Enter yoga, a practice involving breathing, meditation, and movement that focuses on the union of the body and mind. While yoga and running are as different as yin and yang, the two activities fit together to create a more-perfect whole. Here are several ways that practicing yoga can make you a better runner.

Yoga Improves Lung Function

Pranayama (a form of breath control) is a key component of yoga. A number of studies show that practicing pranayama can make your breathing more efficient and boost your oxygen intake. In addition, certain yoga poses known as the standing asanas strengthen muscles in the back, which can increase the amount of oxygen you take in and improve lung capacity. Whether you're training or running races, better breathing almost always results in better performance.

Yoga Helps You Become More Aware of Your Body

With a focus on performing asanas (poses) correctly, the practice of yoga can teach you to become more aware of your body. This can help with your running training. When you're more aware of your body, you'll recognize signs of injury before they become a larger and more serious problem. Early signs of a running injury can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Tenderness
  • Pins and needles

Yoga Promotes Better Body Balance for Runners

Every time you run, you use the same muscles and joints. Over time, this can lead to pain and injury. Adding yoga to the mix works other muscles and joints for better body balance. In addition, yoga helps loosen and relieve tension in muscles you use for running like calf muscles, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors. Yoga also helps to strengthen your core, which improves posture and balance. This makes your running more efficient.

Women doing yoga

Yoga Boosts Flexibility

When your body is inflexible or stiff, it can affect your movement and posture when running. This can result in injury. Practicing yoga on a regular basis is known to make joints more limber and muscles more flexible. When you're more flexible, your body moves freely, which results in better form and less injury. More flexibility also boosts your running performance by improving your posture, length of stride, and speed.

Yoga Helps With Running Recovery

When your body tells you it's time for a break from running, you can use yoga to enhance your recovery. By practicing a combination of challenging and restorative yoga poses, you can remain active throughout your recovery. Yoga also benefits recovery by:

  • Loosening muscles
  • Increasing blood flow to the muscles
  • Boosting energy
  • Relieving tension

Yoga Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Yoga is a slow, non-competitive practice, so it's not surprising that research shows it can reduce stress and anxiety. This happens because yoga lowers levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and it raises levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with less stress and anxiety and better sleep. Having less stress and anxiety helps runners before a race, and better sleep helps improve all running performance, whether training or racing.

Yoga Improves Focus

With all that's happening around the world, it can be hard to keep the mind from racing. Yoga techniques like asana sequences, body awareness, mindfulness, and meditation help clear the head, quiet the mind, and improve focus. The ability to focus enhances many areas of life, including work, leisure, and school. For runners, it can help extinguish negative thoughts and other distractions that might spring up when training or competing.

Yoga Helps Build Confidence

Having confidence means you believe in yourself more than you doubt yourself. When you combine many of the benefits of yoga, such as improved posture, better flexibility, more focus, and less stress and anxiety, it's easy to see why yoga also builds confidence. As you continue to improve in your practice of yoga and master more challenging asanas, your confidence levels and feelings of empowerment will continue to rise. Here are more ways practicing yoga can build your confidence:

  • Doing yoga regularly can tone your body and enhance your physique.
  • Practicing yoga helps build inner strength.
  • Yoga invites you to step out of your comfort zone.
  • A yoga practice promotes self-acceptance.
  • Certain asanas like warrior pose, lotus pose, and lion pose can evoke positive self-images.
  • Practicing one form of self-care like yoga can encourage more self-care.
  • Regular self-care can transform into self-love.