Elite runner finds balance with yoga

Elite runner finds balance with yoga
Nicky Moffat |

COMMONWEALTH Games runner Mel Panayiotou describes herself as an “accidental athlete” but there’s nothing coincidental about her yoga practice.

Ms Panayiotou surprised the elite athletics scene in October 2013 when she placed third female at the Medibank Melbourne Marathon. Running had just been “a hobby”, she said, but soon she was training to compete against the best in the world.

“It was almost an accidental qualification for me,” she said.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing the first time I ran a marathon, but I got a qualifying time.”

In 2014 she qualified for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where she placed eighth overall.

Ms Panayiotou is currently ranked first on the Australian National Marathon Rankings and if it wasn’t for a minor injury to her lower back she would have competed in the International Association of Athletics Federations world championships in Beijing at the weekend.

Yoga became a part of Ms Panayiotou’s routine after Mooloolaba-based yoga teacher Bryan Castle, of Yoga Vida, approached her last year.

“I had done yoga before but hadn’t really done it seriously,” she said. “I found it was not only a great way to relax after long running sessions but it really helped me with balance.”

She said yoga practice made her more aware of her “whole body” and what it needed.

“I find it’s great for flexibility, balance and recovery,” she said. “The mental benefits are one of the most fantastic benefits too – you feel great when you come out of it.”

A busy veterinary surgeon at Australia Zoo, Ms Panayiotou said she worked on her feet all day and trained before and after work. She said mental ability as well as physical training was crucial to balancing this juggling act.

A Mooloolaba resident, Ms Panayiotou says she is lucky to train on its beaches and practice at a local.

“I truly believe it’s a great complement to most sports,” she said. “I can definitely say it is for running – most runners really neglect that part of the sport.”

She said it was “fantastic” Yoga Vida had recently moved to a bigger space, at 177 Brisbane Rd, Mooloolaba.

Mr Castle said it was very rewarding to work with athletes such as Ms Panayiotou, who took their health and fitness so seriously.

His new yoga studio was now the biggest on the Sunshine Coast.

“I’ve got open windows, sunsets and sunrises, natural air and natural light. There’s a lovely ambience to the place,” he said.