Yoga practice can be hugely beneficial to a running or cycling training plan. We spoke to Stephanie Gulamali, certified Yogi and Sports Masseuse, for some advice and explanation on how yoga can help improve your performance on the road.
When did you first get into yoga?
In 2001 a friend of mine took me to a power yoga class and I loved it! The heat it generated in my body, the stretching, breath control and flowing movement made me feel physically longer and very calm by the end of the class. That was all I needed to begin my journey, not realising that over a decade later I would become a teacher.
How can yoga benefit long distance runners and cyclists?
As a sports masseuse I often see the problems caused by not warming up correctly or stretching after exercise. Not only will yoga stretch out those tight muscles and decrease your chance of injury, it will improve the mental challenges that characterise long distance running and cycling. Initially you will reap the rewards of yoga by increasing strength, power and flexibility and slowly over time you will realise that yoga has helped your ability to focus.
In yoga you learn to breathe correctly through the nose using the diaphragm and lungs which make a deep hissing sound to help generate heat, cleanse and release energy in the body. This breathing, called ujjayi, helps you find the natural rhythm in the body by synchronising breath with movement making yoga a moving meditation. The focus of breath and movement will help you forget about which part of your body hurts, how many more miles you have to go and teach you to be present with the task at hand.
What is your fondest yoga memory?
For me there are so many so I would have to say, performing inversions (yoga poses or ‘asana’ where the head is below the heart). There are numerous benefits to these asana such as building confidence, increasing core strength, improving balance, helping to relax the mind. Most of all they are loads of fun! Performing handstands and other hand and shoulder balances reintroduces me to my inner child and reminds me that yoga should also be playful and light hearted.
How does yoga challenge you both mentally and physically?
Yoga is different every time you practice, some days the easiest poses are the most difficult. Like today I struggled with downward dog, my body felt tight and uncomfortable, I couldn’t push down into the pose as easily as I normally can. Everything we do today prepares us for tomorrow, the food we eat, how we sleep, how much or how little exercise we do will affect how we train tomorrow. With all the internal and external influences including the hundreds of variations of asana I am constantly challenged to improve and grow and simply do my best with every practice, you never stop learning in yoga.
What is your motivation to keep practising yoga?
My motivation to keep practising yoga is simply to live a life of balance. I really connect with the 5 points of yoga according to Yoga Master, Swami Vishnudevananda, as they make perfect sense to me. These 5 points are: “proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, positive thinking and meditation”. I try to consciously think about everything I do, it’s not easy and I make mistakes but I keep doing my best every day.
What piece of yoga kit could you not live without?
My Gaiam 4mm latex free yoga mat, its sticky surface is great for gripping on and it lasts, I’ve had it for 7 years! It is easy to care for, hand wash and dry flat.
How do you juggle your yoga practice with your career/ every day commitments?
Sometimes I have to get up earlier than I would like or eat dinner that little bit later. Yoga must be performed on an empty stomach to avoid feeling nauseous and benefit from the cleansing process. I practice for at least 60 to 90 minutes 4 to 5 times a week. Sometimes I am short on time so I do a reduced sequence of 30 minutes that includes the sun salutes, standing and sitting poses. I also love walking long distances so I will take my trainers and walk instead of using public transport. We are built to move after all.