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The Yoga in Running

Red-Maple-Tree

Sometimes I think there’s more yoga in running than in actual yoga.

I have a little bone to pick with yoga.

But before I go there I need to pre-apologize. I love yoga. I really do. It’s healing and transformational and life changing and about so much more than the physical postures. Yeah, yeah, yeah. All those things.

But it’s also a little judgey.

I know what you’re thinking. “No way! You don’t understand yoga at all, Laura! If that’s what you think than you don’t understand yoga at all!”

Because that’s what we talk about in the yoga world. How yoga is misunderstood. How Western culture has turned yoga into a fitness program, a perky butt in a pair of $100 spandex pants. We talk about how so many people practice yoga without realizing that it’s also about how we live our lives off the mat. It’s about the connection between the mind, body and spirit. About our connection to whatever we believe in that sort of feels like what you might call God.

And it’s true. A lot of people really only see yoga as exercise. That’s how they approach their practice. As exercise. But that’s not the only way to do it.

It’s all in the approach really.

*     *     *

Last Thursday night I couldn’t sleep. For no real conscious reason. As I lay in bed I thought about our house back in California. I thought about the Japanese maple tree in our backyard. I remembered standing in our kitchen just after we moved in. Looking out at it through the tall glass panes of our french doors. How remarkably beautiful its bright red leaves looked against the morning fog. I remembered the first spring I noticed a single red rose peeking over our fence from the kitchen window.

Red-Rose-Fence

I laid awake and remembered these things and wondered why I couldn’t sleep.

*     *     *

Saturday morning I went for an 8 mile run, a distance I consider long at this point in my life. It hasn’t always been and it won’t always be. But right now it’s long. So I took it easy. After a couple miles I had settled into a comfortable rhythm, my breath easy, steady. I don’t wear a heart rate monitor or a GPS watch these days, but I’m sure my pace and effort level were consistent.

I don’t remember what I was thinking about. Not much I suspect. When I turned a corner and felt a rush of emotion. I thought of the early morning runs with my running buddy back in California. Chatting about work and husbands and children, all the celebrations and uncertainties of life. I remembered running alongside her in the Benicia Run for Education in April 2014. I was working through a flare-up of an old injury and she was feeling tired so we walked a lot of the race that day.

She was diagnosed with terminal cancer just a few months later and passed away a few months before we moved to Colorado. You could call it her spirit, if you believe in that sort of thing, riding the wind, checking in on her loved ones. Or blame it on the memory, my brain, the right hormonal cocktail. But for a moment I felt like she was running beside me.

Tears came to my eyes and I let them flow as we ran together. I told her about how I missed my tree and that rose bush, her companionship and my old life. Even though I really love my new life. I really do.

She told me there’s been a lot of change. Good or bad. Change is hard. Go easy on yourself.

Then she was gone, as suddenly as she appeared. And I kept running. One foot in front of the other, same as before.

*     *     *

Later that day we learned about the Prana Vayu in Yoga Teacher Training. Different words to describe a concept we’ve already gone over. The idea that the breath is the connection between the body and the mind, the path to meditation and enlightenment.

I can appreciate this lesson because I’ve experienced it. Through running of course. Yoga is giving me language to describe what my running body already knows.

You see, it’s nearly impossible to run without breath awareness. And once a certain level of base fitness is established the breath flows easily, synchronized with the rhythm of the legs. Running at an easy, consistent pace is by definition a moving mantra. A meditationRunning at an easy, consistent pace is by definition a moving mantra. A meditation. Click To Tweet

That’s when we get to all the juicy stuff. The wisdom to understand our emotions. The ability to process and clear them from our body. A feeling of connection to something outside of ourselves.

So why is it then? Why do I feel like yoga judges running so harshly?

I suppose it’s all just a misunderstanding. Our culture has turned running into a fitness program. We beat our bodies and joints into the ground in order to get thinner, faster, better. But that’s not the only way to do it.

It’s all in the approach really.

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Reflections on the Breath

Dad-Big-Girl-Car-Breath

An observation of the breath as the vital life force.

Bring your awareness to the breath. Without judgement and without attempting to change it in any way, simply notice the breath.

I have a confession. I often find myself thinking, “Enough about the breath already. What’s the big deal?” My yoga teachers explain that the breath, prana, is the vital life force. We can survive for a short time without food or even water, but without the breath we die. I understand the importance of the breath on a theoretical level, but I can’t seem to summon the kind of passion my teachers possess.

I complete the exercise anyway. There is tension in my jaw. The breath catches in my throat. My Adam’s apple feels like a boulder obstructing my airway. Small, shallow breaths fill my lungs, high up in my chest. My stomach is in knots. I feel sick. Nothing is happening down there.

I watch Paul Kalanithi walk into the room. Of course it’s not actually Paul, the author of When Breath Becomes AirBut I think of Paul. I think of all the schooling this man has been through, all the hours he’s spent training, practicing, tuning his skills on the job. I wonder how long he’s been working since his last break and how much sleep he got last night. He looks tired.

I listen carefully to the words he chooses. He has trouble maintaining eye contact. I can’t help but think Paul would do a better job with this.

“Out with it!” I want to say.

And then he says it.

“Of course we could operate. But there’s always the question of should we.” There’s character in these words. Like they were strung together with care and consideration. Clear, yet gentle enough. They are the right words to say in a situation like this. This isn’t the first time this man has said these words and he will use them again. Surely Paul wrote them down as well, blessing them with ink.

A blast of oxygen fills the bag attached to the mask that covers my father’s nose and mouth. It sounds like he’s snoring, and I wonder if his tongue is getting in the way. He’s working hard to breathe.

I try to relax my jaw. I tell myself to breathe deeply. I make an effort to fill my belly. I notice that I am alive and breathing.

Over the next several hours they will gradually reduce the amount of oxygen feeding my father’s mask. Soon he will die.

*     *     *

With love to my father, who passed away last Tuesday, January 31, 2017.

May his breath become the air that fills us with life.