First-Time Finisher: Is Yoga Worth It for Runners?

Annie puts her excuses aside and gives yoga a whirl

There’s been a lot of squabbling on about yoga lately. More than one of the magazine’s writers have cocked their eyebrows at a practice that has lithe, limber health-club hawks coughing up cash and humming in unison.

Liz Spikol wrote a side-splitting blog post on the condescending contortions of supposedly “all-levels welcome” classes. Vicki Glembocki’s profile of Dhyana Yoga’s namesake founder (and her thriving business) has logged no less than 45 comments from jaded old yogis, Dhyana defenders, and flabbergasted bystanders.

I attend a handful classes over the course of a year, so I’m hardly an expert on the state of the practice (or industry, if you prefer). I’ve always ignored the articles about how runners and yoga go together like honey and peanut butter. I’ve always reasoned that marathon training is a sum-zero venture: There’s only so many minutes I can give, and I’d rather expend those on an old-fashioned, right-leg-left-leg running ritual.

A couple months ago, a friend roped me into a Saturday morning class. I went kicking my sneakers to the ground and whining. Why shouldn’t I have been scared? Skimpy stretching habits have left me, at age 24, barely able to touch my own kneecaps.

The class, though mercifully beginner-friendly, still knocked me on my butt. Not willing to admit defeat, I tried to work in a few more sessions over the following weeks.

Now, I’m no fan of running fads or quick-fix theories. I’d rather crawl three miles than run along Kelly Drive barefoot, and I maintain that altitude tents are for over-coached maniacs. So while I’ve gotten used to the language of the classes, I’m still creeped out by yoga’s promises to purify my mind and spirit.

But there is one enlightenment I’ve reached: Everything that’s been written about yoga being the yin to running’s yang is true. To get you on the path toward this fitness relationship (and to solidify my own), I wrote down all my old excuses for why I shouldn’t need/want/be expected to take yoga, and why I’m choosing to leave every last one of them next to my flip-flops at the studio door.

I already stretch. Do you? Really? If you’re like me, you’ve been stuck in the same stretching rut since junior high school, robotically sticking out one leg after the other, probably stretching less than 5 percent of all the muscles you should be. Muscles you don’t even know you have are stiffening like cold chewing gum (except that the muscles will snap more easily). It takes kicking off the clunky shoes, hitting the mat, and letting a pro-yogi tug at every limb to realize how much more stretching you should actually be doing.

Fine, then—clearly I’m not flexible enough. That’s the point; running will leave you rigid and subsequently hurt, unless you’re proactive about loosening up as much as possible. When the shower’s calling, it’s easy to cut your stretching routine short, but walking out on an instructor who’s standing on their head, challenging you to do the same? Not so easy.

I ran for two hours today. I’m tired. The thought of allotting yet even more time and energy to working out might seem comical, but finishing a 15-mile run with a measly five-minute stretch and a bee-line to the kitchen table will leave you feeling yet even more exhausted the next day. And the next. If you can just get yourself on the mat, you’ll be shocked at how fast it goes: the steady breathing, the slow stretching, the sweat and the ache, and eventually, the refreshing savasana siesta. (My instructor says each class is required to have at least five minutes).

I’m all for chilling out, but this seems like a lot of meditative mumbo-jumbo. Sigh. Yeah, maybe. But consider all neurotic adding, timing, and obsessing that running mandates. We have to be detail-driven by necessity. Even if it takes a $10 drop-in fee and a few awkward chants, wouldn’t it be nice to take a few deep breaths and detach?

Research editor Annie Monjar blogs about her training for the Philadelphia Marathon each week here on Be Well Philly. Want to catch up on the series? Here are her earlier posts, starting from the beginning:
Taking the Marathon Dive
• Running a Marathon is @#^%*! Expensive
• The Great iPod Debate
• Knowing When to Take a Day Off
A Good Trail Is Hard to Find