On Saturdays, I usually opt out of a run and instead enjoy a yoga or cross-training class.
Given that my hubby and in-laws bought me 20 classes at Halifax Yoga, I took the opportunity to do some breathing and stretching today in a Yin:Yang class.
I've been taking yoga for more years than I've been running seriously, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that I will never stop learning lessons about myself and my yoga practice, no matter how many years I practice. Yoga is so much more than flexibility and strength; it's very much more an inner meditative practice. And the more you understand that, the more the lessons learned on the mat can be transferred to life situations off the mat - including running.
The instructor in today's class (Stephanie) was doing a great job of talking us through the class and helping us to think past the performance of yoga, and into the opportunities for inner growth. I'll admit: sometimes some of the yoga talk can seem a little hokey, if you don't take the time to really think about it. But three things stood out to me today as lessons that can be applicable to running, and to life in general:
1) Stop trying to go places, and instead enjoy being in the moment: After a series of sun salutations A and B, our instructor asked us to move from Reverse Warrior, into Triangle Pose. My initial response was, "I know exactly what she means. I've done this so many times before, with no problem, and I'm flexible." So without any hesitation, I leaned forward, shifted my hips back, and placed my right hand on my right foot, with my left hand reaching up and my heart opening up to the ceiling.
Only to find out that the rest of the class was still waiting for Stephanie to guide them from the lean into the pose. "Hang out here for five breaths, and enjoy this sensation," she said. "So often, we are rushing from one thing to the next - I need to go grab my Tim Hortons in the morning. I need to go watch my TV show at the end of the day," she said.
But by making us hang in that in-between spot between Reverse Warrior into Triangle, Stephanie drove home an important lesson: enjoy being in that in-between; in the now. So often we are rushing to go from Point A to Point B, and all of a sudden we realize that minutes, hours or even years have passed by.
The same is true of running - instead of focusing on the experience of being outside with friends and fellow runners, I'm often so focused on just getting to the end of a run. I want to make it to that 12, 16 or 18k (or more), so I plug in my earbuds and focus on ticking down the kilometres till my Garmin tells me, mission accomplished. But it's also important to remember to slow down, forget the Garmin, and enjoy the day and the surroundings.
I've sometimes made a point of bringing a camera along with me for a long run and taking photos of neat things along the way (like on this 23k run a few years ago - I saw so many things I'd never noticed before, even though I'd been running the same loops for weeks, even months).
Whatever it is - whether it's bringing a camera along, or leaving your Garmin behind; take time every so often to just stop and reflect on how lucky we are to live in a city like Halifax, where the ocean is at our doorstep and salt runs through our veins. And we are lucky to be able to put one foot in front of the other, and run - no matter how fast, or what the distance.
2) We have so much: From Triangle, we did a few Vinyasas, and eventually flowed into Side Angle pose. "Now, just try lifting up all ten toes," Stephanie guided. "We have so much."
When you're hanging out with one hand on the ground behind a bent leg, and one arm up in the air, your heart straining to shine up to the ceiling, trying to tuck both hips under you while keeping your back leg straight and your back foot firmly on the ground, having an instructor ask you to lift all ten toes up may seem like asking too much, as sweat trickles down your forehead and your muscles start to strain.
But today, for whatever reason, Stephanie's message hit home to me: the very fact that I was able to hang out in such a pose and lift my toes suddenly seemed like such a gift, when I reflected on the young boy in a wheelchair I'd only just seen this morning in Tim Horton's (yes, rushing to get my morning tea before class...the irony of it), or when I thought about the mother of a former friend who'd passed away only a few days earlier after years and years and years of struggling with her weight and mental and emotional issues.
Suddenly, being able to lift up all ten toes while stretched out in Side Angle pose seemed miraculous.
So, too, is the ability to walk or run any distance at will. To be able to get up on a Sunday morning and drive to a local run club and hit the road for a few kilometres for a few minutes, or a few hours...
We are so lucky. It doesn't hurt to remember what sometimes seems cliche: we have our health. So many others do not.
The next time I grumble about heading out for a run, because I'm tired, or I've had a long day at work, I hope that I remember the miracle of lifting up ten toes in the middle of a yoga class.
3) You choose your reality: From Side Angle, we did a few more sun salutations, and then moved into the Yang portion of the class, which Stephanie started with Dolphin, then eventually Half Dragon.
As a runner, I know that any stretches involving hamsrtrings or quads will be a challenge, even though as a former dancer and gymnast I also realize that I'm quite flexible. That said, running has tightened my hamstrings and I've got some built up scar tissue on my right quad, due to a very old gymnastics injury.
So when Stephanie asked us to pull our right leg through in front of us, plant our foot and lean into our leg, and to feel the sensation in not only our hamstring but also our left quad, I was a little reluctant to stay in the posture for three minutes, as tends to be the case in Yin yoga.
But then she told us a story about walking to school with her son yesterday morning, uphill (which in Purcells Cove means it was a big hill). She had been counting down the minutes till she would reach the top of the hill, and not really enjoying the walk. Then her five-year-old son looked at her and said, "Never give up, mommy."
Oh, the fresh innocence of youth is sometimes astounding.
"You choose how you react in the now," said Stephanie. "You could be miserable, and walking in the cold and damp outside. Or you could just be walking in the cold and damp."
Slowly, as I breathed in and out in Oujaii breath, the pain in my legs ceased being pain, and turned into sensation.
"You can't control those sensations, but you can control your breath," she continued.
I only hope that this lesson will serve me well on the road, when I am running and my legs feel sore and tired. I hope that I can choose to breathe through the pain, and simply see it as pain - and proof once again that I am alive, and lucky to be able to be running with my two legs beneath me.
As we finished the class and began to prepare for Shavasana, I remembered a meditative refrain I've learned in another class, which I often like to recite to myself in meditation:
May I be filled with loving kindness,
May I be well,
May I be peaceful, and at ease,
May I be happy.
So too, fellow runners, do I wish that you can be filled with loving kindness, that you may be well, that you be peaceful, and at ease, and above all else, that you may be happy.