The subject of this blog post has been in my head for years, even before I started blogging, probably because it’s so personal to me. I spent my high school years running indoor track and cross-country, and while I was never very fast, I loved running because it was something I could do anywhere, anytime, and all I needed was my sneakers. Running could be social time where I would chat away with my friends or it could be more of a reflective opportunity for me to be alone with my thoughts. And no matter what, it always gave me a great workout.
From the time I was five-years-old, I watched the Boston Marathon every spring. The runners would race through my hometown en route to Boston and the energy from the crowds, year after year, rain or shine, helped carry them to the finish line. The Boston Marathon + my high school running days was the perfect equation to make me want to run a marathon…
And want I did. During my junior year in college I started following a marathon training plan. I logged a lot of miles that fall, and sadly never made it to any starting line due to a stress fracture in my tibia. Major bummer. This injury was frustrating, because I wasn’t in a cast or anything, I didn’t feel super hurt, but I was and running would hurt me more.
The next year, I got my act together and applied to raise money for a Boston charity in exchange for a number to run the Boston Marathon. I was official! And I’d be damned if I was going to get hurt again. It was during this time that one of my college roommates invited me to attend my first Bikram Yoga class. I was intrigued, especially because she said it was the best workout of her life and that you would sweat like crazy. That seemed hard for me to believe seeing as though I was running several miles a day and incorporating hills into my routes as well. To make a long story short, I went to my fist Bikram Yoga class, it was the hardest workout I had ever done, and I did sweat like crazy! The experience also opened my eyes to what I had been missing in my marathon training the year before: STRETCHING. Ninety minutes of dedicated time to stretch and recover. I started to notice that a lot of other people at the studio seemed like runners too. The sneakers, the clothes, the tight hamstrings…. they were on to something.
I’m grateful to report that in April of 2007, I completed the Boston Marathon injury-free. Running that historic race was a highlight of my life, and I am convinced that four months of practicing Bikram Yoga leading up to race day helped me get to the starting and finish lines healthy.
If you’re a runner, here are five ways that Bikram Yoga will help you in your running career:
My own mentality as a runner was intense. I liked the workout. I didn’t like stretching because it didn’t feel like anything was happening. By dedicating 90 minutes once or twice a week to Bikram Yoga, you will achieve that same “runners’ high” in class, but you’ll be stretching. In short, running tightens and stretching loosens.
- HEAT TOLERANCE
April weather is often unpredictable in Boston, so some years Marathon Monday can be freezing and rainy, other years it can be sunny, hot, and humid. Practicing Bikram Yoga in the hot room allows for runners to build up stamina in preparation for running in the heat. I’ve had many students who are also runners tell me that they felt great during their marathon/half marathon/10K/5K/etc. because even though the outside temperature was sweltering, they were able to control their breathing and pace themselves due to the fact that they had learned how to do so in class.
- INJURY PREVENTION
This one really hits home for me. I’ve had three running-related stress fractures (one that I mentioned above and two in high school). Running can pound on your joints – your knees, back, ankles, and feet all take a beating. And that’s the nature of the sport and it’s ok, but Bikram Yoga prevents the pounding from side-lining you. In every posture, we stretch. This stretching creates space – actual space – between the joints. The heat, along with the stretching, help to increase blood circulation throughout your entire body, so you can rest assure that you’re receiving blood flow to otherwise ignored places. Training for a race only to get injured is such a bummer. Even if you’re a weekend warrior who just enjoys being outdoors and running with friends, you still want to be able to have that time and not let a running injury get the best of you.
- MENTAL STRENGTH
No matter what level of runner you are, having mental strength helps. Bikram Yoga is another physical activity that will push you to your limits and challenge you not to let anything steal your peace. Think of your yoga practice as your mental strength training. You’ll be able to carry that strength out onto the road.
- IT’S A WORKOUT AFTER ALL
Chances are you enjoy exercising if you’re a runner. You love the heart pounding, mental challenging, sweat- producing workout. Running provides stress relief and at the same time keeps your body in shape. It’s both meditative and tough. Take it from a runner, from a Boston Marathon finisher in fact, that Bikram Yoga is all of these things too. It satisfies every aspect of that desire for a hard workout, while it equally and simultaneously repairs and recharges your mind and joints.
If you’re a runner and you need to add a little something into your routine to take you to the next level or simply keep you at the level you’re at, give Bikram Yoga a try. Take class a few times a week for a month. See how you feel, see if it’s helping.
Adding Bikram Yoga into your life isn’t about replacing something else, certainly not your running; rather, it’s here to help enhance and improve what you already do and love.