I’ve started running again. I say “again” because I did enjoy a brief flirtation with running back in my 20’s. It didn’t last too long because I was experiencing a number of health problems at the time, including amenorrhea, which is the absence of one’s menstrual cycle. I blamed it partially on running, though perhaps I was denying the more direct cause of over-exercising and undereating. Then there was the stress. But I blamed it on the running, so I stopped. Then I started yoga.
Starting yoga was a wonderful development that would change the course of my life for the better. Now, 25 years later, I decided to explore running again. I have run a 5k here and there, but never practiced for it, and I found myself filled with trepidation as to whether I would injure myself taking up this hobby at 50.
Four months into this new practice, I am happy to report that I am having a great time running along with my regular yoga and Yamuna® Body Rolling practice . So, I am writing this blog not only to share honestly about my own fears but also to share with you some thoughts on running that may be different than what you are used to.
First, let me state for the record that I am not a runner. I am a yogi. That may seem inconsequential, but it reminds me of where my intention is rooted. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the first yama in the yoga sutras, and I repeat this to myself anytime I feel inclined to push myself beyond a comfortable level. As in yoga, when I feel myself striving to reach another milestone, I back off and look for the ease in my movement. Shaking out my hands, slowing down my breath and even circling my arms all help to free up my form and relax my body. After many years of unbridled ambition at the expense of my own health, I welcome Iyengar Instructor Charlotte Bell’s advice to “stop striving for physical (or any other) perfection and instead reside in joyful awareness.”
Secondly, every yoga student has been reminded that, ”If you’re not breathing, then it isn’t yoga.” The practice of observing the breath helps to cultivate a certain quality of awareness, of mind. Taking this mindfulness practice onto the trail ensures that running does not become mere calisthenics. The need to run faster or go further (ego) is quieted in favor of simply enjoying the rhythm of the body and breath moving in tandem. Inhale, one, two, three; exhale, one, two, three.
Finally, I incorporate some fun and lightheartedness into my run through a technique called fascial training, introduced to me by Tom Myers, of Anatomy Trains® https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/ . Tom explains that fascia’s web-like structure acts to distribute strain throughout the body. This means that the pounding nature of running has an impact from toe to head. Training healthy fascia is key to distributing this strain evenly and reducing injury.
Let me describe for you what I do, noting again that I am not a runner, but rather a yogi who enjoys running and loves to explore new things about the body. Fascia is elastic in nature, meaning it stores and gives back energy like a rubber band. Maintaining this elasticity is important to maintaining the health of our fascia and entire body. According to Tom, the most current research indicates that this elasticity is best trained with ballistic stretching of the muscles, which means “bouncing” type movements. Think Jane Fonda of the 1980’s. Will we see thong leotards make a comeback along with her aerobic routines? Let’s hope not! However, building this bouncy movement into your running is easy, no leotard required. Before and even periodically during my run, I experiment with light tip-toe bouncing movements. This is not bounding, where one would leap across the floor; nor is it jumping, where one would land hard with both feet at once on the ground. Instead, this movement is a soft bouncing from one foot to the other, with the feet rising only a few inches off the ground. You land on the ball of the foot or over mid-ankle, with a soft bend in the knee, as if you are trying to land with no noise at all. You could do this in one spot or tip-toe forward in small steps while bouncing. The real test is to remember ahimsa, or non-harming. This movement is meant to feel light and easy, soft and springy. You might try it for 10-20 bounces before continuing on with your normal running. (As always, discontinue this part of the practice if it feels uncomfortable for your knees or if you have other complications.)
In yoga, the virtues of playing your edge are often extolled. Generally, the edge refers to the point in a pose where you experience some resistance in the body. At this point, the teachings vary widely, with some teachers encouraging you to push past the edge and others advising you to back off to avoid injury. Without opening a debate on which is correct, I would like to invite you to play your edge in your life by simply trying something new or perhaps a bit out of your comfort zone. Whether you run or not, playing your edge can lead to exploring new things that turn the mirror on the long-held fears in your life and lead you along the path to a deeper experience of yourself.