Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Story of a Runner Turned Yogi...

When I come to my yoga mat every morning I try to leave my expectations behind. This is a practice, a blending of breath with the flow of movement, not something to conquer or master or dominate but something to experience and embrace. It wasn't always that way and I'm not always successful at doing so. Yoga started off for me as a way to earn P.E. credits in college and later turned into a means to "force" myself to stretch when I became a runner. I sought out the more aggressive videos like power flow and later, P90X so that my yoga days would feel more like a workout than a time suck...I mean, can you really count 60 minutes of stretching to spa music as working out (especially when 5 of those minutes were laying on the ground in corpse pose doing nothing)?

My previous mentality...
 In my mid 30's I felt that I was no longer running for health benefits but more as a way to run away from life. I was disconnected from my body and mind, pushing myself into injuries and brushing it off as 'true dedication'..."See how committed I am?? I'm running with a torn hip flexor and fracture in my foot!!". After finally being forced to take 6 months off (via a cast) I found other forms of exercise to fill the void...boxing, cross fit, kettle bells, HIIT, P90X, Insanity, BodyRock, etc. before turning back to running. Yoga took a back seat again (actually, it got left behind at the rest stop). But the disconnect still persisted and I was faced with results that weren't fulfilling me mentally or physically.

I earned my orange headband completing Tough Mudder Norcal.
Crossing the finish line with my BFF Coleen at the Rock n' Roll San Diego Marathon.
 Although I do love the mental and physical aspects of the events I participated in like a full marathon and Tough Mudder, I also knew that these types of physically demanding challenges weren't something I aspired to maintain for the rest of my life (and yes, I am aware of the 100 year old man who completed the Toronto Marathon as well as the 80 year old man who has run 19 NYC Marathons). I'm no wimp, don't get me wrong...but I don't want to continue to dedicate the amount of time and effort into training for marathon after marathon for the next 40+ (God willing) years. My last marathon did a number on me...breaking down muscles and mentally challenging me during long and lonely 18+ mile training runs. While it was an overall positive experience which I am proud of, it's just not sustainable for me.

SIddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland...a turning point.
Over the past couple of years I've learned that yoga has so much more to offer than a limber body and a means to work out the kinks. A visit to an ashram in Oakland opened my eyes to the true meaning of yoga as well as the 7 other limbs to enlightenment...something I was in desperate need of at that point in my life. So, about a year ago (a little while after we officially hit the road as fulltime travelers) I stopped running and committed myself to practicing yoga almost exclusively. And this time my yoga practice would incorporate more than just asanas (although I am going to post pictures of some of these poses, because asana is one of the limbs).

Practicing pigeon pose on Glaveston Island, Texas
In that time I have felt a definite and positive shift in my health and mental well being. I've also not only maintained the muscle mass I had previously acquired but my aches and pains have diminished (specifically in my back, sciatic, hips and knees...some of which have troubled me since I was a teenager). My core has strengthened as well as my upper body and my balance has improved. But the biggest change has been more profound. I feel very connected to my body...its changes, its  needs, its sensitive areas and places of resistance.

Taking an amazing class in Contoocook New Hampshire...possibly my favorite class to date.
I also feel an interconnectedness with every thing around me...the wind, the trees, the water, the seasons...even people I encounter. Rather than jumping to harsh judgements I embrace that pause between seeing and completing a thought and instead, imagine the struggles they are going through...and even if they aren't struggling I can imagine the journey it has taken me to get to where I am physically and mentally and remember that no one can map out another person's journey nor can they force another to even embark on that journey.

Headstand in the Pocono Mountains
Yoga has provided me the peace and serenity that previously came only from a pill or the sheer exhaustion of over-training. I am not begrudging anyone who runs or boxes or finds enjoyment from intense physical activity as I still do enjoy riding my bike, hiking and kayaking when I can...I even ran a 5k distance last month and felt exhilarated. I also still have some big dreams and goals, perhaps to climb a mountain or learn to surf. But for me, yoga has provided the missing element of joining body, mind and spirit (with the side benefit of maintaining or even improving my fitness).
Morning self practice in Pennsylvania
Some days I leave my mat in tears from emotions which have been stirred from syncing my breath and movement with an open minded willingness to to just be...to just feel...to listen to my needs. Some days I leave my mat with so much energy that I ride my bike or go for a hike or clean the entire RV or even add an additional round of practice complete with arm balances and handstands. And some days I leave my mat content, even happy...a feeling that continues throughout the day and spills over onto the people around me.But I never leave my mat with regret for having taken the time to breath and connect with something deeper than myself, for having taken time for myself I have found the link to every thing around me.

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