Bikram Yoga has taught me that real change takes time, and that it is more important to heal the body, than to push too hard. I used to be very concerned with increasing mileage and having a faster pace but now I am just happy to be running again.
The topic of running and yoga intrigues me; I’m interested to learn more about it as I have heard inspiring stories in favour of this pairing, yet I have also read about the watchouts of increased flexibility through yoga’s stretching that could limit the runner.
I’m gaining insights into the positive effects that Bikram Yoga, specifically, has on runners’ performance; I want to know what it is about this particular practice that has runners incorporating it as part of their training regimes. As part of my research, I am interviewing a broad spectrum of striders: from marathon runners, through to Bikram yoga teachers who train with them, as well as those who run for general exercise purposes. I thought I would share their thoughts here are there is so much information shared that might be helpful to others.
I’m kicking off the interview series with a marathon runner, Melissa Umberger. Coming off of a running injury, she was drawn to Bikram Yoga because she liked the approach of the practice. A regular practitioner, she hopes to build her strength up again and has proven that setting goals, and achieving them – she recently finished the Brooklyn Half-Marathon – take a bit of effort but are worth the huge pay off in the end.
Here’s what she had to say about her experiences on rehabilitating and strengthening through Bikram Yoga.
1. Describe your weekly exercise routine.
I used to run 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day, but I kept getting injured. After the NYC marathon in 2010, I had issues with my hip flexor and piriformis so my Doctor recommended physical therapy and yoga.*
I started with Vinyasa and Hatha yoga but I never felt I had a very satisfying workout; I needed some form of exercise to replace running. Then, I started doing Bikram Yoga, which was a great combination of cardio, strength training, and meditation.
These days, I usually run about three times a week: two short runs (4-6 miles) and one long run on Saturday (10-13 miles). I do Bikram Yoga 4-5 times a week if I am training for a race. When I’m not training, I practice Bikram Yoga 6 times a week and run only twice a week.
I also bike to work two to three times a week – 12 miles a day. Its not necessarily part of my exercise routine but definitely contributes to my training because it provides a good cross training supplement.
2. Are there specific yoga poses that help you in your running?
Fixed Firm Pose is great for my hips, knees, and ankles. I used to have problems with my right knee for almost a year, but when I started Bikram Yoga, it went away and I rarely have issues with my knees. More recently, my hips have been tight from training for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon so Standing Bow Pulling Pose has been really great for opening my hips and stretching my quads. All the backward bends have also given me relief from hip pain (e.g. Camel Pose).
3. How does Bikram Yoga help you when you’re running?
Bikram Yoga has definitely taught me to have a calm mental attitude while running.
In the classes, the teachers always stress to listen to the words, to let your breath led the way, and to gently respond to any pain you might be feeling rather than react to it. Bikram Yoga also helps stretch my body out after a run because the muscles are so tight after such high impact activity.
I have greater mental focus and determination. Whenever I feel pain, or if I am stressed out that I won’t be able to finish a long run, I just tell myself, “If you Can, you Must!” and I usually get through it.
4. What are the cons of Bikram Yoga in relation to your running?
I have really tight hamstrings from biking and running, so its very hard for me to do Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose. I have to be extra careful with those sorts of postures as I recently pulled my tendon.
Also, I would say that I have to cut back on classes while I train for major races because it can be intense to combine running with Bikram Yoga.
5. Do you practice Bikram prior to, or after, a run?
I definitely try to do Bikram Yoga in the morning (7am) and then run late at night after work. My body is so stiff in the mornings, that it is difficult to do such high impact exercise. Yoga is a great way to warm up the body. I tried to practice Bikram Yoga after a 10k race and I while I was fine, it was very challenging.
6. How do you hydrate and replace electrolytes?
I drink 2L of water a day. If I run more than 7 miles I will eat GU Energy, which contains electrolytes, carbs, and glucose (take GU with water, otherwise it takes awful). I used to drink Gatorade and Vitamin Water, but during the run, I would feel nauseous because of all the sugar. Now, I just drink coconut water, which gives me the energy I need to finish the race.
7. Can you describe improvements in your running since starting Bikram Yoga?
I don’t think that I have gotten faster since I started Bikram Yoga. That said, when I stopped running after injuring my hip, I gave up running races for a year and focused solely on yoga. Since I have been doing Bikram Yoga, I have slowly worked my way back up to 13.1 miles. Maybe one day I will get back to running marathons, but it is a very slow process.
*Note: My orthopedist thinks my injuries were related to overuse, which is caused by too much running, increasing mileage over a short period of time and not enough cross training. The first injury was my right knee (also known as Runner’s knee), the MRI scan showed swelling in my lower quad. My second injury was a hip flexor strain. When I was training for the NYC marathon, I was still recovering from the knee injury so I had to take a lot of time off. I basically didn’t start training until 3 months before the race. I think I increased my mileage too fast. A couple weeks after the NYC Marathon I experienced pain in my hip flexor and started seeing an orthopedist and physical therapist.
Most running magazines say that one of the main causes of running injuries is either increasing mileage or your running speed is too fast in your training program. It’s supposed to be a more gradual process but I was eager to run the marathon because it is so competitive to gain a spot in the NYC marathon.