Halifax is a running city. Most of its runners proudly cite its hills, winds and unpredictable weather as a badge of honour.
It’s a city where yoga studios have mushroomed in nearly every neighbourhood and yoga mats have become a fashion accessory. So it would seem natural that Halifax Yoga (HY) – a studio on the city’s Northwest Arm peninsula – would invite yoga instructor and runner Mike Dennison to Halifax for 5-hour, Yoga for Runners workshop.
“We decided to run a Yoga for Runners workshop because there is a huge community of runners around HRM that we knew could benefit from this system,” says Sherry Zak, owner of HY.
Once workshop participants had unrolled their mats and secured their blocks, Mike didn’t waste any time getting to the core of the issue. He asked us to raise our hands if we were injured, or had a previous running injury. Close to 70% of the 30 participants raised their hands.
According to Mike, this trend is becoming the norm. He claims that about half of runners are dealing with some kind of running-related injury. This is led Mike, a former competitive runner, to start practicing yoga.
Mike realized the irony: runners are supposed to be healthy and one with our bodies, yet a majority of us are struggling with injuries.
“So many people cannot pursue their goals because of all their injuries,” said Mike. He began teaching yoga to turn runners into the fit, healthy people they are supposed to be.
In his workshop, Mike explained three core lessons that yoga can teach runners:
– a cultivation of breath (which in yoga is called ujjayi breathing)
– a global body awareness
– a strong, stable core
The first thing that links yoga and running is the cultivation of breath. Yogis practice with a closed mouth, while most runners breathe through their mouths. Conscious breathing is our connection to our mind.
Yoga also creates an awareness of the shapes our body takes in various postures.
By tapping into the sensations these postures create and breathing into them, we develop our awareness and a sense of grounding. This is important because running is a very un-grounding activity, where our feet touch the earth for only part of our run.
What do we need to do to be strong, healthy and fit runners?
The entire body is made up of moving and stable joints. Thinking globally about where pain is originating and trying to mobilize certain parts of the body, such as tight ankles or hamstrings, will help address some issues causing the pain.
Runners tend to have tight ankles, which can lead to other issues in the body including knees, hips or back. Likewise, we often have tight hip flexors, which may be a result of weak glutes.
But, “this is not about flexibility,” said Mike as he guided the group through a 90-minute practice. “This is about getting out of pain, dysfunction and injury.”
The problem is that rather than addressing the issues leading to our injuries – whether it’s structural, a former injury or a current weakness – most runners will wait until the pain subsides, and then start running again.
Yoga helps us work scar tissue that does not want to be opened and could cause problems, such as plantar fascia, problems with IT bands, or a host of other issues. Practicing yoga cultivates a strong mind-body awareness, allowing runners to address core issues that cause injuries, and get back to being happy and healthy.
“The feedback from participants has been phenomenal,” remarks Sherry on the workshop. “Those who already practiced yoga learned ways to incorporate opening their plantar fascia and IT band into their existing yoga practice. Those who were brand new to yoga discovered they need yoga!”
HY will be offering more workshops in the future, says Sherry. “Yoga is an amazing way for runners to move through all the ranges of motion and find some length in overworked muscles.”
Find Mike Dennison at www.mikedennisonyoga.com