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Hurry up and stand still: Why runners need yoga

By John Farah, Special to CNN
September 4, 2012 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
Yoga can loosen up your muscles and increase your body's longevity, John Farah says.
Yoga can loosen up your muscles and increase your body's longevity, John Farah says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Marathon Man" John Farah says yoga initially didn't appeal to him
  • Now Farah does yoga regularly to prevent injury and loosen his muscles
  • As cliche as it sounds, yoga also feeds the soul, Farah says

Editor's note: John Farah is the co-author of "Let's Pick it up a Bit," a memoir and a guide to help people lead an active life. He has run more than 430 races, including 123 marathons.

(CNN) -- My friend Christine was into yoga long before it went mainstream, and she was good at it.

She attended yoga camps, went on a yearly trek to India and even ritually cleansed her sinuses with warm saltwater -- literally sucked it up through her nose. She claimed it possessed a healing value and kept her from getting a cold.

That was the '70s.

She tried to convince me back then that yoga would be good for me, that it would loosen up my muscles and increase my body's longevity. I wanted nothing to do with it.

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"Are you kidding?" I said. "I can't stand still for two minutes, and you want me to do yoga?"

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I loved running and playing sports like soccer and volleyball, things that kept me moving all the time. The idea of stretching didn't really appeal to me. Neither, for that matter, did sucking saltwater into my nose.

Twenty-five years went by, and lo and behold, I found that my body was getting more and more prone to injury, just like Christine predicted.

I figured if I wanted to keep being able to run, I had better learn how to stand still.
"Marathon Man" John Farah

The breaking point came six years ago, when I injured my hamstring at the beginning of Grandma's Marathon in Minnesota and ended up walking 21 miles to finish the race in six hours and 14 minutes. Not exactly the kind of record I had been hoping to set.

I figured if I wanted to keep being able to run, I had better learn how to stand still.

Fortunately, I learned that there are different flavors of yoga. I tried Iyengar Yoga at first, and I can definitely see the appeal -- it's a slower, more meditative practice, good for feeling centered and grounded. But Iyengar also uses a lot of props, and I didn't like that kind of interruption. It made it harder for me to get into a rhythm.

Then one day I was working out at my gym when I noticed a class doing a very different kind of yoga -- power yoga, or Ashtanga. No props, no time wasted, and the people were in constant motion.

Granted, it was a more "sedentary" motion, if you will -- a series of poses like Downward Facing Dog and Warrior and Triangle -- but they switched from one to the other so fast it felt like a real workout.

In fact, the only thing I didn't like about Ashtanga was that the pace really wore me out. Turns out that the 30-something yoga students were in better shape than the Marathon Man.

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Over time, I've improved -- and not just physically. Sure, my muscles feel looser than they have in years, and

I'm avoiding injuries as I grow older. My teacher, Janice, even tells me that my poses are improving.

There's more than that, though.

Call it a cliche, but yoga really does feed your soul as much as it does your body. I've learned that as much as I love being active and on the go, it really is necessary to take time out of each day to slow down, to forget about your computer, your smartphone and all those e-mails, to take some time away from your kids and your job and your responsibilities.

To stop moving and focus simply on staying put.

Now, does that mean I'll start inhaling saltwater sometime soon? My sinuses are doing just fine without it, thanks. But yoga has become a valuable part of my life, and it can do good things for you, too.

This article was originally published in The Oakland Press.

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