Running is Yoga?

Running is my sport, and yoga is the multivitamin. I started doing yoga because I was weak and tight in ways that running doesn’t adequately change or challenge. Stereotypically, runners and yogis are antitheses of one another. Where runners have ‘closed’ hips, yogis tend to have ‘open’ hips. Yogis have balanced upper/lower-body muscular development while runners are disproportionately leg-strong. Spinal flexion and extension is minimal for the runner, and quite drastic for yogis. Yoga stretches and strengthens in 360 degrees, while running is composed primarily of movement in the sagittal (front to back) plane. Running involves chronic, repetitious impact with the ground; yoga does not.

However, whether over the long term or a single session, both confer clarity, a sense of wellness, and protection from hypertension and depression (as well as another billion million health benefits). Whatever the mechanism, they both effect a change in consciousness. I know, I know, woo-woo yoga stuff. Stay with me here!

I’ve mentioned before the 8 core limbs of yoga, but I only talked about equanimity. Here’re some more limbs, as applied to both yoga and running.

Limb/Definition Yoga application Running application
Asana = postures & poses; physically readying the body for mediation Contemporary yoga in the U.S. is usually primarily a sequence of postures and poses designed to evoke/provoke an internal experience. Repetition of a single sequence of poses and postures produces forward movement, and precedes the release of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and all things good.
Pranayama: controlled breath to stimulate and direct life force Breathing techniques are cued to turn the gaze inward, build momentum, sustain energy, and restore calm throughout a class. Effective breathing patterns maximize oxygen exchange in the lungs, blood, and tissues. Can’t run if you can’t breathe.
Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses (see previous post on equanimity) As class progresses the student (in theory) becomes more in tune with their inner world (and less concerned with comparing themselves to their neighbor, or themselves in the mirror). They are able to find companionable existence with whatever emotions may previously have been too much to acknowledge and handle. Literally the runner becomes insensate (or at least less sensitive) to previous distractions such as aches/pains, and the need to eat, drink, or void. Also less vulnerable to emotional stressors.
Dharana: focus, concentration Student applies all available attention and intention to uniting breath and poses, from a place of equanimity. Runner commits to the run despite passing distractions such as ice cream shops, dogs, and inviting shade trees.
Dhyana: meditation Yogi attains state of serenity/clarity/peace, a place of gentle contemplation, or just being. Runner gets gently/peacefully lost in thought, without compromising commitment to the run or execution of the sequential movement pattern. If racing, runner engages completely with experience of running, fixates on limits of body and self.
Samadhi: experience of the divine Savasana – i.e. corpse pose, the posture where zero effort is required and yet you are still a valued and contributing member of the class. You know it’s bliss! Endorphin high, experienced as beatific love and acceptance of self and others without discrimination.

Yup, running is yoga! Different means, same ends.


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