If you’ve ever taken a yoga class from me, you know that I talk a lot about finding balance in every pose–balancing effort and ease, or what is referred to in Sanskrit as “stira” and “sukha.” More than anything else, that’s what yoga has taught me, both on my mat and in every aspect of my life. I think it’s pretty amusing, though, how quickly the yogi (that would be me) forgets the very thing she so passionately advocates.
Today I took my dog, Max, for a romp in the woods. A lively hike in nature with my pup restores my sanity and brings me back to my center just as efficiently (and sometimes even more so) as the most inspiring, sweaty yoga class at my favorite studio. It had been nearly three long weeks since our last date on the trail. And it was during that last outing three weeks ago that I had begun to sense that balance was quickly becoming lost.
I had recently embarked on a personal challenge–a quest to reclaim the lost runner in me while training to race in a 5k this spring. I hooked up with the Mill Creek Y’s Multisport Group, buoyed and inspired by their camaraderie and obvious sense of fun. Training plan in hand, I was off and running, literally. Well, okay…more like run/walking, but still…make no doubt about it that I was on my way. I had three weeks of training under my belt by that fateful day on the trail, and although I was feeling stronger in my lungs, my legs that day felt like lead. Wanting to be fierce and tough and channeling my inner Apolo Ohno, I ignored the sluggish sensation in my legs and soldiered on…plod, plod, plod. With every heavy foot fall, I remembered what people used to tell me when I was a runner in my 20’s–“You run so effortlessly, so light on your feet!” Where the hell was that girl now? I was quite certain she wasn’t anywhere near me on the trail. As I entered the nearby park, I continued in my begrudgingly bitter pace. As I approached the dog park, I came upon a good friend, walking her dog. “I can’t stop and talk,” I announced breathlessly as I passed, “I’m training.” Max and I jogged one quick loop around the dog park, then it was back on the trail…plod, plod, plod. Gotta keep moving, gotta run longer, walk less, go faster. Finally, as we passed through the park gates back to the trail that lead home, I couldn’t do it any longer. Tears began to sting my eyes as I thought how much I hated this. This whole running business. This whole idea. Everything about it sucked, I sucked and I was done. My wonderful hike with Max had been transformed into hell and I hated it. I had lost all and any balance to this endeavor. As we approached the trailhead, I told myself to slow down and simply enjoy moving again, with no thought as to how fast I was going. I implored myself to pay attention–to my body, my breath, to my world around me. Continuing down the trail, I began to notice the wonderful water sounds of the gurgling creek, full with run-off from recent rains. I approached my favorite spot on the trail, where the family of maples resides. One of the towering trees had had a limb sheered off by a strong windstorm, it’s giant branch suspended 100 feet above the trail, supported by another sibling tree across the path. How had I missed all of this at the beginning of my hike?
The next day was my treadmill day. Ironically, I had actually begun to enjoy some of my time on the treadmill, plugging into my I-pod and entering my “zone”, free of distractions. Wanting to see some improvement in my pace, I began to reduce my recovery walk time and increase my run time, even increasing the speed of my run. Again, my breath felt easy and deep. And then it began–every time my left foot hit the belt, a searing pain ran through the inside of my knee. I didn’t stop, I didn’t even slow down. My ego was shouting, “not good enough!” Still unbalanced, my running was my punishment. Three miles later, I limped off the machine and went home to ice my knee. The next morning, I could barely put weight on my left leg, and walking up stairs was excruciating at best. Luckily, yoga didn’t bother it much, so, on a diet of Advil and ice I continued to gingerly teach my classes.
For three weeks, all I did was teach my yoga classes. And for three weeks, I was forced to think hard and honestly about what I was doing.
When I practice yoga, all I feel is affirmation. Acceptance. Unconditional love. Having spent my young adulthood mired in constant messed-up body image issues, starvation diets and compulsive exercising, this is no small feat. Yoga has been a huge gift in my life. Even the most sweaty, challenging yoga practice allows me the space to be truly myself, and it allows me to accept myself as not just “good enough” but indeed, “WONDERFULl!” Running down that trail that day, pushing myself beyond what was “balanced”, felt punitive and shaming. My time on the treadmill the next day felt equally punishing. I felt like me in my twenties all over again. Although there were moments when I felt free and effortless running when I was younger, I mostly felt like I was paying my penance. Because that was what it was intended as. Punishing me for being “bad”, for eating that cookie, for missing my run the day before, for not being skinny enough, strong enough, good enough. There was little, if any, joy in moving my body. Yoga introduced me to the radical concept that I was pretty amazing just as I was. It didn’t happen overnight, but over the last ten years, it did happen. Even as I took my first twist after the holidays, feeling every sip of Baileys and every bite of delicious cookie around my waist, there was no condemnation. Instead, just an awareness of my body and a willingness to surrender to what is and go from there. When I was running on the trail and on the treadmill, there was no acceptance. Only old tapes of “not good enough” cycling through my brain.
When I met with my running coach, Sharon, at the beginning of all this, she said to me, “Tracie, my goal for you is not just finishing your race…I know you’ll finish your race. My goal for you is to fall in love with running again.” Just recalling her saying that brings tears to my eyes. Honestly, there’s a big part of me that wonders if that will be possible. When I watch my dog run through the woods, I am convinced that he is not running for any other reason than because he can and because it feels good. When I watch my daughter in her gymnastics I see a young girl running, tumbling and flying because she can and for the sheer joy of it. My teacher, Baron Baptiste, will often say in a class, “If you can, you must.” If I can, I will.
But this much I know for sure: If I am to reclaim my role as a runner, it will be with balance. Balanced in ease and effort in my training and ease and effort in each and every stride. Balanced in suhka and stira, in every aspect of my journey. I am drawn to the philosophy of Chi Running, which emphasizes body alignment and awareness, much like yoga does. Fortunately, my coach is a certified Chi Running instructor. I will stop and pay attention when I am in pain, because pain does not serve me. I am not determined to be a runner again At Any Cost. My hikes with Max will remain my Hikes With Max, not part of my training plan. If I can, I absolutely will.
But if I can’t, I need to believe that I will be not just “good enough”, but absolutely, unmistakably, unrefutably…WONDERFUL, just as I am. And in the end, I am reminded once again…it’s all yoga, baby.