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Yoga for runners

May 10, 2011

With the Olympics coming up, The Power Yoga Company are getting into the spirit of sport in all its forms. Over the next 15 months we’ll be picking an Olympic sport and dedicating a blog and interviewing our members who have a link to that sport. This month, we picked athletics, specifically running. We interviewed Jo Muller, a regular member of The Power Yoga Company, who recently completed her first Marathon in Paris on 10 April 2011. We asked her to share her journey from being a novice to a marathon runner and discovered that yoga played a vital part in her training, both physically and mentally.

Jo was the first to admit that running was never something that came naturally to her. “I have never really felt like a runner. Cross-country was my nemesis at school and every stride, from my first 10km in 1994 to the Paris Marathon this month, has been a long journey of determination and self-belief.” After successfully completing a few half marathons, she felt ready to take on the challenge of a spring marathon to keep her active and outdoors during the long, dark winter months and it was during this time that she recognised the benefits of power yoga for marathon training.

Jo began practicing hatha yoga in 2007 when friends recommended it to her for aiding physical strength, focus and a sense of well-being. In 2008, Jo became a member of The Power Yoga Company and she revealed to us that “it quickly became one of my most treasured places in London.” When Jo said running didn’t come easily to her, it went further than just struggling with the technique and stamina required to be a successful runner. She suffered from ITB (Iliotibial band) syndrome which is a common injury to the thigh often associated with running which involved hip flexor muscle strains. Her physiotherapist had given her a long list of exercises to practice regularly but she admitted, “I rarely had the discipline to do them.” It was when she began practising power yoga that she first began to feel her body strengthen in a significant way. The postures helped with the alignment and overall conditioning of her body, and yogic breathing, known as pranayama, helped her learn to control her breath, allowing her to push herself further when training. She realised that with regular practice her strength, flexibility and stamina could only improve.

Jo believes that practising yoga provides an amazing foundation for endurance running. Every element of yoga; the postures, pranayama and even shivasana, the art of restoration and relaxation of the body, became an integral and beneficial part of her training programme.  Having tried hatha yoga in the past, Jo discovered that power yoga in particular was well-suited to marathon training as it built up her strength, stability and balance. But she found that it was not just the physical benefits that helped transform her into a marathon runner.  “I had to run in the dark, in the rain and on snow and did many miles on bleak winter days and nights. I needed all the elements of a yoga session to keep me going and there were days when I couldn’t face going out for a long run unless I’d spent an hour re-balancing on my mat. One power yoga session gave me everything I needed to face another run; from stretching out my muscles and bringing awareness to my breath to increasing my energy and helping me find a meditative state of focus that allowed me to release any negative thoughts about the challenge I had set myself”.

Jo vividly recalled her last yoga practice before the marathon, “It was four days before the marathon after a week of what I call PMS – Pre Marathon Syndrome; I was overwhelmed with nerves, self-doubt and lack of sleep. I did the strongest warriors, half pigeon and shoulder stand of my life and I walked out feeling strong, balanced and ready to run; in body, mind and spirit”.

When Marathon day rolled around, Jo woke to a bright blue sky and began the marathon with the intention to enjoy every moment. She ran the entire route and crossed the finish line elated and injury free. She completed the marathon in 4:32:46, an amazing accomplishment, and now feels that perhaps she can call herself a runner after all. Aside from the satisfaction of completing the marathon, she was also awarded with a medal and a finisher’s T-shirt though Jo revealed to us that the real treat came after the race; steak béarnaise, a glass of rich red Bordeaux and a creamy crème brulee. Very well deserved we say!

Jo tells us she definitely has the marathon bug and hopes to find her new ‘edge’ as she takes on more running and an extra yoga session each week. Having seen what Jo can achieve, we suspect she’ll meet and surpass her new ‘edge’ in no time.

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