My Changing Yoga Practice

I find that it's easiest to practice daily or near daily when
you practice at home.
Years ago, I would pass by a yoga class on my way to pound it on the elliptical and weight machines and turn up my nose. Why were people lying on the floor? Doing nothing? Covered in blankets? That is not exercise!

When I lost 35 pounds in 2011, I consulted with a personal trainer to learn how much and what kinds of exercise I should do to maintain instead of lose weight. While I did learn how to maintain (less cardio and more strength training!), that experience changed me so much in other ways. In perhaps the best advice I ever got, he encouraged me to try activities I thought I didn't like (yoga) or thought I couldn't do (running). I have been doing both ever since.

One of the things I love about yoga is that it can change with you based on your current fitness goals and needs.

Back in 2011, I was fortunate to be friends with a yoga instructor who helped me understand that there are many different kinds of yoga and if I didn't like one kind, I might like another. At that time I was very much into cardio, so she suggested Ashtanga Yoga. If you aren't familiar with Ashtanga, it's a very rigorous and athletic style. It is also very difficult. Even now, years later, I am still unable to do some of the more advanced poses. But I loved working at it and would do two or three 1.5-2 hour sessions a week for a year or so.

In 2012, I had my first minor running injury--hip pain. My friend recommended a completely different kind of yoga to heal it called Yin Yoga. While most types of yoga work the muscles, Yin Yoga works the connective tissue by holding stretches for very long periods--usually five to seven minutes. I wasn't excited about this type of yoga, but it totally worked. It helped heal my hip then and healed it again last year in another minor flare up. I continue to do Yin Yoga once a week for injury prevention. I really like this type of yoga now.

When I started running more and longer last year, I no longer had time for two-hour yoga sessions. Nor did I feel like I needed more cardio. That's when I got more interested in gentle, restorative types of yoga and started doing shorter sessions. I've read that you should complement hard running with gentle yoga and easy running with more rigorous yoga, and I think that's what my body was telling me.

When I took the Yoga Journal challenge at the beginning of last year to do yoga for the first 21 days of the year, the message was that establishing a daily practice is more important than making time for long sessions. The challenge encouraged you to do yoga for only 10 minutes if that's all the time you had. I found and continue to do several short (usually a half-hour) videos on the Yoga Journal website (which are free).

Today, I like to do yoga that complements my running. Yin Yoga helps prevent injuries, plus it is meditative and helps me focus on my breathing, a technique I try to use while running. I also do pretty much all of the yoga videos on the Runner's World website. Rebecca Pacheco, the instructor, is awesome. I do the Essential Yoga for Runners to work and stretch all the muscles I use for running. Sometimes I do it after a run as my cool-down. Core Yoga is a great video offering unique core poses. Power Yoga is great if I want something a little more active. Lately I've been doing the new Recovery Yoga post-run as a cool-down. All are short (25 minutes or less) and would be easy for those new to yoga to do.

As my life changes, I'm sure my yoga practice will do. But for now, short, meditative, restorative yoga sessions work for me.

Update: After I published this, I realized that those who don't do yoga may think I'm saying it is just another form of physical exercise. While it certainly does improve strength, stability, and flexibility and help prevent injuries, it is so much more. It has taught me to be centered and calm in stressful situations and to be present and focused in my running--a strategy that really helps me on tough runs. It's as much an exercise of the mind as it is the body. I just read a great description of what yoga is and isn't on the Natalie Dressed blog. Check it out if you want to learn more!

Do you do yoga? Do you find that your practice changes based on your current fitness routine?