Guest Blogger Daniela Vasquez

I’m sure you hear it all the time; “Yoga is great, I know; such and such told me about it but I can’t touch my feet”; “my hamstrings are too tight”; “Do I have to turn into a pretzel?” But I digress…

I started practicing yoga in 2004 trying to find a way to stay healthy and deep down, lose some weight, and what started as a once or twice a week practice quickly became an every day event, and I no longer felt I needed an excuse to skip yoga, instead, I needed excuses to get even more yoga!

Fast forward to 2012!

I am now a registered Yoga teacher and every week I get to share the endless benefits the practice has given me.  No, I can’t twist into a pretzel (yet!), but you know what? I can touch my toes, and I can also RUN! For 26.2 miles at a time!

It all began when my yoga teacher and mentor Dawnelle suggested I run a popular 10K event here in Colorado; The Bolder Boulder. I laughed! And Laughed! And told her I didn’t run, not even a block… but she insisted, and trained me for it (so grateful to this day!).  Come race day, there we were, at the starting line, and I was honestly still thinking I wasn’t sure how I was going to do the whole thing without stopping, but I did run, and I never stopped! And crossing that finish line gave me a feeling and an adrenaline rush that was both incredible and surreal.  I knew then I was hooked, and running was something I would continue to do until I couldn’t do it anymore.

So now, I have 3 full marathons under my belt (and the medals to prove it), and a pile of miles in between each of those 26.2.  And as I train for my fourth one, The SF Marathon, one thing that has remained a big part of my training is my yoga practice.  Even though all I want to do after an 18 mile run, or a 10 mile run is shower, eat and sleep; I set up my mat and stretch (for a while) with some trusty yoga poses. And boy! What a difference does it make!

While we run, we condition our body to do something… run! Such a repetitive motion takes us far away, wherever we want to, and for as many miles as we want or can run.  But with a repetitive motion also comes the shortening and tightening of  muscles we’re consistently using (or abusing, depending on who’s looking at this activity!).  When this happens, our muscles lose their natural length, and become rigid, so folding forward to touch our toes becomes a pain, simply because our hamstrings, lower back, hip flexors, and every other muscle we have used on a run is tense; and probably a little pissed too!

The more we keep running on those rigid muscles the more prone we will be to get ourselves injured, by overcompensating one way or another; and if you have been sidelined by an injury and unable to finish, or even start a race, you know how rough that feels…. All the training, down the drain!

I have fallen into the injury trap myself… not fun! Tight lower back (specifically the S.I Joint) made my right knee very unhappy, which meant my IT band was even less happy because I wasn’t giving my foam roller enough attention!

There lies the reason why it’s so important to stretch after a run. And that’s where yoga comes in!  Yoga can help you build strength, flexibility and balance.  All things needed while conquering 26.2 miles or 5K (3.1 miles).  How? You may wonder! Well….

As you’re guided through a yoga class, you will start noticing your breath, and it’s rhythm; and much like when you’re running, you’ll come quickly to realize that a full breath calms you down, and allows you to get that “second wind” when you start to get tired.  We hear it all the time during training: regulate your breath, manage your HR (heart rate), and increase your VO2 Max (aerobic capacity) and if you’re a number cruncher (like me) who stares at the data and compares notes from previous years or the previous week, you’ll know how important this is.  Conquering a yoga pose, increasing your oxygen capacity, running longer and maybe faster,  it all works together.

Going through a series of poses, in any yoga style, will allow you to regain balance, both in mind and body.  Standing poses and balancing poses create strength in ankles, feet, and legs, and by way of balancing, we learn to handle the difficulties of a pose with grace and always going back to the breath as a guide; and isn’t that what we most need when our mind starts playing tricks on us well into a race?

Our hips, hamstrings, quadriceps and IT band need all the love they can get, and poses like downward facing dog, half pigeon, crescent lunge, chair pose, half lord of the fishes, and frog (to name a few) can help in that department tremendously!!! No idea what I’m talking about?? Perhaps it is time to take a plunge (or if not ready, maybe just splash by the shore) into the world of yoga!

There’s many styles of yoga out there, each one to fit whatever style you’re looking for; I promise you!!!  Maybe you’re not quite sure what “Your style” is yet, so search online, look for studios in your area, read the descriptions of the classes and check them out and let the magic of yoga happen to you (I know, you may be saying….magic??? really??? and yes!!, I promise, give it a few times and the benefits will seem almost magical!).

If the class if listed as Vinyasa, you’re in for a fun and fast paced class, linking breath with movement and finding almost a sort of dance throughout the class. If you find yourself there and feel like you can’t keep up DO NOT discourage. Take a breath, relax, and get back to it… Yoga, like everything in life, sometimes takes us to those “hard patches” or in this case, hard poses, and the only way to “conquer” them is with an open heart and lots of patience (with ourselves).  Mile 21 anyone??

An Anusara practice will guide you through the Universal Principles of Alignment.  A slower pace class that places special attention to your foundation and alignment on each one of the poses. You’ll be exploring the entire time! And muscles will be melting afterwards!.

There’s also Bikram Yoga, a practice that takes you through a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises inside a heated room at 105 F.  Prepare to sweat profusely on this one! And bring a towel!

There’s also Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, Forrest Yoga… and many more!!! The styles of yoga keep evolving, but within all of them one thing remains certain; you’ll learn to practice many yoga postures and this yoga postures (or Asanas –sanskrit-), when practiced as a cross training tool for your training regimen (whether is running, cycling, swimming or all!) become the extra love you need to give to your body when the foam roller seems too much of a torturing device.

Here are various links on Yoga for Runners, postures, videos and articles:

Runner’s World:  Yoga for Runners.  Videos, articles, etc.

Yoga Journal: Yoga for Runners, by Baron Baptiste. Excellent article on why yoga is so beneficial to practice if you’re a runner.

Yoga Download.com. Offers a variety of classes online.   Want to try a class and can’t make it to the studio? You could try taking an online class (designed for runners) with my teacher Dawnelle at this link:

http://www.yogadownload.com/Utilities/GenericProductDisplay/tabid/110/prodid/308/default.aspx

The idea is to never stop exploring! and recognize that your body is a wonderful machine; when given the proper oil, it will run smoothly (pun intended).

If you are in the Denver area and would like to come to one of my yoga classes for runners, please visit me at www.qiyoga.com and look at the calendar for my next class!

Happy running to all! and Namasté