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Photo by Drewski Mac

My yoga journey had a lot of starts and stops initially. When I finally became a true yogi, it was because of running. I was always a runner first and yoga was only a way to stretch for a long time. Even after I became a teacher, running was still my first passion. I began to have an unsettling feeling about this combination of running and yoga. This duo had within it a built in struggle. It was a struggle both in mind and body. But I ignored it. I ran and trained and pushed until finally succumbing to my yoga journey when running was no longer an option. And as they say “I saw the light and I never turned back”. Well not really.

You see, running and yoga are truly yin and yang both mentally and physically. Runners push. Runners compete with themselves and others. They compare. Runners turn off the mind because our bodies CAN do more, do faster, do longer. Runners don’t stop at pain but use pain as a test for mental toughness. Don’t stop. Run faster. Run longer. Rest if you need to but then get back on the track. Running compacts the muscles in the body. It tightens the muscles in the legs. It ignores the upper body. It creates imbalances.

I bought the runner’s message and lived that message. I ran when sick (though my running partner got my wrath that day), I ran in the heat, I ran when my leg had a strange pain, I kept on running. Speed work, long runs, tempo runs, trail runs. I woke up every morning with foot and leg pain. And then I couldn’t run. I had injured myself to the point that it was just not possible.

I turned to yoga. I listened to my body. I saw the alignment issues that were part of my running problems in my yoga and I patiently kept coming to my mat, working on my alignment. I got stronger. I got more flexible. My body began to open up. My hips released. My hamstrings released. I didn’t push, but patiently worked. I woke up without pain. I woke up.

So now I am running again. I love the freedom of being able to put on running shoes and take off. I love running on trails in all weather. The surroundings absorbs me. Mindfulness is necessary as to not trip. I now sometimes walk up some hills. But now, I always make sure that I get into the studio as often as I can to be in class. That takes precedent overrunning, but my need to get outside and fill my lungs with fresh air takes me to the trails. I have started to get the urge to push a little more. Maybe because it is marathon season and just a pattern that I have created. But yoga is what makes me able to run. I need both running and yoga in my life. The yin/yang. The dance. The balance.

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I just returned from a wonderful ski trip to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec with my family. You could tell upon arrival that this was going to be an amazing vacation. We were staying in the ski village a stones throw from the base of the mountain and lift. The village had a European charm with shops, restaurants and apres skiing activities. The weather warmed up to the mid-twenties from its usual below zero temps. We could not have been happier.

But why write about my ski trip on my yoga blog? Because although I did not end up taking out my mat that I packed with my ski gear, yoga made its presence on this trip.

We skied long days, and compared to our local mountain, we skied endlessly long runs. I found myself feeling great after each day on the slopes. My legs rarely felt the burn from the constant work that they were doing and I never fell. OK, I did. But it was after my daughter forgot to stand up to get off the lift and ended up flying through the air and landing on me.

I credit yoga for my leg strength, agility and balance. Warrior poses, chair pose and sequences that stay on one leg seemingly forever are the perfect conditioning for skiing. Hip openers, like pigeon, help loosen one’s hips enabling the body to turn from its legs instead of forcing the upper body to initiate the turn. The core power gained from poses like boat, locust and twists create a foundation of strength that keeps you aligned, steady and ready for sudden movement shifts which can help you avoid accidents. I was very present during each run down the mountain. My mind and body were focused but relaxed—the same sensation that I get in class on my mat.

On our last day of skiing, my six-year-old daughter was following us down trails. Encountering our first black diamond together two days before, she panicked and ended up taking off her skies and sliding down on her bottom. On this day, however, she was determined to keep up with us all, and surprised us by fearlessly following the family down very difficult slopes.  At the end of the day she told me that she took some deep breaths and told herself to stop thinking. Before each black slope she cleared her head of her fear and just went for it. I heard her talking herself down some of the tough spots with positive affirmations.  The pride she felt was palpable as she not only kept up with us but conquered the fear that took up space in her head.

As a parent and teacher, it sometimes feels as though no one is really listening. Yes, I was very proud of my daughter, but it was not for going down those black diamonds. Seeing my daughter take control of her thoughts and connect her breathing, her mind and her body made me feel like I just coached an athlete to a gold medal in the Olympics. Though I hope my daughter enjoys skiing forever, I know now that she has learned some powerful skills that will help her throughout the black diamonds of her life.

Here are two great articles about yoga for skiers:

Yoga For Skiers

Yoga For Skiers from the Cowgirl Yoga Blog

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Creative commons photo by ctanstfl on flickr

I have to apologize for not writing. Apparently not only did my body need time to recover after running a marathon but I found that my mind needed a break as well. I have never felt as absent-minded as I did this week. I felt like I was one step away from where I always needed to be. I had a really hard time getting my thoughts from my head into the computer. Maybe it was the race or maybe the pre and post race lack of sleep, but I finally (after almost a week) feel ready to write.

So did yoga help my race. 100%. I don’t think I would have had the race that I did if I didn’t practice yoga and bring my yoga with me on race day.

Saturday before the race I did a 20 minute yoga practice in my hotel room. I warmed up with sun salutations and then listened to my body to see what it needed. I lingered in my down dogs to ease my tight calve muscles. I balanced in flying pigeon and rested in half pigeon opening my hips. I held an alternate pigeon pose to stretch deep into my ilio psoas. I lifted my hips in bridge, rocked gently in happy baby, helped my feet by holding a nice long shoulder stand. Then I rested in savasana while listening to a marathon meditation on my ipod from Stin Hansen.

That night, although tired from walking around DC, I barely slept. I listened to sleep meditations, anxiety meditations and pre-race meditations. I placed my hand on my stomach and focused on my breath and finally rested until the 5am wake up call’s shrill ring jolted me up and out of bed.

Race morning. I took a lot of long deep breaths. Avoiding butterflies by breathing fully into my stomach I made it to the race coral with my friends and waited to begin the adventure.

I tried to be present. I tried really hard to pay attention to the people, the soldiers, the fans and the sights. This race has 300,000 people watching and helping. It has almost 30,000 people running. I loved every minute of it. Well at least until about mile 19. It was then that I saw someone with a sign that said something like ” You will soon see a wall”. I was warned that a lot of people hit the wall at the 14th Street Bridge. I was told that on the bridge people begin to walk or stop to stretch. I was told that my mind would tell me to stop and walk and stretch too. I felt my left knee beginning to talk to me. I breathed into my knee. I felt a side stitch on my right and breathed into that side. I felt a side stitch on the other side and breathed into that side. I started to count to 100 over and over and over. I wished I had a yoga affirmation or Sanskrit saying to use as a mantra but instead the only thing I could do was count. I counted myself over the bridge and through mile 25 until I knew success was ahead. I bounded up the final hill to the finish and became a marathoner.

I finished in 4 hours and 7 minutes. I almost made my goal and I finished feeling really good. I had the usual post race pain which I tried to help by lying in legs up the wall pose. I stretched my aching quads using dancer pose and tried stretching my overworked hips by doing a sitting version of pigeon and hanging in rag doll. I had the usual trouble walking up and down stairs for a couple of days but have been amazed by the speed of my recovery. I am ready to write and I am ready run again. Everyone has their own marathon story. No one experiences the marathon in the same way. My marathon story is a yoga story.

thomashawk

Photo by Thomas Hawk

I have just returned from a run – 18 miles – the most that I have ever traveled on foot in preparation for the Marine Corps. Marathon on October 25th. I was scheduled to run 16 miles, but I upped it to 18 in order to squeeze in both a 20 and 22 mile run before the big day.  This will be my first full marathon and I have been training since June. I know that I have been putting in the miles that Hal Higdon prescribes, but I believe that it is my yoga that will get me to the finish line.

How yoga comes into play in running and sports in general:

1. Yoga strengthens core muscles which provides one’s body with increased stability. Core muscles tie many other muscles together. Throwing, batting, twisting, crouching all are actions used in multiple sports that involve the core muscles. If one’s core is not strong, other muscles will compensate which can cause injury.

2. Yoga focuses on breath. When fatigue sets in, focusing on one’s breath by imagining each inhale as increased strength and each exhale as gray smoke or negative thoughts will tap into reserved energy. This kind of visualization technique is used by many athletes to help push past physical or mental fatigue to achieve success.

3. Yoga teaches us that our mind often controls our body, and that sometimes we must talk our mind into doing something it is resisting. I remember when taking a Baron Baptist day-long yoga immersion class that he told us to ignore those censoring thoughts in our minds (as long as we weren’t in actual PAIN) in order to allow our bodies to do things that they had not yet done before. There are many studies that confirm that our brain will tell our bodies to stop to protect it from harm. We can push our bodies harder and farther by teaching our brain that we will not be doing damage to ourselves as we reach new limits.

4. Yoga shows us how to get into “the zone”. By focusing on the moment while letting all thoughts pass, one’s mind becomes focused entirely on the task at hand. Similarly, yoga’s focus on the moment (the sun, the wind, the environment around you) can actually help you maintain a higher performance. According to Marc Allen, a six-time Ironman champion, he was able to win his first of six Ironman races in 1989 after failing six times previously by quieting his mind during this very intensely competitive race to beat his opponent who was in the lead.

I know the many miles that I have traversed during the last 5 months have helped me build up my physical endurance. However, it is my mental endurance honed by my yoga practice which I will continue to focus heavily upon during these last few weeks leading to my race which will carry me through the finish line to success.


Current Classes:

MIDTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

Mondays:
6-7:15am Power Vinyasa (H)

Thursdays:
6-7am Power Vinyasa

Story Time Yoga
1-1:45pm

Sundays:
5-7 year olds
9:45-10:30am
8-11 year olds
10:45-11:30am

STUDIO MOVE!

Wednesdays:
10:30-11:30 Power Vinyasa

Fridays:
Yoga for Athletes
9-10am

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