I am oddly flexible for a runner. I can get my palms to the ground without bending my knees, do a full splits, and I have a pretty fantastic backbend. So, it probably does not surprise you that when I talk to runners about yoga, the first thing I hear is that they are not flexible enough to do it. Well, guys, I am here to convince you that you are ALWAYS flexible enough to do yoga!
Ever since Yoga Journal Magazine started publishing professional yogis on their covers, the focus of yoga moved to the shape of one’s body in a particular posture. In a forward fold, the focus was on how Sean Corne could get her belly flat on her thighs with a smile on her face. People who had a naturally large range of motion in their hips, hamstrings, and lower backs looked at these photos and knew that they could make the same shape. But what about athletes? What about runners? What about every normal person? What is yoga when you can’t touch your toes and when that shape is just not something your body does?
Later was the birth of Instagram, where advanced shape-making yogis were able to show off their beautiful bodies in postures that just looked like a wild contortion. This further distanced runners from yoga because in reality, many of those shapes were simply NOT going to happen for them. Running changes your body and makes your muscles stronger and tighter. For many of us, postures like Compass Pose are just out of our natural range of motion.
So, if you can’t participate in the full version of the yoga postures, what is a runner to do in a yoga class?
Make sensations, not shapes!
Next time you are at your yoga mat, instead of focusing on getting the palms to the floor with the legs straight in a forward fold, focus on the SENSATION you are feeling in the legs. In a forward fold, notice where you feel the sensation and notice how slight changes in the posture can change the sensation dramatically. It is important to realize that no two people will look the same and feel the same in the same posture. So instead of making that forward fold look like it does on Instagram, make it FEEL right. Make sure that, although your knees are bent in a forward fold, that you have sensation in the hamstring muscle, NOT in the lower back or the back of the knees.
Next time you are in a yoga class, grab some blocks and straps. USE THEM! Modifications to a posture are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign that we understand that yoga is there to create space and sensation, not to create a picture worthy shape. In reality, modifications are a sign of strength.
And if you have a competitive streak and you really need to be better than the other people in the room at something… remind yourself that it is unlikely any of them can run 10 miles in one day. That is a little bit of ego, but hey, roll with it.
So guys, do this for me: Go to a yoga class and repeat the matra “make sensation, not shapes”. Go in with an open mind and have fun. Once you let go of attachment to particular shapes of postures, suddenly yoga gets a whole lot more fun.