I started running for pleasure in 2008 after my second daughter was born. I had run occasionally before that, a half marathon or two, a handful of 10k’s. I would train for a couple of months, run a race and then not run again until the next training period came around.
Six weeks after my baby was born, I squeezed myself into a pair of my husband’s shorts, doubled up on sports bras and headed out to shuffle around my 1km block. I looped the block three times.
Five years later, I’m a run coach. I’ve completed half marathons, full marathons and triathlons. I used to run as a way to escape, as a way to feel centered, as a way to let go. My fuel for marathon training was anxiety. My training was a way to indulge in alcohol or unhealthy food without the risk of extra weight.
I’m not sure when that changed exactly, but I don’t feel that way about running anymore. After my last full marathon, in September 2012, my body hurt. Not in the “stiff for a couple of weeks because I ran a marathon” kind of way, but real pain. I decreased my running and increased the amount of time spent on my yoga mat, but all those forward bends only seemed to make my hips and hamstrings feel worse.
After many months of procrastination, I finally went to physio. Muscle imbalances in my hips; inflammation from prolonged and repetitive trauma, limited range of motion, you get the picture. I promised myself to treat my body right, to stick with physio, to be patient and to let myself heal.
It’s been about four months, and I have to say I feel much better. There are days when I wake up sore, there are workouts that leave me feeling tight, there are yoga poses that I am not currently able to do. I still try to be patient and kind to myself, especially when I see other runners casually bend down and touch their toes or fold themselves into lotus pose.
I’ve learned a lot on my yoga mat this year. I’ve become a yoga teacher, I’ve learned that it’s ok to back off a pose, to modify it to what my body needs, even if I’m the only one in the entire class not curled into pigeon . I’ve learned that I am strong and weak, flexible and stiff. I’ve let go of a lot of the perfectionism that drove me to train for marathons, craving the solitude of a 30km training run only to come home and collapse into bed for the rest of the day.
There were a few weeks when I stopped running altogether. I thought that “yogis” don’t need to run to find peace. Eventually, I stopped drooling over my sneakers tucked into the closet and concluded that regardless of what yogis should or should not need, what my body wants is a combination of time spent in my sneakers and time spent on my mat.
I bonded with my yoga teacher, who is wise and vulnerable. I found myself a triathlon coach, who is energetic and demanding. My yoga teacher encourages kindness to the body, though she is filled with pitta fire. My triathlon coach pushes me outside of my comfort zone, though he views meditation as an important part of my training. The space that exists between these two people and their philosophies is the space where I sit most comfortably.
In the yogic tradition, self-study is called svadhyaya. We can learn an incredible amount about ourselves when we become devoted to an activity that inspires us. That could be chanting, reading spiritual texts, or a physical yoga practice. For me, it came through a combination of endurance training, asanas and meditation/prayer.
I’m going to be completing (I hesitate to use the word “race”, because I won’t be coming in first, and I’m not comfortable using the word “competing”, because I’m not really competing against anyone) an Olympic triathlon in 13 days. The event consists of a 1500 metre swim, 40km bike ride and a 10km run. The training has been rewarding and exhausting (showing me once again that I am both weak and strong). I crave the adrenaline that surges inside of me during a race as much as I crave the warm peace that flows over me when I’m alone on my mat. Both are good, both are healthy. Both are a part of who I am.
Once we become aware of what our body is asking, we are better able to achieve balanced health. I’m not insinuating that running or triathlons are required for balance, nor do I believe that the only way to peace is on a yoga mat. As a society, we are trained to look for a quick fix. Diet pills, losing two pants sizes in ten days, flat stomach fast, best yoga poses to firm your buns… none of these things will work for the simple reason that change doesn’t happen quickly.
Change requires devotion; devotion requires svadhyaya. Svadhyaya provides a mirror that shows us our true reflection.