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9 Reasons Every Runner Needs to Try Yoga

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    Why Runners Need Yoga

    Years ago, I accepted certain realities about my running abilities: My legs weren't going to sprout an extra 5 inches; I was always going to run ragged, huffing and puffing on my way to nailing a PR. These were cold, hard facts ... or they were until I tried yoga for the first time, looking to rehab some piriformis (aka butt) issues.

    After a few sessions, not only was that pesky pain a thing of the past, but I noticed other improvements, particularly in my breathing. "Yoga and running go together like peanut butter and jelly," says longtime yoga teacher Stephanie Creaturo, who's a cofounder of Mala Yoga and a RRCA-certified run coach. Creaturo teaches weekly yoga for runners classes—and ping-pongs between both worlds with ease. Here, she reveals why avid runners should take to the mat (and start with these 10 poses).

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    You'll Gain Strength and Stability

    Because yoga moves you through different planes of your body (front, back, top-to-bottom, and side-to-side), it strengthens muscles runners need for efficient and effective gait, notes Creaturo, whose yoga for runners classes emphasize mobility and stability. "When you're in a lunge or warrior II pose, you're learning how to bend the knee and keep the pelvis stable," says Creaturo. Mastering these fundamentals in a calm, quiet space proves important, particularly considering the dynamic, ever-changing settings runners face. (Stoplights, dog walkers, and 80 percent humidity, anyone?)

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    You'll Slow Down and Unwind

    "Yoga is not a competitive sport," says Creaturo. "There are no splits, nobody comes in first or last, you're not trying to beat your previous down dog." Resting that side of your brain—you know, the one that pushes you to nail each mile repeat on a run—can be downright soothing.

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    You'll Conquer Negativity

    "We all have limited mental and emotional energy when we go into a race," says Creaturo. Yoga trains you to deal with negative thoughts that crop up during a tough finish. Don't be mistaken, yoga isn't teaching you that everything's all sunshine and rainbows. Instead, think of it as an instruction manual for your mind. You'll learn how to toggle between your breath, body, and brain—and you'll become more aware of exactly what's happening mid-bonk or when you feel like quitting.

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    You'll Find an Off-Day Routine That Works for You

    Imagine a floor-to-ceiling wall of running shoes of every style, height, and brand. That's sort of what you get in yoga: There's a practice for everyone. Creaturo recommends incorporating yoga on a day off or easy run day, and finding a community-based studio with smaller, alignment-based yoga classes where you can talk to the teachers about biomechanics. Tell them about your running and they'll be able to help you incorporate yoga into your training. (These yoga-inspired stretches can make you a better runner.)

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    You'll Learn to Breathe Better

    And you thought your Garmin was precious. "Your breath is your inner GPS," says Creaturo. "Some peoples' bodies don't know if they're running from a bear or running for fun." Breathing is king (or queen!) in yoga classes, so you'll learn how to stay aware of your breath while running. This comes in handy when conquering anxiety or pre-race jitters, too. These yoga breathing strategies can de-stress you instantly.

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    You'll Find Your Strong (and Weak) Spots

    Runners are constantly moving forward in space, and one of the biggest physical benefits yoga provides is quite simply moving your running-obsessed body along a different plane. On the mat, you'll twist, turn, and move up and down. Most importantly, you'll cross your midline by moving from right to left, helping familiarize yourself with muscles you never knew existed.

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    You'll Learn New Tricks

    Schedule packed? Just a day of "om" a week can lead to substantial benefits. Plus, you'll learn what Creaturo calls "yoga multivitamins"—quick little stretches or movements that you can do every day after you run (even if you can't make class). After all, figuring out how to treat your hot spots (IT band, we're looking at you) is half the battle, right? (Plus, these pre-race warm-up drills and stretches can come in handy.)

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    You'll Become a Better Pacer

    Dreaming of negative splits? Mat time might help you get there. "That patience to pace is something you're really going to cultivate on the yoga mat," says Creaturo, pointing out that when you're not consumed by being the best or the worst on the track, you can find a calm attitude and the self-restraint necessary to maintain a steady, even run.

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    You'll Have a New Story to Tell

    Runners can become obsessed with time goals, but often, the story that you tell your friends after a race isn't about your splits. Instead, you want to talk about feeling strong or fueling or how mentally sharp you were at the halfway marker. "Yoga creates the bigger-picture framework for runners to really be in that narrative of that race." says Creaturo. "And the more present you are, the better race you're going to have."