Runners_panting

Every breath you take, every muscle that aches…or maybe not


Catherine Jaschinski from Illuminate Consulting, is a Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher.  Her blog for Run Reigate examines the benefits of diaphragm breathing for runners.

 

Sorry if the headline of this article is a bad play on the Police song ‘Every breath you take’ but hopefully my verbal karaoke has got your attention.

About the only time we pay any attention to our breathing is when we are out of breath.  In running it’s usually on the home stretch of a long run and if we are unlucky it’s going up a hill as well. Does anyone remember that from last year’s Run Reigate Half-Marathon?

Our breathing is such a critical part of anything we do and yet we take it for granted.  In running it can play a number of important roles, one of them being a ‘barometer’ for how we are feeling during a run.  Sometimes when we run, our breathing is heavy, sluggish and a real struggle to draw into the body, other times it’s is light, smooth and up-lifting.  Paying attention to the nature of our breathing can guide us to how our body is handling this run and with this information we can decide how to ‘pace’ our run, i.e. whether to push through the tough patches or whether in this particular instance it may be better to ease up a bit.  Your breath can be a great tool to help inform this type of decision especially if you are the kind of person who tends to push your body to breaking point and get injuries.

Another great way you can use your breath is to improve your endurance and recovery.  Yes, that’s right.  Not only is the breath helping you to get up and down those hills, but also if you actively breathe using your diaphragm rather than your chest, you can improve your endurance and will be less likely to become fatigued.  Now wouldn’t that be nice – not to have such aches and pains after a long run.

The evidence for this comes from research from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunei University.  They measured fatigue levels of marathoner’s respiratory muscles and leg muscles and found a direct link between them – runners whose breathing was the most strained showed the most leg weakness.  They concluded that the harder the respiratory muscles had to work, the more the legs would struggle in a race.  So the key to preventing lung and leg fatigue is breathing more fully which is exactly what happens when you breathe using the diaphragm.

This is all very interesting but how on earth do I actively use my diaphragm to breathe when I don’t know where it is!  Your diaphragm is a big muscle that sits underneath your rib cage and is responsible for 80% of the effort involved in breathing.  If your tuck your fingers under your ribcage and gently push upward you will feel it there.

The easiest way to learn how to diaphragm or ‘belly breathe’ is to do the following….

  1. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent
  2. As you breathe in allow / encourage your stomach to gently inflate and rise upwards (this movement gets your diaphragm working)
  3. As you exhale allow your stomach to deflate and lower downwards
  4. Practice this for 5-10 minutes and then you can try it standing for a few minutes

Once you’ve started to train the diaphragm breathing in a stationary position (lying or standing) you can try to use it while walking and then eventually bring it into your running.

This type of breathing is also very good to relax the body and mind so can be used outside of running to manage stress, build resilience and balance in other aspects of your life.

Just as we would train our hamstrings and quads to improve our leg strength we can improve our respiratory muscles for better breathing and ultimately better endurance.  

So when you next head out for a run, take a moment to notice your breath, use your diaphragm (at the start of the run at least) and thank it for helping you to enjoy those longer runs a little bit more.

Catherine Jaschinski

Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher

Illuminate Consulting Ltd

Mobile: 07801 045 905

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The next Yoga for Runners workshop will be on Wednesday 5th October 7.30 – 9.30pm in Reigate. Call Cath on mobile number 07801 045 905 or email illumin8te@btinternet.com if interested.

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How can yoga benefit runners?


“If I were given £1 for every time someone has told me ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga’ I would be a millionaire by now”, says Catherine Jaschinski, a Reigate-based yoga and mindfulness teacher. Here she explains how yoga can help runners. 

Honestly, as a yoga teacher I find it totally perplexing when I hear this [‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga’] because it is so much more than flexibility. And for runners, yoga offers a vast range of benefits that can be accessed as and when they are needed.

I have run pretty much all my life, in fact, my mother said that as soon as I could walk, I ran!  And I still love running; whether it be as part of a sport or just for the pure joy of getting out of the house and exploring my surrounds or challenging myself to run crazily long distances… it makes me feel alive and free (most of the time!).

For most of the years that I have been running, I have also practiced yoga, and I am not naturally flexible.  There is no doubt that the stretching element of yoga has helped to keep my body more mobile than it would ordinarily have been, but I have discovered that it is surprisingly good in other areas. Let’s have a look at just a few of them.

Strengthening benefits

Yoga does include stretching, but we also need to contract supportive muscles to create balance. Many of the muscles that are not used in running can be strengthened by yoga.

Take, for example, the upper body.  Research is starting to show that the optimal arm position is with the elbows bent 90 degrees, close to your ribs with your arms swinging back and forth along the sides of your body (this may sound obvious but not everyone runs like this!).  It takes strong arm, shoulder and back muscles to swing the arms in this fashion and yoga postures such as ‘downward dog’, ‘plank’ and ‘dolphin’ strengthen the whole upper body.

Core strength is also improved with yoga. A strong, stable core doesn’t come from doing thousands of sit-ups; it comes from positioning the body so that it develops balance and stability by challenging all of the torso muscles. Standing balances such as ‘tree pose’ and ‘eagle pose’ are great at this, as well as many balancing lunges where the arms are raised above the head, or are twisting to the side of the body.

Taking out injury insurance

One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of runners who are totally passionate about yoga are those people who have been running for many years, have incurred a lot of injuries and have then realised they need to look after their body better if they want to continue to run. Yoga can be seen as an insurance policy for runners – you may still have injuries but you are less likely to get them, and, if you do, you are more likely to recover more speedily. I have certainly found this to be the case in the limited times I have been injured.

On my Yoga for Runners workshop I cover the most common injuries and identify which postures will help to prevent these injuries.

Body awareness

When running, we are used to persevering and pushing through to a longer distance or faster time. Sometimes we do this at the expense of our body and, if we do it often enough, we may injure ourselves.

Yoga can teach us how to listen to our body, and this may mean going a bit slower or being gentler. This ability to know when to pull back, as well as when to push through, can help us to respect our bodies and, ultimately, be a better runner.

Catherine’s next Yoga for Runners workshop is on Wednesday 9 September 7.30–9.30pm in Reigate.

If you’re interested in taking part, please contact Catherine Jaschinski, Illuminate Consulting Ltd, on 07801 045 905 or email jaschinski@btinternet.com