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13 Yoga Poses for Runners

A Runner's Guide to Yoga
  -- By Stepfanie Romine, Certified Ashtanga Yoga Teacher
When I first started running, I felt sore and tight, despite stretching thoroughly afterwards. I started thinking that running wasn't meshing well with my yoga practice. Yoga helped me loosen my muscles, but running only seemed to tighten them. A few runs and a bit of research later, I changed my mind. Running and yoga complement each other quite well, and I don't need to end up sore and tight after my runs after all. The right combination of yoga poses can help you stretch out and loosen up after your runs, keeping your muscles and joints healthy and preventing tightness.

Running and yoga work together in other ways, too. While you're running, the breathing you practice in yoga (pranayama) can actually help you keep breathing steadily, even during intense parts of the run. Plus, there is a certain peace that accompanies running (and walking). That repetitive motion allows your mind to clear, and the path that lies before allows your eyes to focus on the horizon. Add some motivating music, and you've got quite the relaxing and stress-relieving workout, much like a good yoga session!

I designed this yoga routine with runners in mind. You'll need a yoga mat, yoga block (or a chair), and a yoga strap (or towel) for these poses.

Before you begin, remember these precautions:
Butterfly/Cobbler Stretch (Baddha Konasana)
This pose opens the groin and hips, stretching the inner thighs. Folding (leaning) forward in this post (explained below) also stretches the back.

Sitting tall on your mat, bring the soles of your feet together. Interlace your fingers and place them around the toes. Sit tall, rolling the shoulders back, and gaze past the end of the nose. Lean forward for a deeper stretch, stopping when you start to "feel" the stretch. With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor). TIP: Use blocks under your knees if your hips are particularly tight.


Seated Wide Angle Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana)
This pose stretches the hamstrings and calves; the forward fold straightens and lengthens the spine.

From butterfly pose, extend your legs out to either side of you at a 90 degree angle. If you can straighten the legs, flex the feet and engage the quadriceps (by lifting your kneecap) to keep your knees from locking. Lean forward slightly and place your hands on the mat. With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (chest closer to the floor). TIP: Bend your knees as much as you need to, and bring the legs closer together if needed.

Cow-Face Fold (Gomukhasana)
This is one of my favorite poses! It's incredibly effective for stretching the piriformis, a small, hard-to-stretch muscle deep in your glutes, as well as your hips and IT band. The piriformis tends to become tight in runners.

From a seated position, bring your left foot back by your right hip; stack your right knee on top of your left, with your right foot by your left hip. (If your hips are tight, your top leg/knee might stand rather than lie flat—that's OK.) Grab your feet with your hands (left foot in right hand; right foot in left), and lean forward slightly, gazing past the end of your nose. For a deeper stretch, flex your feet. You can also place your hands on the floor in front of you and lean forward to intensify the stretch. Repeat on the other side, with the left knee on top this time. TIP: Make sure both hips stay on the ground in this pose.

Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
This pose opens the hips and stretches the hamstrings.

Turn to the right and step your feet about a leg's length apart. Turn your heels slightly out and your toes slightly in. (Imagine you're slightly pigeon-toed.) Inhale and stand tall and stretch your arms out to a T (not pictured). Exhale and fold forward, taking your hands to the floor or a yoga block. Allow your head to hang down, straightening your spine. Gaze past the end of your nose. After five breaths, inhale as you roll up slowly, engaging your abs and pressing in to your feet to help you rise. Exhale and step your feet together. TIP: Keep your knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. If you straighten your legs, take care not to lock your knees. For a deeper stretch, engage the quadriceps by lifting up on your kneecap.

Standing Forward Fold with "Ragdoll" Arms (Uttanasana)
Stretch the hamstrings and straighten the spine with this pose.

Inhale and take your hands to your hips as you step your feet hips' width apart. Exhale and fold forward. If you can straighten your legs in this pose, grasp each elbow with the opposite hand. If you can't straighten your legs or if you need more support, place your hands on a yoga block or a chair (not pictured). Allow your head to hang down limply like a ragdoll, straightening your spine. Gaze past the end of your nose. TIP: Keep your knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. If you straighten your legs, take care not to lock your knees. For a deeper stretch, engage the quadriceps by lifting up on your kneecap.

Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)
Pyramid pose stretches and strengthens the legs, particularly the hamstrings.

Step your left foot back about 3 feet. Your left toes will pivot in at a 45 degree angle. Your right foot faces forward. Inhale and stand tall and lean out over the front foot. Drop your hands to your shin, a yoga block (pictured) or on either side of your front foot. Drop your forehead so it's facing your leg. With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching to the floor); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the forehead is getting closer to the front leg). To come up, inhale and roll up slowly, pressing into your front foot for support. Repeat on the other side for five breaths. TIP: For a deeper stretch, interlace the fingers behind your back and roll the shoulders back and down before leaning forward.

Figure 4 Pose (Sucirandhrasana)
This is a great way to stretch the outside of the hips and the inner thighs.

Lie on your back on the mat. Bring your knees in toward the chest, at a 90-degree angle. Place your right ankle on your left thigh, interlace your fingers and place them behind your left thigh, and pull your left thigh towards your chest. Hold for five breaths. Repeat on the other side. TIP: Flex your feet to deepen the stretch. Press your elbow against that bent knee to feel an inner thigh stretch. If you have knee problems, adjust the angle of the knee so you feel comfortable.

Half Lord of the Fishes Twist (Ardha Matseyendrasana)
Open the shoulders, neck and hips, and stretch your IT band with this pose.

Sit tall with your legs extended in front of you. Cross your right foot over your left leg and stand it outside your left thigh. Bend your left knee, tucking your left foot by your right buttock. Place your right hand on the mat, just behind your buttock. Inhale and lift your left arm in the air by your left ear. Exhale and twist, bringing the left elbow to the outside the right knee. Look back over the right shoulder. To release, inhale, look forward, release your arms and uncross your legs. Repeat on the other side. TIP: Let the twist start in your belly, not your neck.

Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
Stretch the spine, hamstrings and back.

Sit on your mat, with your legs extended in front of you, heels slightly flexed and bellybutton pulled to the spine for support. Inhale and sit tall and raise your arms in the air. Exhale and lean forward and reach for your toes. Allow your arms to rest on your thighs, shins or at your ankles. Allow your head to drop and gaze past the end of your nose. Allow your upper body to relax. If you can straighten the legs, flex the feet, and engage the quadriceps (by lifting your kneecap) to keep your knees from locking. With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor). TIP: Can't reach your toes? Wrap a towel around your feet (pictured) and grab either end with your hands to improvise a yoga strap. If your hamstrings are tight, you can bend your legs.

Head to Knee Stretch (Janu Sirsasana A)
This one is a great hamstring stretch!

From the previous pose, slide your right foot inside your left thigh, the right knee coming out at least a 90-degree angle. Center your torso over the extended left leg and exhale as you begin to lower to that thigh. Flex your extended foot and reach for your toes (or use a towel as a strap, pictured). With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor). Inhale as you roll slowly up and repeat on the other side. TIP: If your knee can't rest comfortably on the floor, roll up a towel to support the bent knee.

Hero Pose (Virasana)
This pose stretches the quadriceps and ankles.

Start in a kneeling position. Keep your knees together but separate the feet and allow your bottom to rest on the floor. Roll your calves away from your thighs (use your hands) to help you get comfortable. TIP: If you feel any discomfort in this pose, sit on a rolled-up towel or a block. For a deeper stretch, try thunderbolt pose (vajrasana): Sit back on your heels, shins together. (Place a rolled-up towel between your heels and hips to ease this stretch.)




Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child's pose stretches hips, thighs and ankles gently. It may also help alleviate back pain.

From hero/thunderbolt pose, start to lower to the floor. Your belly will rest on or between your thighs, and your forehead will reach towards the mat. (Place a towel under your forehead if it won't reach the floor.) Stretch the arms out in front of you to feel a stretch up the length of the back. Stretch the arms alongside the body, with the fingertips facing the toes, to stretch between the shoulder blades.




Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Finish your stretching session with this pose, which stretches the hamstrings gently and allows blood that has accumulated in the feet and legs to re-circulate in the body. This stretch also offers a gentle release for the lower back.

Sit next to a wall and lie onto your back, bringing your knees into your chest. Straighten your legs and place them on the wall while wiggling your bottom closer to the wall. Allow your heels to rest gently on the wall. Extend the arms overhead for an added stretch. TIP: This pose is great for anyone who works on their feet. Spend a few minutes in this pose (you can even do this in bed) each night to give your legs a break.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coaches Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainers.