when running is asana, part 1

Forest Park TrailSeventeen months ago we put our house in Illinois on the market, and I put my beloved trail running on hiatus. Between the stress of an impending move across country and hormonal shifts in my system, I didn’t have the energy reserves for running. Excessive hair loss was an outward sign I knew my body wasn’t right. I decided to focus on my yoga.

Why yoga? Because yoga meets you where you are. On days of lower energy, I can spend more time in yin poses and take level 1 variations. I nurture and care for myself, and feeling nurtured promotes my own healing. Other days when I feel happy, energetic, or even ecstatic, I opt for more challenging variations, and the mental focus and deep breathing required in a challenging posture tames the emotions. Whether I feel tight or weak or flexible or strong, I can tailor the posture to the body-mind I have in that moment.

Over the last year, I have learned a few things. One is that the slower you enter a posture, the deeper the edge. This is very apparent to me when doing any back bending. Moving in very slowly to backbends gives my not-super-bendy spine time to accommodate the changes and give permission to proceed. I am able to move deeper. This is desirable not because deeper is better, but because I can feel things opening up. That opening up is the shedding of physical, emotional, and mental guarding. It is the process of moving deeper in this manner that is therapeutic, not where I am at any particular time.

Over the last year I have received acupuncture, massage therapy, practiced breath initiated yoga regularly, tweaked my diet, and brought my body back online. I have gratefully observed my hair is thick and shiny again–a testament of my renewed bodily health. I am ready to resume running; I have missed it! I miss the rhythm of my breathing and my feet on the ground, feeling all my cells come alive and working in sync with each other, feeling fresh air filling my lungs. I miss dancing with the earth on a single-track trail snaking through the trees, feeling like an animal running through the woods. I miss the camaraderie of running with a friend or in a group of people. I miss the residual glow of the endorphins and the feeling that all my cells have been oxygenated. But since it has been so long since I had a regular running routine, I am starting from the beginning, and applying what I have learned from yoga practice to running training.

Runningasana, Level 1. It has never been so easy to be a beginning runner. I download this app onto my phone: 5K Runner. The pleasant voice tells me to “warmup with a 5 minute walk,” and then I proceed to listening to the inspirational book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It is the fourth time I’ve read Born to Run—I recommend it for running inspiration and running form tips! The app smoothly interrupts the story to tell me to “begin running now” and a minute later “slow down and walk.” This repeats several times until the app tells me to, “slow down for your 5-minute cool down walk, and then stretch.” Too easy! It takes all the guess work out of how to build up safely.

running in the rainStarting from the beginning, as in, walk-running and following a program, instead of going out and running a few miles right off the bat, has a few benefits: 1) It reduces my chances of getting injured. Doing too much too soon results in injuries for too many people. It takes time for the body to adjust to the rigors of increased exercise. 2) Mixing running with walking facilitates me being aware of my running form and helps me not run sloppy. Not unlike coming up into a difficult yoga posture, coming down, then going back up again versus holding it straight through but getting sloppy with it. Sloppy running or sloppy yoga asana, both lead to injury. I wasn’t born knowing how to do wheel posture, nor was I born knowing how to run. Spending the time to consciously re-learn good form prevents injury. 3) It is in line with the self-acceptance and self-nurturance I have been practicing on my yoga mat. Where I am today, with my running, is perfect. As I move deeper into my runningasana, I enjoy the process of building fitness and gaining further awareness of being. Being compassionate towards myself for where I am, and being grateful for what my body can do today, that is the joyful practice.

What are you doing to nurture and care for yourself? How are you applying your yoga practice to other areas of your life?

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