Sunday, August 14, 2011

Running for balance

If you come around my neck of the woods in the morning, (on non-class days of course) you might catch me running through the neighborhood. Yep, that's me in the pink T-shirt that says, "I run like a girl, try to keep up," plugging away at my weekly mileage.

You might wonder what I'm doing out there, having heard me disparage running in the past. Or perhaps you heard me complain about my knees in class and how I can't run anymore because of them.

Thought is seems unlikely, what I'm doing out there is running for my life.

In February, my doctor gave me some bad news; the x-rays showed my knees are fine. It made me wonder if the pain was a fiction of my mind so that I didn't have to face my deepest fears; if my yogic aversion to running was just an excuse for the same.

In school and in college, I loved to run. I was pretty good at it too. Though I never entered any races after I traded track for tennis, on my own I once ran 4.5 miles in 27 minutes. (That's six minutes per mile for those who are counting.)

But something happened along the way to mind that created a running-phobia. I developed panic attacks which made me think that running would be bad for me. What if I got out there and had an attack? What if I just fell down dead? It's been known to happen, or so I had heard.

After several failed attempts to start running again after college, I gave it up for good nine years ago. Even though the attacks had abated, the fear continued to linger. Besides, who needs to run when yoga is so much better for your joints and fast walking is still considered a cardio-workout?

Apparently, I do need to run. This spring my mind and my body (and God too) let me know that despite teaching yoga for years, sometime several classes a day, I need more exercise.

Yoga helps slow and calm my mind. It releases tension from my body, but I need the balance of hard, vigorous exercise like running to help my manage anger and anxiety.

Running gives my body an outlet for difficult emotions like anger, fear and grief while walking would just set my mind churning. When I run, I can't think except to listen to my breath and the rhythm of my foot strikes, but my body is fully engaged in whatever emotion has overcome me, working it out in sweat and heavy breathing. Yoga can this too, but since I teach, it's hard to make yoga all mine alone. Running is what I do for myself, yoga is what I do for others and therein lies the balance.

In case you're wondering, yoga and running are in fact very compatible. I've always recommended that students have both a yoga practice and a cardio practice, since yoga doesn't always get your heart beating fast enough and long enough to count as cardio exercise. Some styles of yoga do this but not specifically the Iyengar style which I teach.

Yoga benefits runners by helping maintain flexibility which running can diminish. It also helps with faster recovery from hard workouts; provides core-strength which makes for better running form; improved lung-capacity from breathwork; endurance from holding the poses and finding the "edge" of your comfort zone; and mental strength from mindfulness and meditation.  

Running gives my competitive side and outlet. Rather than smothering it with the yogic ideal of non-competition which only make show up in other unwanted places, I am able to give it voice when I run. However, yoga gives me perspective and has taught me not to take my goals or myself too seriously. After all, I'm supposed to be running for the shear joy of it not, to prove something to world or myself.

Yoga has also taught me when it's time to back off and rest. It has taught  me to listen to my body and not push beyond my capabilities. As I've said many times to my students boundaries are there for a reason, don't try to push past them. When I run, I have to practice this or I know I'll injure myself. I practice this too because if I push myself mentally beyond what I'm comfortable with, I my end up back where I started.

Most notably, yoga made my re-entry into the running world much easier than I expected. Within two months of starting again I was able to run five miles in 42 minutes. A far cry from my personal best, but not too shabby for someone who hadn't run in nine years and who is also 15 years older from when that record was set.

So if you do see me running around the neighborhood or in local race, know that I haven't gone and lost my mind, I'm actually finding it. I feel like if I can run, I can do anything.

1 comment:

  1. Shannon, this post delights me.

    And it makes me want to run!