I was technically a runner before I was a yogi, but it’s my yoga practice that ultimately gave life to my running habit. I never really liked running all that much, but nevertheless, it always just seemed like the most efficient way to stay fit. No class times, no traffic, no parking — just lace up my shoes and head out the door. But I was bored and tired and generally uninspired by the miles that I was dutifully logging, like some kind of martyred service to my body. When I started practicing yoga ten years ago (first Bikram and then Vinyasa) everything changed. The cues that my yoga instructors gave during class would pop into my mind while I was running, and I began to think of running as an extension of my practice; a moving meditation. Here are five yogic practices that have transformed my relationship with running.
- Connection to my breath
A yoga instructor once told me that if at any point during the class I couldn’t “find the top of [my] breath” that I should take a break to reconnect with my breath. I had never heard the term top of one’s breath before, but I instantly understood. That feeling when my lungs are full, stretched to capacity, causing my belly to pop out a little bit — that is the top of my breath. If I’m not intentionally finding it, over and over again, I will generally find myself panting, taking shallow breaths that don’t give my body the oxygen it needs to sustain a challenging yoga class or a long run. By understanding the importance of my breath, and understanding that I have to work to control it – to find the top of it – I am able to sustain myself.
- Setting an intention
For years I ran simply to run. It was a physical activity, not a mental one. After I started practicing yoga, though, I found myself repeating words or short phrases in my head while I ran, instinctively tapping into the power of intention-setting that I had experienced during yoga class. ‘Everything in motion’ is one I come back to a lot, reminding myself that everything in the universe is in a state of flow, working together and creating the future; and I am part of it. My running is my motion, and when I bring intention to that motion, it connects me to world around me.
- Finding my personal edge
One of the hardest parts of yoga for me can be tuning out my surroundings and being fully present in my own body. The “take it to your personal edge” cue is one of my favorites because it forces me to get honest about what I’m doing. Am I really pushing myself as far as I can? Or maybe I’ve gotten caught up in comparing myself to someone else and I actually need to dial it back a notch? I’ve seen these scenarios play out while I’m running, too, paying more attention to an arbitrary pace or distance instead of getting honest with myself. “Taking it to my personal edge” on a run means that I have to be mindful about exactly where that edge is today, for this distance, with this body.
- Coming to the mat
For a lot of yogis, our mat is a sacred space. Except that really it’s not. Really, it’s just a rectangular piece of rubber that we can roll up and toss into the trunk and take wherever we please. It’s not a “space” at all. But we make it a space. We decide that when we unroll that piece of rubber and plant our bare feet on it, that we are transcending our every day lives for a moment. It was a revolutionary idea to me that I could do this, simply decide to make something a sacred space despite the fact that on it’s own it’s neither an actual place, nor is it sacred. So I did it with running. I decided that I could treat the running trail the same way that I treat my yoga mat: as a sacred space.
- Focus on a Drishti
In yoga, we cast our gaze on specific focal points to maintain our balance and engage the pose. When I’m struggling on a run and I’m tempted to quit, sometimes I conjure up a mental drishti to help me stay engaged. I imagine myself at the top of the hill or at the finish line, and I keep my mental gaze there until I reach it. When the voice in my head that tells me it’s too hard tries to creep in, I gently push it aside and point my focus at my drishti instead. Ignoring the distractions, whether in yoga or on a run (or in life in general), is made exponentially more possible when we focus on something positive rather than just trying to avoid something negative.
Maybe it seems impure to borrow sacred yoga practices, twist them around a little bit, and apply them to a fast-paced and occasionally competitive activity like running. Maybe that makes me a bad yogi. But hey, it’s a practice. Just like running. Just like life. So let’s just keep breathing and keep moving, shall we?
Any other runners in Bad Yogi? What has yoga done for you?