Tomorrow, thousands of runners here in Boston will embark upon the run of their life by running the Boston Marathon. While I’ve never run Boston, I have run the Baystate Marathon twice and three half marathons so I have an idea of what’s involved in the many months of training capped off by the elation of crossing the finish line.
Even if you’ve never run a marathon, you can’t help but be inspired by the stories of runners, knowing the commitment they’ve made to training through good weather and bad, running with injuries and illnesses, all in the quest to get to the starting line. There the real work begins, as they battle nerves, fear and self-doubt. They’ll push through these feelings, work to stay present and approach and cross the finish line overwhelmed with a feeling of accomplishment. As I was on my (very) short run this morning, I started thinking about how much yoga practice and training for- and running- a marathon have in common.
Run your own race; yoga at your own pace
Both in running and yoga, you’re much better off following your own sense of what feels right to you in terms of pace and postures. Watching the person next to you on the mat might help a bit but you’re better off listening to the teacher and working with the pose in your own body. Just as in running, when we get passed by another runner, the tendency might be to pick up the pace but if you’re really being true to yourself, you’ll stick with a pace that feels best to you.
See more with your 3rd eye than your 2 eyes
When you run, connect more to your internal messaging rather than looking around and getting caught up in comparing yourself to other runners. The same holds true for your practice; be true to yourself and modify as you need to, go further if you want but do it as you want to and as your inner voice is telling you to; not because of a sense of competition.
Hydrate and moderate
In both running and yoga, hydrate well. Along with hydrating, moderate, even in the face of pure joy and exhiliration and excitement for yoga or running. We know that one of the surest ways to get injured is to increase mileage too much, too soon. One of the quickest ways to injury is to do lots of yoga without a solid sense of alignment. Take your time and have faith that you’re on a path to wellness.
The Devil is in the details
I trained for my first marathon in 2008 with military precision. I kept a journal, had a training plan and stuck to it with an unwavering commitment. My second marathon in 2011 was different. I depended on my overall good running condition to pull me over the finish, and it did, but it was a great deal harder. Never underestimate the need to pay attention to detail, both in training and in practice. Set your yoga mat up with the same care you’d use when cooking a meal and setting a table for a loved one. Take time to plan your yoga schedule each week. Be mindful about where you practice and what you do versus following the pack. When we pay attention to the details, amazing results can happen.
Be inspired, don’t despise
Just as you don’t want to watch others to get into the comparison game, there’s nothing wrong with looking at others to get inspired. When you’re passed on the pavement by a runner blazing along effortlessly, see how you can be inspired by that person’s effortless smooth stride and let that inspire your pace. When you’re on the mat, if the person next to you easily glides from high to low push up, resist the urge to be jealous and see what you can learn from observing and connecting to your own strength.
Put the power where you need it; relax the rest. Yoga practice should be inspired by a sense of ease as well as strength; in the Yoga Sutras, it’s referred to as “sthira” and “sukham.” The translation of these Sanskrit words from this classical text basically means to practice yoga with both strength and surrender so you can find peace in the body. When we run, we want to keep the upper body relaxed, work the legs and keep some awareness around the core. Once we can learn to balance both ends of the spectrum, we can work more efficiently and tap into relaxation.
Set an intention for where you want to go and then let go of the attachment to getting there. This is easy to say, but hard to do. When you’re training for a marathon, it’s natural to set goals for mile pace as well as overall finish time. But the key is to stay in the moment, running each mile individually, versus focusing just on the finish. Rushing is a sure way to bonk. When you practice, you may have a particular pose in mind; something you’d like to achieve with the body but the steps along the way to that pose are what contain the fruitful seeds of our practice.
To see change over time, you’ve got to step up to the line. Time and time again.
People say you can’t “phone in” a marathon. By this they mean you have to put in the training time in order to realize the goal of running a marathon, let alone finishing one. Running has a cumulative effect in terms of increased cardiovascular and mental endurance; people that never think they could run a marathon are eventually able to, but only after months of training. These building blocks of daily running build the endurance and strength you need to step to the starting line. When people come to yoga looking for a quick fix, what they’ll usually get are results that are short-lived, both physically and mentally. In order to see sustainable change, you must step up to the line or the mat regularly.
Your full expression is more than you can imagine. When it comes up in conversation, people who haven’t run a marathon say to me, “I can’t believe you ran a marathon!” To someone that hasn’t, they may see the end result as an insurmountable mountain. But your true abilities don’t reside completely in your mind; they reside in your heart and your soul. These parts of the spirit are accessed from being present and in the moment and having faith that what you “think” you can’t do, is possible. As you train for a marathon and practice yoga, stay connected this concept and let it push you through the challenging times.
After your run, you’re not done!
When you’re done with your run, take time to have a little carbs and protein. Fruit and cheese, turkey and cheese, bagel and peanut butter… find something you like. Stretch out a little. Shower and take it easy for the rest of the day. After yoga class, take time to clean up and eat something healthy. Enjoy that post-yoga glow for the rest of the day!