Avid Ultra Marathoner and Ironman, Adrian Mok, 41, picked up yoga about five years ago… and his first brush with this had been extremely embarrassing.
His introduction to yoga was nothing but smoothSaid Mok, the Managing Director of HiVelocity Events, which organises the Sundown Marathon and Bliss Out yoga festival “I had been travelling a fair bit to Kuala Lumpur (KL) at that point in time. There is a gym that I go to regularly in that city. There aren’t a lot of places to run in KL and you have to deal with the Malaysian traffic which can be quite tricky. I’m also not a fan of running on the treadmill and am not really big into strength training and CrossFit. I saw some people in the studio at the gym doing yoga and I thought that maybe I should give it a try.”
Added Mok, “Try I did, and I thought the yoga classes in Malaysia were very advanced. It was totally embarrassing! But I think though, it was this sense of competitiveness in me that I sort of found something and I thought, hey this is something that I am really bad at doing. Then it intrigued me a little. I figured that even though I couldn’t do it, yoga is something that is beneficial for the body and so I should try it more frequently. So I pushed myself into doing yoga more regularly and soon I got addicted.”
Yoga has made him into a stronger runner
Over the years though, Mok has definitely noticed benefits in terms of his running, after he had picked up yoga. He said, “Yoga has helped me to become a stronger runner and to hold my stride better, for sure. I remember clearly when I did the Taipei Marathon, I think it was in 2012, I recall running the last five kilometres of the race, stronger than ever.”
He added, “In the past, I am usually so disintegrated in the final stages of a marathon, that my running stride is all over the place and I don’t care about anything else except getting to the finishing line. This has been the case for me for the longest time, even as a very experienced runner.”But in the Taipei Marathon, Mok recalls that it didn’t happen. He explained, “I started practising yoga in 2010 and in the lead-up to that race, I was recovering from an injury so I cut down my running mileage and spent more time doing yoga. And surprisingly, I ran well and I felt so much stronger during the race. For the final 5km, I felt that I was very much in control and I pushed even harder than ever.”
That run even got a personal best timing for him.
Yoga offers runners flexibility
Besides helping to build strength, Mok feels that another benefit that yoga can offer to runners, is flexibility. He said, “I am sure that many runners cannot even touch their toes, and running is a sport that utilises the same muscles over long durations. Over time as we age, we lose that flexility and when you lose flexibility you lose the full capacity of the muscles, and your running economy as well.”
He added, “Prior to doing yoga, I did a lot of stretching on my own, but after taking up yoga, I was surprised by the amount of variation of stretches that you can do with the different poses. There are just so many ways that you can stretch your body, and many runners don’t realise it.”
The typical class format of yoga lessons, are also important, added Mok, to help runners to stretch and loosen their muscles. He explained, “A yoga class is 60 minutes long – when I did my own stretching, I think I never did more than 20 minutes at one go. So if you go to a yoga class I find that it engages you and forces you to take that one hour to do nothing else except to really stretch. That can only help with running.”
Yoga improves cardio and strength
At the same time, yoga can also improve cardio and strength for runners. Said Mok, “Yoga involves a lot of blood circulation around the body, so that makes it a good form of cardio workout.”
He continued, “And for most of the yoga poses, you are using your body weight as a strength builder – in fact many of the advanced poses, like the handstand, requires amazing strength – and it is in fact, such a balanced workout that I think everyone can benefit from it.”
Never too stiff to try yoga
Mok also adds that runners who think that they are too stiff to do yoga, should not use that as an excuse. Said Mok, “I was one of those runners at the beginning – my flexibility was probably the worst in the class, and till today, it is still quite bad. But I think that it just improves over time.”
He added, “But the best part is that there are yoga studios which cater to different levels and a good instructor can always vary their poses to suit what the body can do, and the best part of yoga is that it is never that competitive as a sport. When I run I am very competitive but with yoga, I find the environment is so different that I don’t really compare myself against those people who can do fantastic and amazing poses. My challenge is just against myself – how I can do that same pose, but a little bit better.”
So he advises beginners to yoga, not to worry that a yoga studio is at too advanced a level for them to cope with. Said Mok, “I have been through so many classes and the instructors are always able to adapt the instructions to suit everyone. In fact I find that by default, at most of the classes, the poses are not too tough – most people can achieve them and the instructor will do a more difficult variation of the pose for the advanced students rather than the other way around. So in a typical yoga class, 90 per cent of the poses should be ok for a typical beginner.”
Indirect benefits in terms of breathing for runners
In terms of breathing for runners, Mok feels that there are also some indirect benefits of taking up yoga. He said, “Nothing replaces the real cardio – if you want to run better, you have to put in running related training. But I think that the deep breathing exercises that yoga incorporates does strengthen the lungs. What I feel is more helpful though, is the effect that yoga has for runners, when you are required to hold a very difficult pose, such as the Warrior II or the Chair pose.”
Named after a fierce ancient warrior, the Warrior II pose stretches and strengthens the legs. At the same time it is supposed to help to promote stamina.”
The Chair pose, on the other hand, helps to strengthen the muscles in the legs and arms, and at the same time, opens up the heart and the diaphragm.
Said Mok, “The Chair pose is the most challenging exercise, especially sometimes when the instructor makes you hold that pose for a longer duration of time. Your muscles start to tremble and you feel as though you are falling apart – I think that this is where mental discipline comes in because you have to channel your breathing and control it, and focus on something else to distract your mind from the physical pain. I feel there is a very strong relation to running in that, as when you run, it is very much the same sort of thing that you are dealing with.”
Yoga helps with running injuries
To some extent, yoga helps in terms of running injuries as well, according to Mok. He said, “I am not sure if I can swear completely that yoga healed me but yoga is the best way to build strength and balance in the whole body – there is symmetry about it, so that whatever you achieve on the left side, you must also do the same on the right side. Everyone has some form of imperfections, for example, one leg slightly longer or the muscles weaker on one side – and i think yoga helps to balance these out.”
He continued, “For me, I had a knee injury two years back from playing basketball. Since then i have not been able to run very long distances. I was told by many of my doctor friends that I needed to go for knee surgery. I still have not done the knee surgery. Today, I would not say that my knee is 100 per cent perfect, but it went from not being able to move and run at all, to being able to do some running. I think that, now I do not need surgery.”
When his knee problems first arose, Mok added that he could only managed about 5km before his knee acted up. He continued, “But now I have completed 21km runs and the knee is still ok at the end of the race. I have seen others who have gone through similar benefits as well. For example those with neck aches and imbalances caused from spending too many hours on the office computer, have improved by taking up yoga. I really think that yoga is the best solution rather than going for surgery or anything.”
Listening to your body is still key
But with any other sports though, Mok stresses that listening to your body is the most important thing. He said, “To listen to your body is the way to go. In fact all yoga teachers would advise you not to over-push yourself, I mean, whatever stretches you do, there is always the physical limit that you can only stretch so much – there is absolutely no need to overdo it.”
He added, “Though with yoga, based on my own experiences, I think that you probably won’t overstretch yourself because unlike running where there is the tendency to push harder and go faster, you are not getting anywhere with overdoing the stretches in yoga, so you would not get into that state where you would be trying too hard.”
Some pointers for runners who are keen to do yoga
So then, what tips does Mok have for runners who are keen to try yoga – but aren’t sure if they will like it?
He said, “Just get started and don’t procrastinate. In fact to begin with, it may not even be necessary to fork out money to join a yoga studio. I remember my first time – the gym I went to, was not a full-fledged yoga studio. It was just a gym that happened to have a few yoga classes and I only did it when I was travelling so it was not a regular thing for me when I started out.”
Continued Mok, “But I eventually got so interested in yoga – that I googled it and bought a book and started finding out more. I think that is a safe way to try out yoga and see if you like it – by going to YouTube; there are plenty of videos out there that you can watch for free and learn more about yoga. You need not even be practising for an hour if you do not have the time; you can just start with a 20-minutes yoga routine to supplement your running and take it from there.”
Yoga & Sundown MarathonFor Sundown Marathon runners who are keen to try out some yoga, Mok added that there may be some yoga & running tie-ups during the race – but no details have been firmed up at the time of this interview.
Not yet registered for the Sundown Marathon? You can still get Early Bird rates – till race registration closes on the 30 April. Simply key in the following promo code when you sign up:
Good Luck and see you on race day.