It seems pretty obvious that runners would take up yoga to release tension (and their IT bands) after putting in lots of miles. But yogis turning to running?
While the pavement-pounding sport may not seem like a natural fit for someone used to moving on a mat, a growing number of yoga teachers and practitioners are lacing up their sneakers, and running classes are even being added to the schedule at yoga festivals.
So why are more yogis hitting the road? Marisa Sako, a yoga instructor at Kula Yoga, Bend and Bloom, and Pure Yoga East in New York City, began teaching in 2006 and started running in 2011 (and not just jogging—she did five half marathons last year).
“I was just kind of going through something personally, and I wanted to feel really strong,” Sako explains. “My body needed something that wasn’t so controlled and sweet. I needed obnoxious music and to just go out there and pound it out.”
Since then, she’s dropped the music and has found running to be a meditative practice in its own right. “There’s that point in vinyasa yoga when all of the sudden your breath syncs with your movement and you’ve dropped into your practice,” she says. “In running, it’s the same thing. At first it feels cumbersome and awkward, but then you find the sweet spot where your breath syncs up to your stride—I can literally count my footsteps with my inhale and exhale.” And Sako firmly believes running has enhanced her practice.
Jessica Parks, a former dancer, agrees. The instructor at Namaste New York and Move With Grace in Brooklyn started teaching three years ago and began running shortly after, following a hip injury, and has since competed in 5K, 10K, and 10-mile races.
“I started running at the suggestion of a physical therapist who said I was too flexible,” Parks explains. “Running helped me build stability.” And it helped her relate to her yoga students, too. “Coming from a dance background and being hyper-mobile, after running I started to feel things that my students had been feeling,” she says. “I’m in touch with the muscles and how everything is tied together because of running—I feel stretches more deeply.”
Similarly, Ashley Smith, a yoga instructor at Sangha Yoga Shala in Brooklyn, who’s been teaching yoga for two years and took up running recently, says that it’s improved her endurance during yoga. “Even in a heavier flow, I don’t get that tired, and it almost makes the postures more enjoyable because I feel my hip flexors more.” (Still, like a true yogi, Smith admits to literally “stopping and smelling the roses” during a run if she feels like it.)
Even the popular yoga festival giant Wanderlust is jumping on the bandwagon. This year, it hosted the first annual Wanderlust 108 in Brooklyn, where 3,000 yogis participated in a “mindful triathlon” with yoga, a 5K run, and meditation. “We kept seeing the success of single-day race activities like Tough Mudder and color runs,” Wanderlust Festival co-founder Jeff Krasno says. “So we came up with the notion of a mindful triathlon. It allowed us to reach a broader community, because a 5K, a little yoga, and meditation isn’t as daunting as four days of asana,” he says, referring to his yoga festivals.
Krasno says there will be more mindful triathlons next year, and the traditional four-day Wanderlust Festivals will continue to include running programs. “Again, it’s about providing diversity of experience—running activities at the festivals allow us to reach more athletes,” Krasno says. “I mean, running up a hill at some beautiful place and doing 20 minutes of yoga up there sounds way more fun to me than a 90-minute yoga class.” Sounds like a growing number of yogi-runners would agree. —Jamie McKillop