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You've probably experienced it before, someone mentions you need to try yoga and you find yourself feeling a mix of dread and skepticism. You're a runner, flexibility isn't really your thing, and you'd much rather hit the pavement than the mat. But what if there is something to this age-old practice that might improve your training, sharpen your mind, and reduce the risk of injuries? Is your skepticism suddenly mixed with intrigue and curiosity?

Yoga can be the perfect complement to any training schedule. While running works to strengthen, yoga counter-balances to lengthen: It's the perfect yin to running's yang.

Some other benefits of yoga for runners include:

  1. Increased flexibility. Runners are notorious for stiff, tight muscles and yoga's first benefit is often purely physical. Through the practice, muscles begin to loosen and release, creating space and freedom throughout the body. This can decrease the chance of injury, heal or lessen existing damage, and even lengthen the lifespan of your running career. But more simply, this flexibility makes you feel better, allowing you to run further, faster, and harder.
  2. Better balance. When you're doing the same activities over and over, the body can feel out of whack, leading to injuries, boredom, and wear out. Adding a yoga practice helps alleviate some of these issues, and it offers runners the chance to use different body parts in new ways -- a great tool for those struggling with training plateaus. Yoga challenges through the holding of poses, the stretching of tight muscles, and the opening of hips, hamstrings, backs, and shoulders. Together, yoga and running offer the body variety, so it isn't constantly under the same pressures.
  3. Heightened awareness. How many times have you run through pain or discomfort knowing you'll regret it tomorrow? Yoga aims to bring the practitioner more acutely into his or her body to experience feelings, sensations, and judgments without attachment. By disconnecting from the ego and listening more closely to the body, you can better differentiate between complacency/laziness and fatigue/honesty.
  4. Increased breath control. Yogis work to control the breath in difficult poses, creating the ability to calm the mind and the body even in uncomfortable circumstances. As this skill is honed on the mat, it can easily be transferred off the mat. Runners can use these breath control skills during trainings and races when the body is exhausted, nervous, or facing a challenging route to improve performance.

The above are just a few of the benefits runners can expect from yoga, and stepping on to a mat -- even if just for a few minutes a day – can lead to many more. There is a yoga practice out there just right for you and next week, I'll help you find the perfect class, style, and teacher!