We runners often have the need for high-energy activities, focusing on more active forms of training when we aren’t running. But what if the best thing we could do for our bodies is actually to slow down when we aren’t pounding the streets?
Restorative yoga is a slow paced form of yoga in which poses are held for anywhere between 3 to 20 minutes. The practice often uses supports such as block, bolsters and blankets to allow the body to relax into the posture and hold it for a longer duration.
Incorporating restorative yoga into your running program can promote better sleep, faster recovery times, and help to relieve mental and physical stress.
Practicing restorative yoga is something you can easily do at home, after a training session, or before bed to promote a deeper sleep.
In this article, we’ll explore restorative yoga's stress-relieving and recovery benefits and how it can improve your mood and sleep and boost your running abilities.
What is restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is a type of yoga practice that is focused on holding certain poses for an extended period of time, settling into the postures for between 3 to 20 minutes with the use of supportive props such as bolsters, blocks, and blankets. The aim is to facilitate a deeper sense of relaxation and allow the body to release tension from deep inside with an emphasis on stillness, breathing, and bringing a sense of mindful awareness to your experience.
How is it different from other types of yoga?
Restorative yoga differs from other types of yoga, such as power yoga or vinyasa flow, in several ways, including:
- Passive. Restorative yoga is more interested in passive stretching rather than an active form of asana practice. The goal is oriented towards releasing tension and promoting relaxation rather than building strength and flexibility.
- Props. Restorative yoga often incorporates props that are used to enable practitioners to remain supported in poses for an extended period of time while remaining in a state of comfort. Being supported in the postures allows the body to let go, relax, and allow the healing mechanisms to get to work.
- Fewer poses. Because of the time each posture is held for, there are less poses included in each session. This gives practitioners the time to really sink deeply into the posture and surrender, enabling a deeper sense of relaxation and release of any tension in the body.
Benefits of restorative yoga for runners
While it can be tempting for us runners to always be on the go and to prefer exercise which pushes us and improves endurance, sometimes slowing down and giving our bodies time to recover can actually provide us with better outcomes.
Running puts a significant amount of stress onto the body in both a physical and mental sense — we push ourselves to break through barriers in the mind and body that stop us from going further. Restorative yoga provides runners with an opportunity to unwind and release any accumulated tension from the physical exertion of running. Being able to practice restorative yoga offers the time and space to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes relaxation and reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body.
Recovery and injury prevention
Many of us runners push through injuries in order to carry on training — which can have detrimental effects in the long term. The practice of restorative yoga encourages an increase in blood circulation and oxygen flow to our muscles and tissues which aids in expediting the healing process after a long or intense run.
By holding the passive and supported stretches in restorative yoga, we release tightness, reduce muscle soreness, and alleviate common running-related issues such as shin splints or tight IT band syndrome. Additionally, because the focus is on balancing both sides of the body, restorative yoga can address asymmetry as well as any muscle imbalances.
Mental clarity and focus
The mental challenges of running both long and short distances can be exhausting — pushing through our own barriers requires a mammoth amount of focus and concentration. Restorative yoga offers a space in which to recalibrate our minds and cultivate mindfulness and mental clarity by focusing on the breath and present-moment awareness.
This space enables us runners to develop better focus, mental resilience and concentration which can be extremely beneficial — especially in preparation for races or challenging endurance training sessions.
Does restorative yoga really help runners with recovery?
Regular practice of restorative yoga has been shown to improve a number of factors, including:
- Improved sleep quality
- Reduced muscle soreness
- Enhanced flexibility and joint stability
- Quicker recovery time
Taking the time to slow down in between training sessions helps reduce the risk of overtraining and burnout by providing dedicated time and space for relaxation and restoration. Utilizing the power of restorative yoga in your running schedule can contribute to a more balanced routine and healthy lifestyle that takes into account the need for active rest and recuperation. It also helps to prevent the cumulative effects of stress and fatigue in the mind and body.
Three restorative routines for runners
One of the best things about restorative yoga is that it’s easy to perform at home and doesn’t place enormous demands on the body, so you can fit in a few poses after your run, or before you go to bed to promote deep sleep. Incorporate these postures into your program three times a week to reap the benefits of a restorative yoga practice. It’s worth investing in a yoga bolster as these are often used as one of the main support tools in the practice.
1. Supported child's pose
This is a great pose for relaxing the hips, back, and shoulders.
- Start by placing a bolster lengthwise on your mat and sit back on your heels.
- Open your knees wide and place the bolster between your legs.
- Slowly fold forward, allowing your torso to rest on the bolster.
- Extend your arms forward or rest them alongside the bolster.
- Breathe deeply and hold for 5–10 minutes, allowing your body to relax and release tension in the hips, lower back, and shoulders.
2. Legs-up-the-wall pose
This pose is wonderful to do after the run because it increases circulation, reduces fatigue, and helps reduce swelling in the legs.
- Sit sideways next to a wall and swing your legs up, resting them against the wall.
- Use a folded blanket or bolster under your hips for added support.
- Allow your arms to relax by your sides or place them on your abdomen.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply, staying in this pose for 10–15 minutes.
- This pose helps reduce swelling in the legs, promotes circulation, and relieves fatigue.
3. Supine spinal twist
Spinal twists are perfect for rinsing out your spine as well as promoting the flow of fresh oxygenated blood to your vital organs.
- Lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest.
- Extend your arms out to the sides in a T shape.
- Slowly lower your knees to the right side of your body, using your left hand to gently guide them down.
- Keep your shoulders grounded on the mat and turn your head to the left.
- Breathe deeply and hold for 3–5 minutes.
- Repeat on the other side.
- This pose helps release tension in the lower back, hips, and spine.
While we runners might be on a path to improving endurance and performance times, it’s crucial to balance our dynamic running program with slow and steady movement in order to facilitate faster recovery times and release built-up muscle tension. Restorative yoga offers us a mindful, gentle, and focused practice to improve our flexibility, mental clarity, and recovery times after pushing our bodies and minds to the limit. Restorative yoga for runners is a wonderful way to relax while nourishing our mind, body, and spirit physically.
- Christine Felstead. Yoga for runners.
- Journal of Psychiatric Research. A systematic review of randomized control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood.
- Journal of Occupational Health. Restorative yoga for occupational stress among Japanese female nurses working night shift: randomized crossover trial.