Read Jenny Fagan’s experience with Bikram yoga and running her first marathon.

“Less than a year ago running any race, much less a marathon, didn’t even register on my bucket list. While I have nurtured many hobbies for consecutive years, if not my entire life – art, yoga, music – my interest in running is highly episodic. I will run for years, then take years off- always knowing the passion will return, and simultaneously acknowledging its fleeting nature.

It is hard to pinpoint what exactly sparked my current love of the sport, but I am fairly certain it was simply an (not atypical) impulse. Sometime last July I signed up for a half marathon in August, and just like that, I was hooked once more. Not long after completing the half marathon, my ever-wandering mind latched onto the idea of running a full marathon, resulting in my registering for the Surf City 2014 Marathon in Huntington Beach.

I did, of course, train for the marathon by running the standard graduated distances, but in full disclosure, the marathon snuck up on me. I was able to complete what I considered the necessary training runs – 10, 15, 20 miles – so I knew my body could sustain the stress of the full 26.2, but I had trained less than most runners I had spoken to or read about. Needless to say, I was nervous- but when race day arrived, I completed the marathon in a humble 4 hours, 50 minutes with a smile on my face.

In hindsight, I realized that while I may have trained via running less than the average marathon participant, I had maintained a consistent Bikram attendance (at least 2-3 classes a week) for the months leading up to race day. I am a firm believer in the benefits of all types of yoga, but found that Bikram specifically enhanced my “runner’s toolkit” in several key ways.*

1. Physical endurance

As anyone who has sweated through 90 minutes in the hot room knows, Bikram tests your body’s limits to an extent few other activities even approach. While withstanding 105 degree heat (or higher in large classes), we push our muscles until our legs tremble, our cores ache, and sweat flows from our bodies in the unlikeliest of places (our toes can sweat?!). Running a marathon tests its own physical limits – but the endurance built within the hot room remains with you on the outside.

2. Awareness of Breath

For a runner, breathing correctly is about as important as having feet. Breathing too shallowly, too quickly, or inconsistently can induce cramps, hasten fatigue, and even lead to injury. In Bikram classes, we consciously breathe through our noses for the entire class to avoid activating the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system. Although I allow myself the small luxury of breathing through my mouth when running, a regular Bikram practice trains one to regulate the pattern and consistency of each inhale and exhale.

3. Balance

Balance may seem a bit conspicuous in this list, an odd quality to associate with running (outside of the obvious fact that if we could not balance, we would fall over). Yet if one thinks beyond the basic concept of balance to its individual components that impact running – awareness of one’s body, control of movements, weight distribution – clear connections are revealed. Contingent on balance are the placement of the feet on the ground, one’s posture, stance while running uphill, downhill, or on a flat surface- the list goes on and on. In Bikram, we teach our bodies to balance in contorted positions; twisted, bent, leaning, pushing, pulling. We learn how to distribute our entire weight throughout one lone foot and five small toes in order to maintain these awkward positions – and sometimes we can even make it appear graceful. Run up that hill for mile 12? No problemo.

4. Flexibility

Most runners are well aware of the importance of stretching. Among the vast benefits of flexibility are a greater range of motion, lower risk of injury, faster recovery, and greater efficiency in general. Never a stranger to cognitive dissonance, I will be the first to admit that I rarely put this awareness into action. Stretching rests in the distant periphery of my mind prior to a run, and after, I only allow my body a couple of insufficiently quick, obligatory stretches before jumping in a hot shower and forgetting about other forms of self-care. If you’re as irresponsible as I am, attending Bikram classes regularly f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶s̶ allows your body to maintain a general foundation of flexibility that translates onto the track, trails, and course.

5. Mental stamina

Any distance runner will tell you that physical training only prepares you to a certain extent. Our bodies are capable of amazing feats: we’ve all heard stories of the mothers who have lifted an automobiles to rescue children, people who have run at lightening speed to escape attackers, and other adrenaline-enhanced, seemingly superhuman acts of physical prowess. While some of these stories may be hyperbole, few would refute the general existence of untapped reservoirs of strength and energy lying dormant within us. In the Bikram practice, we begin every class with pranayama deep breathing exercises. Our teachers tell us to breathe in so deeply that we feel we can take no more air into our bodies- and then to inhale even more. And we can. This concept dictates the tone for the following 80-something minutes in the hot room; in effect, it extends beyond a simple breathing exercise to promote an underlying consciousness. You learn to be aware of your own capabilities and how to truly push yourself. Your learn the difference between physical and mental limits, and how to motivate yourself to see beyond the latter.

While completing the marathon was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I have had to date, the sense of euphoria I experienced crossing the finish line was not unlike the feeling I have walking out of the hot room. The lessons I have learned- mentally, physically, and spiritually- from maintaining a regular yoga practice are unparalleled.”

Original post by Jenny Fagan https://theoceantothemat.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/5-ways-bikram-yoga-helped-me-run-a-marathon/

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