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Six yoga moves to help Hong Kong runners perform better

Yoga for runners classes have been popping up all over Hong Kong in recent years, but isn’t it just glorified stretching and fancy marketing by yoga studios?

Not according to Ananda Tinio, a Pure Yoga instructor who began leading regular yoga for runners classes in August. “It’s more than just the physicality, we focus on breath awareness, increasing respiratory function, maximising lung capacity and really honing your concentration, which I think runners need. It’s a full body workout as well,” says Tinio.

Sceptical (and very inflexible), I tried my first yoga for runners class recently at Pure Yoga’s studio in The Centrium in Central. It was indeed different to regular stretching or a typical yoga class. The mood was a lot lighter and more fun, with none of that meditation and spirituality (which repel me). The crowd was more welcoming – most were stiff runners like me. There was a strong emphasis on inhalation and exhalation while holding a stretch, something I never bothered with before.

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Yoga for runners class has extra focus on the lower body, Tinio says.

“It focuses a lot on hip joint mobility – activating, strengthening, toning, stretching and creating more flexibility. Running is a repetitive motion, so you’re limiting the range of motion of your quadriceps and hips. This class tries to diversify that movement. It brings the hip through their widest range of motion, so in the long run it will increase mobility and flexibility, in running and also in life.”

Mark Johnson, a recreational runner, has been attending Tinio’s class weekly. “It’s stretching but more intensive,” he says. “I walk out of class feeling three inches taller.”

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Props, such as a bolster, a strap and blocks, are used to help even the stiffest person participate in the class. For example, if you bend forward and can’t touch your toes, put a block in front of you and aim to touch that raised platform instead.

“The props meet you at your level of flexibility. Progressively, you’ll get there,” says Tinio.

She recommends runners do at least one hour of dedicated yoga practice once a week, and pad out workouts before and after with the stretches demonstrated below.

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Do so and Tinio says you’ll improve your concentration, focus and breath awareness. You’ll be more relaxed when you run, you’ll improve your mobility and function and reduce your risk of injury. Ultimately, your running performance will improve.

“Athletes get themselves in a heightened state and they don’t come down,” says Tinto. “When you work out hard, you have to rest hard. Conscious states of deep relaxation put your body into the rest-digest-repair mode. You recover from injury. Your mental clarity is in top shape.”

Here is a simple yoga circuit runners can try at home. With each pose, inhale and exhale in a slow, controlled fashion five times.

1. Sitting Japanese style

Kneel and lower your bottom so you’re sitting on your lower legs.

Position 1: with toes dorsiflexed (tucked/curled under your bum). This stretches the inner arches of the feet, creates space between the toes, and activates calf muscles and hamstrings.

Position 2: with toes pointed. This stretches muscles around the shins and quadriceps.

2. Supported lunge

Stand with one foot forward, knee at 90-degrees stacked over the ankle. The other leg is stretched back. Place hands shoulder-distance apart, supported by blocks, to create space between the belly and thigh. Stretch the spine. This activates the quadriceps, and stretches hamstrings and inner groin.

3. Side lunge

Stand with one knee bent in a half-squat and the other leg extended with the foot flexed. This activates, tones, stretches and strengthens one of the longest muscles in the body, the adductor magnus, in the inner thigh.

4. Quad stretch against the wall

Bend one knee and place shin against the wall, with the other foot in front. Lean against the wall. This stretches quadriceps and lubricates the knee joints.

5. Leg stretches against the wall with strap

Lie face up. Put one foot flexed and flat against the wall, extend the other leg and with the foot looped by a strap.

Position 1: extended leg pointing up with joints stacked vertically. This stretches the hamstrings.

Position 2: extended leg to the side to open the hips by rotating it externally.

Position 3: extended leg across the body’s mid-line. This rotates the hip internally and stretches the iliotibial band of tissues on the outer leg.

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6. Legs up the wall

Lie face-up with legs up the wall and hips as close to the wall as possible. This takes pressure off the legs, reverses the flow of blood to reoxygenate and energise the brain, and sedates the nervous system.