Posts Tagged With: injuries

Why do I run, when it ruins my yoga?

Just the other day when I was teaching a class, I compared doing an hour and a half of yoga to that of running 9 miles. Now anyone who has ever run 9 miles is thinking it’s an over statement, and maybe it is, but I shall explain my line of thinking. All things fitness that seem impossible had their start in the “I can’t do that” vocabulary. But they eventually move towards more of the poker language “I’ll see your 10 pull-ups and add 2”, or “I’ll see your 5 miles and add 5 more.” It’s how you get to the crazy idea of running a marathon. The day that you go out for a run and 10 seems easy is the day you start thinking a 1/2 marathon at 13 miles might not be so bad. For all the people who tell me they can’t do yoga because they can’t touch their toes I just want to say “Well, I couldn’t run a marathon either, until I trained for it.”

Runners tend to gravitate towards my classes and teaching style, for one main reason : I don’t chastise them for being runners. If anything, I praise them for it and ask them when their next race is. I also incorporate a lot of great poses that deal with runner specific over-use injuries. But I also don’t sugar coat it with runners. The truth is, running will not make your physical practice of asana better, but yoga will definitely make your running better, physically speaking. As long as runners can make peace with that idea, it will make it a whole lot easier to push through 1st series ashtanga yoga for 90 minutes. You are bound to be tight, but without yoga you will only get tighter and probably experience more injuries that will sideline you.

So my comparing 90 mins of ashtanga yoga to 90 minutes of running was to make the point that they both take about the same amount of time to accomplish, and that during both you will have to overcome the quitter’s mind. That during 90 minutes of either activity you are probably going to wonder “What was I thinking to do 90 minutes of yoga/running.” Something is going to hurt, some posture, or mile is going to be brutal, and you might start to lose your motivation. When doing anything physical you are going to run up against that voice in your head that is the pessimist, the nay-sayer, the weakling. This is where running and yoga are similar. They are both a battle of the mind, more than a battle of the body. Your body can do just about anything. Hence the reason why the New York City Marathon has 50,000 competitors , the Marine Corp has 30,000 and the Chicago marathon has 40,000, just to name a few. 1% of those people are competing against each other, while the other 99% are competing against the weakest version of their self. The nay-sayer voice that around mile 16 loves to tell you, “You can’t do it.”, is the same voice in yoga that will try to tell you you can’t come up out of a backbend either. The voice is the same, it comes from the same place and can be put to rest the same way no matter if it’s running or yoga. As my teacher, Tim Miller, likes to say “Experience is the remover of doubt.” Every time I run 5 miles, it erases the doubt that I can’t run 6. Every time I run 6, it erases the doubt that I can’t do 7. This can carry on until the 26th mile is finished.

This is how I see the similarities between running 9 miles and ashtanga yoga; the surya namaskars are equivalent to the first mile of any run you go on. It’s the warm up mile, where you find your legs and the rhythm of your breathing. The standing poses are equivalent to a 5k (3 miles), it’s enough of a run on a busy day. The seated postures, up to Marichyasana are equal to about 5 miles. Right in the heart of what are commonly called the speed pump poses in ashtanga there is navasana, bhujapidasana, kurmasana. These are like mile 6, where you start second guessing yourself, and this crazy idea of staying fit. Mile 7 of a 9 mile run starts to smooth out just a bit as you start thinking you’re in the home stretch. Just like the poses baddha konasana, upavishta konasana, and supta padangsthasana do in yoga. You might think backbends are mile 9, but they are only mile 8, you must save enough energy after backbends to complete your inversions and come in strong to savasana. Savasana is equivalent to the cool down after a long run. I can tell you from experience, you don’t just sit down after a long run, or you will quickly stiffen up. You will struggle just to get your shoes off later, if you don’t incorporate a good cool down. Savasana is necessary and so is a good cool down walk after a long run.

Around mile 19 of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Around mile 19 of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

I think this is why for years now I have loved practicing ashtanga yoga, and I continue to be a runner. I was a runner long before I was a yogi – I am a distance runner at heart. I like the rhythm of my breathing, I like the rhythm of my legs and arms working together, and I love how my pessimistic mind doesn’t win out. Most runs and most yoga practices I conquer my negativity. I push through the rough spots and I always come out on the other end better for it. Running may be making my yoga practice harder, tighter, but I know that what I conquer while running makes me a better yogi in mental capacity. While yoga makes me a better runner in physical capacity. There is no doubt in my mind that they both make me better spiritually. Staring down your weakness has a profound way of changing you.

Not once in 4 marathons have I hit the infamous “wall” (Mile 21), which in no way means I’m discrediting it. I just happen to run slow enough and have conditioned my mind enough into an “I can” attitude over “I can’t.” Plus to be honest I haven’t run a single marathon trying to beat another person, or a previous time. Simply put, I run them just for the sake of finishing and for once more tackling my inner demons that love to tell me “No”. I remove my doubts by doing the things that I thought couldn’t be done.

Crossing the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon, May 2010

Crossing the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon, May 2010

So if you’re a runner and haven’t yet tried yoga, I strongly advise you do. Now! Put on your running shoes and head straight over to a studio near you. If you can, find Ashtanga yoga. I think you will like the similarities I just mentioned. I am not telling you it will be easy. I’m being completely honest telling you it’s hard. Running tightens you, it’s gonna be brutal, but it will save you from injuries and even burn-out. It will also give your running longevity. I foresee myself being a runner for just as long as I am a yogi. This is good place to insert my favorite Forrest Gump quote and no it’s not “Run Forest, Run.”, it’s “We was like peas and carrots.” For me, yoga is the peas and running is the carrots. Let’s see if this works “Do yoga, Forest, do yoga!” Nope, it doesn’t work, but I hope I have made my point.

Postures I suggest for runners:
Supta padangustasana (reclining hand to toe pose) – One of the best stretches for the hamstrings
Virsasana/Supta virsasna if appropriate (Hero’s pose. reclining hero’s) – for the quads and shins. If you recline in this one it is great for the psoas
Gomukasana (Cow face pose)- for the external hip rotators
Malasana (Garland pose) – for the lower back and feet
Halasana (Plough pose) – for the upper back and hamstrings
Agni Stambhasana (Fire log pose)- for the glutes and IT band.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward bow pose)- for the whole front body. Modify it by lying over a stability ball – it is just as good for you.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rinse and Repeat.

The human body seems to respond a lot like cotton and not enough like spandex, but it should and it can. When you wake up in the morning, it feels like you have shrunk. Isn’t it true that we shrink as we age, too? So you move about and by the middle part of the day you feel like your old self again, comfortable for the most part in your own skin. Like your favorite pair of cotton jeans, a little snug at first, but then a little movement and they break right in to that perfect fit. How can we become more like spandex and less like cotton? Cotton continues to stretch and expand to what seems like no limits. Where spandex holds with a good fit and maintains its original shape. Spandex stretches to great lengths where cotton will tear. Is it all in the fibers? In the memory of the threads?

Your body has a memory doesn’t it? Can’t you still feel an old injury in your body even if it happened 5 years ago. That memory is made up of weakness and now scar tissue. Scar tissue is actually a form of protection in the body trying to create stability. The body even responds to injuries by leaving external scars. Similar to those jeans, once they rip at the knee they will no longer be able to be repaired to their original state. They usually rip at the knee because you weakened that area from repetitive action, around those cotton fibers. Injuries tend to happen at the weakest area in clothing, as well as in the body. Interesting thing about spandex; it will usually thin down before it will actually tear.

Ardha Matsyendrasana, Half Lord of the Fish Posture.

So, if there is memory in our bodies, what can we do with that? Well, just as our memory can fail us as we age if we do not keep the brain active, our bodies can fail us in muscle memory if we don’t keep the body active. The solution is to agitate the body. What? That doesn’t sound positive, but it is. Agitation to the body is a lot like the agitation process of your washing machine.

Imagine this, you’ve worn those favorite jeans of yours and stretched them and soiled them so the only solution to getting those jeans clean and back to their original shape is to wash them. Water will cleanse them with the help of a little detergent and movement of that water will agitate the dirt right on out of there. Then they will be spun to be rinsed clean and then place in the drier in a nice warm, tumbling cycle. They’ll come out as the jeans you so know and love and that are getting the greatest miles out of your $. Jeans more than anything are worth every penny we pay for them ,as they hold up so well. As I have witnessed, we become very attached to some of our jeans. So much so, that we are still putting on a pair from 1992.

Yoga to our bodies is a lot like the wash cycle is to our clothes. All the various movements in yoga agitate the body. Without that agitation the body would become very stagnant. I’m going to make the assumption you all know just how bad and smelly stagnant water becomes. Movement is the key to health. It keeps energy flowing and in the sake of water it keeps the water oxygenated. Movement to the human body also keeps it oxygenated. Anaerobic vs. aerobic, greater demand of oxygen, right?

Ok, so here’s my best example: there are two ways you can show up to yoga. You can either show up like a loose, baggie pair of jeans that have torn and become ragged at the edges, or you can show up as a pair of jeans that have a bit of give to them because they are made with a bit of spandex. So they adapt, but keep their form. How do you show up as one over the other? By doing yoga as often as possible.

There is an expression that yoga is polishing the mirror of your heart. Well, it is cleaning, agitating and drying your body back to its optimum fit. The practice moves vigoursly in a flowing nature. Let’s say that all the movement in a yoga class is the agitation, and the flowing part represents the watery nature of the wash cycle. What would represent the detergent? Well, the filter of your mind. The mindfulness we seek and practice over time becomes a refined process of removal (buddhi). What are you removing? Well the things that dirty us, that cloud our perception, or that leave us feeling grimy. Pessimism, judgement (asmita), fatigue (tamas), dissatisfaction (dvesa), these things (klesa) become a heavy dirtiness to our mind that creates a film over our perception. We then see life through this dirty lens.

When we show up on the mat and work into the postures that agitate the organs, muscles and nervous system, things come up to the surface. If you are practicing with as much clear discernment as possible you will start to see the clutter and negative things that need to be stripped away. Yoga is a process of subtraction (viveka). When you wash your clothes you don’t want them to disappear, but you do want them returned as close as possible to their original state. Your refined skill of observation allows your mind to become a bit like a lint filter. It will take away all the fibers of thought that are no longer supporting your original state. Remember that your original state is that you were already born with everything you need. That you are essentially perfect, before you covered it with makeup, labels and opinions. Each of those things we put on, if not careful, can become another stain or impiedement to getting back to our original state.

We practice to keep coming back to our original state. Your body knows when it is in perfect harmony, your mind knows when it is clear. Yoga brings you back to this place. It’s an intuitive state in the body, that when we find it, we trust it, and know it to be the truth (satyam). It is a place of no doubt. As my teacher has said “the only thing that removes doubt is experience.” We must experience the stains of life, but be able to wash away the ones that no longer align to our truth.

So let’s show up on our mats and use the warm cycle -heated room and movements to better support getting out the grime. Let’s practice fluidly- tapping into the watery nature of our being. Let’s bend, twist, stretch, and reach in to all sorts of agitating positions – the wash cycle. Let’s rinse the body of everything it brought to the surface by exhaling it all out. Let’s tumble dry the body by 1st turning it on it’s head. Then by grounding it in a warm comfortable savasana. Then let’s fold it, into our bodies, by bowing forward (Namaste) and welcoming the practice and our own divinity into our hearts.

If necessary, like shampoo bottles advise “rinse and repeat.” Let’s do it all again tomorrow or as many times as necessary until we are rinsed clean of anything that is not supporting us. Each time we practice, it’s as if we take one cotton fiber and turn it into one spandex fiber. For each practice we take we are accumulating greater ability to stretch back to our original state (Purusa).

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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