Jackie Lai

Runners should give yoga a shot — here’s why

Jackie Lai didn’t expect to enjoy her first yoga class.

It was 2012 and she was convinced yoga was a fad, but wanted to understand what all the hype was about. She dropped into a class at what was then World Gym in Stonebridge — and was surprised by how fun and challenging the class was.

Lai went to yoga for several months until her instructor left the gym. She then joined a “Learn to Run 5km” group and, over the span of five years, went from struggling to run just one minute to completing an Ironman.

In the months that followed that race, Lai returned to yoga and realized how beneficial the practice would have been during her running and triathlon training.

Lai is now a certified yoga teacher and leads classes in myofacial release/yin yoga and yoga for runners/triathletes. In addition to those classes, Lai does a lot of yoga on her own as part of training for the Victoria Ironman 70.3 in May.

This week, Lai spoke with the Brainsport Times about why all runners and triathletes should give yoga a shot. Here’s what she had to say.

You don’t need to be able to touch your toes to start. “One thing I get a lot from runners is ‘I can’t touch my toes so I am not doing yoga,’ ” Lai says. “I am on a mission to remove this bias.” Yoga is often depicted on social media by people doing super bendy poses, but Lai says yoga is so much more than that. “It’s actually kind of frustrating to see that online because that’s not yoga,” she says. “It is a big uphill battle to show people, especially athletes, that yoga doesn’t mean making you do the splits.”

It improves recovery time. Myofacial release/yin yoga is particularly good for speeding up recovery time and Lai likes to do 20 to 60 minutes of myofascial release/yin yoga herself after hard training. This involves using balls, yoga blocks and blankets to reduce muscle soreness, release muscle tightness and bring back full range of motion.

It reduces injury risk. In yoga for runners/triathletes, Lai focuses on prepping the body and mind for training and racing. This is a combination of movements designed to strengthen stabilizer muscles and stretch out the body, helping reduce the risk of injury.

It increases mental strength. Yoga involves moments of meditation and sitting with your thoughts — something that doesn’t often happen while training for a road race or triathlon. Becoming comfortable with your own thoughts and more reflective can increase mental toughness, which is important for training and racing. When Lai realized this, “yoga felt like a secret weapon,” she said. That’s when she decided to become a yoga teacher.

It improves connection with your body. Before Lai starts a training session, she does about five minutes of yoga. This not only gets her body moving, but also helps her be aware of how her body is feeling. “Can I push harder in this training session or should I take it easy?” she asks herself. Being able to scale workouts up or down based on what her body — not her ego — needs has helped her stay injury free.

It helps with breathing. Yoga teaches you to control your breathing, something particularly important for long-distance athletes.

For more on Lai, including information on her current classes, visit her website at jackielai.ca.