Posts Tagged With: running

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

Primal is all the craze!

It seems these days that primal is all the craze. If you’re in the loop you’ve read Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, or if you’ve ever picked up a weight you have probably heard of the Paleo trend. These are trends that are about getting back to simpler times, not needing high-tech shoes or equipment and not consuming processed foods. If it comes in a box don’t eat it. If your shoe’s came out of a box don’t wear them. Seems like boxes are bad. The idea is that 4 walls limit your thinking even all the way down into how your muscles think. By confining our feet we limit their strength and potential. This really isn’t news to a yogi. We have been going barefoot – all natural since yoga came into existence. There is nothing more primal then going barefoot. There are other things that we do in yoga that keep it primal like dog pose, camel pose (Ushtrasana), fish (Matsyasana), eagle (Garudasana), and duck pose (Karandavasana). Those are just a few of the animals we try to embody in the course of a good yoga practice. We don’t need anything except our bodies to do yoga, no weights, no prop’s, no mirror’s and definitely no shoes, so if you want primal this is the way go.

(Excerpt from Born to Run – “No wonder your feet are so sensitive,” Ted mused. “They’re self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms.”)

What else about going barefoot ties into that primal urge? In the Ashtanga opening chant we pay respect to the dust of the guru’s lotus feet. When you see pictures of the great indian mythological Gods you don’t see any of them tucked into lotus with a pair of Nike’s on. After Gandhi died they bronzed a pair of his sandals, symbolising all the great work he had done while he walked this earth. Feet are considered a representation of the journey our great teachers have taken, the idea the dirtier the feet, the more they have experienced. There are other cultures that embrace this foot thing in different ways. In japan you never wear shoes into a home. In India you never wear shoes into the sacred space inside a temple. It’s also consider offensive to have the bottoms of your feet face your guru. But here in America our feet pretty much live inside a pair of shoes and these shoes go everywhere. We traipse all over the place in shoes that can be dirty and grimy, but supposedly comfortable. But are they really?

Many people visit their doctors because they have foot or knee pain. Take it from me, I have seen my fair share of feet over the 13 years that I have been teaching yoga and we don’t exactly have pretty feet. Proof of this is that many women try to decorate and disguise their feet by painting their toes all sorts of colors. We will put just about anything on our feet. But yet it can be hard to get some people to embrace doing yoga barefoot. Our feet are crying to be set free. Your feet can send pain to the knee and possibly all the way up to the back. Our bodies first defense against the stress of being bipedal begins at the feet. So many people don’t have a healthy defense to these stresses because their feet have become weak and even deformed.

It’s time for people to go bare. To let their feet get tough and strong, to let the toes stay spread apart instead of being squashed together, and to let the arch of the foot be just that – an arch. I see bad foot mechanics every class I teach. I see people who can’t stand on one leg because their feet are so weak. We should be treating our health and fitness in the simplest way possible and quit complicating matters with machines, shoes, and gadgets. Let’s just get back to pushing and pulling, jumping and pressing, twisting and flipping and contradicting. For every movement we do, we want to do one of opposition. If we point, we should flex, if we collapse we should extend, if we stand, we should fall. Ashtanga yoga has all of this, and then some. We drop back into back bends, we jump forward to standing, we point our feet, extend our spines and twist just about everything we can, all in an hour and half…and all barefoot.

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The first series/yoga chikitsa alone has enough movements in it to make you realize that your feet aren’t well. This should make you stop and wonder. If your feet aren’t functioning optimally, then what effects are they having on your knee? Ankle? Back? My two greatest loves are running and yoga. The reason is… I need nothing to do either. I don’t need a gym, and I don’t need equipment. They both can be done from my home. I can step out my front door and go for a run, and I can bust out some yoga moves in the middle of my bedroom. They are both freeing to me because of this, which means they leave me feeling liberated. One of the goals of yoga is just that; to become a liberated soul- jivanmukta.

I believe one thing that can liberate you in life is when you eliminate excuses. There is nothing more freeing than not needing a lame excuse. We all know that 90% of excuses are lame. So one of the other beautiful reasons to fall in love with Ashtanga yoga is it’s a sequence designed for memorization. Once you have committed the sequence to memory you can do yoga anywhere, no excuses. I have done it on a beach, in a little cabin in the woods, in Honduras and a small island in the Atlantic just to name a few. Having no excuses is very liberating, I promise.

Yoga and running are not going to be comfortable but there-in lies the beauty. They aren’t supposed to be. It’s in the discomfort that you will experience your primal nature of being stronger than you thought you were. Discomfort and bare feet take you back to the root of your ancestors. They made the place you call home what it is. Their survival, and their hard work got you where you are. So every time you stand barefoot at the top of your yoga mat, you should feel plugged into to centuries of hard work and discomfort. And you should fear not just a little more of the same. Being comfortable never got anyone somewhere new, different or exciting. All the brave souls that didn’t have the choices you do, that had to go barefoot, that let their feet collect a little more dust, that had to lift one more bale of hay, that had to plough one more line in the field, that had to climb one more tree to harvest the coconuts. They gave you your freedom to stay liberated.

So out of respect to all souls past that laid the ground work for your comfort, let’s get a little uncomfortable. Let’s get a little more primal. Go barefoot. Spread your toes, pull up your arches and feel the sole of your foot tapping into souls of the past.

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(Excerpt from Born to Run – “Just look at the architecture,” Dr. Hartmann explained. Blue print your feet, and you’ll find a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries. Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. The beauty of any arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down the tighter it’s parts mesh. No stonemason worth his trowel would ever stick a support under an arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure. Buttressing the foot’s arch from all sides is high-tensile web of twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, twelve rubbery tendons and eighteen muscles, all stretching and flexing like an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.)

Categories: Asana, For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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