.

This can cause chronic tightness and muscle tension, increased chances of injury, and poor running posture. The incredible thing about fascia — because of its interconnectivity throughout the body — is that by simply stretching a few key areas highly dense with fascia (such as in the lower body), the fascia is able to release with more ease.

Balancing Yin And Yang In Your Workouts

The ancient Chinese concept of Yin and Yang relates to the notion that within two opposing forces, there is interdependence, connectivity and balance. How does this relate to your workout? Certain styles of exercise can be classified as either Yin or Yang, according to their inherent qualities.

Yang style workouts (like running) are more active, sweat-inducing, heat-building, dynamic and repetitive. The Yang principle relates to masculinity, heat, movement and force.

Yin is the feminine force, relating to stillness, rest, balance, cooling and release. Exercises that are based on stretching and relaxation are therefore said to be Yin by nature.

If Yang-style workouts are overused without balancing with any Yin, the body may become overworked, injured or fatigued. The practice may also to become egocentric and based solely on reaching physical goals.

Mindfulness In Exercise

A Yin yoga practice can help us to really tune in to the messages of our body, due to its calming and introspective nature. The practice reminds us that regular doses of stillness and relaxation are as important to our well-being as getting our sweat on through running is.

Yin yoga helps us become well-acquainted with our bodies’ limitations and capabilities, as we continually observe the sensations that arise. Developing a habit of mindful awareness and fusing it into our running practice means we’ll be better able to listen to our bodies’ innate messages and potentially prevent injury and overexertion.

Not to mention the fact that we’ll also enjoy our running so much more as we open ourselves more fully to the present moment!

Sharee James is a naturopath and a yoga and meditation instructor who has been leading group retreats in the Himalayas of Nepal for the last 5 years.

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