I first started running at age thirteen as a way to lose my adolescent chub. My body responded well – I slimmed right down – and I also noticed that my mood and attitude responded as well. If I was having a bad day or feeling stressed or cranky, all I had to do was pound the pavement in order to turn my day around. I continued to run as a way to clear my head during those turbulent teenage years.
Running weaved its way into my adulthood and was my preferred form of exercise in my early twenties. I was truly in love with running, but running didn’t always love me back. A herniated disk in my lumbar spine left me with debilitating back pain and sciatica in my mid-twenties. Running only exasperated the pain, so I hung up my Mizunos and proceeded to freak out. Desperately seeking both pain relief and a new form of exercise, I stumbled across Sara Curry’s account of how she had healed her back issues with Bikram yoga. I dragged my up-for-anything mom to the hot room (consequently, this is where she met her husband – call me Cupid) and together we dove headfirst into the practice. This was my first real bout with yoga and my exposure stayed limited to Bikram because I was having such success in healing my back pain. I studio-hopped all over NH and MA, never wanting to miss a practice. It took some time, but pretty soon I was on the road to recovery. As soon as my spine began to feel healthy again, however, I ditched the yoga and laced those Mizunos right back up.
A couple years later, I was training for a race and therefore building mileage pretty quickly. I had a few tweaks and twangs in my body, so my mother begged me to accompany her to a yoga class – this time it was vinyasa yoga. I reluctantly agreed, simply because I couldn’t stand my tight body for another minute. Upon first class, I was hooked! I loved the entire class, and walked away feeling like a million bucks. I immediately purchased a membership to the studio and approached the practice with the same zeal in which I approached running. The teachers kept talking about finding your edge and backing away from it. Yeah, yeah, yeah…maybe for the softies, I thought. I would find my edge…and then push a little bit further. That’s what I knew as a runner, and that’s what I stuck with as a yogi.
Despite loving the vinyasa yoga, my practice was infrequent, and I found myself skipping class in favor of longer runs. Things started to break down in my body – first it was shin splints. Against doctor’s orders, I ran through those. Then it was plantar fasciitis. Against doctor’s orders I ran through that. Finally a podiatrist put me in a walking cast due to two pulled tendons in my left foot. She told me if I continued to run, I would surely snap a bone in my foot. I stopped (hard to run in a cast).
I hobbled back to my yoga mat and looked at it as if to say, “guess it’s just you and me, kid.” I resolved to do more yoga so I could heal faster and get back to running ASAP. That was the plan two years ago, anyway. What do they say about when you’re busy making plans? Oh yeah…life happens. Life on my yoga mat transformed my yoga practice (I actually listened to what my teachers were saying about that edge and realized they were right!), as well as the way I perceived running. When I was finally able to get back into my Mizunos again, I proceeded with caution. I explored my edge during my first jog in the same way that I would in Warrior 2. I was easy with myself, and made sure to keep up my consistent yoga practice.
Yoga has offered me relief from runner’s calves, hamstrings and hips. Yoga has built up my core strength so I am more stable when I run. Yoga has taught me how to breathe properly, so I no longer get winded while legging it out. But perhaps the best gift yoga has given me is this: Yoga has taught me to listen to my body – to charge ahead when I have an internal fire, and to back off when things are feeling icky. It was a hard lesson to learn. Letting go of an ego that you have stroked for the better part of three decades is no easy task.
These days, the kid and I are as thick as thieves, whereas the Mizunos get much less play time. It’s not that I can’t run or no longer enjoy it – I can and I do – it is just that I have found a bit more balance with the sport and within myself.