23 June 2012

How Yoga Improved My Running

At the second half of my yoga teacher training, I decided to continue running at the fitness center's treadmill in preparation for the 10K I am doing in September. I didn't have a lot of time in between classes, but I managed to squeeze in 30-45 minutes every other day (as I do when I'm home).

I didn't expect all the yoga teachings to translate so profoundly into my running, improving it tremendously. The dramatic effects have continued now that I'm home, so I thought I would share them with you. I hope this post ties together yoga and running for my fellow yogis in interesting new ways, and encourages some of my non-yogi readers to learn more about how yoga can help improve your runs!

Before the Run
Here's what I recommend one do before a morning run, based on how I start each morning.
  • Neti pot--clears the nasal passages, enabling easier breathing. As an aside, I believe netti is responsible for me being allergy free for over a year now, and no, I don't heed any advice about the brain eating amoebas.
  • Warm or lukewarm water with lemon--hydrates the body on waking, and add all the health benefits of lemons.
  • Yoga (asana) practice--15-30 minutes lubricates all the major joints, works out any stiffness from sleeping, elongates the spine and stretches the muscles. It also encourages deep breathing. If instead of following a DVD I do my own flow, I get more in tune with my body's wisdom, which is helpful during the run (see below).
  • Meditation--just 10-15 minutes fills the body with fresh oxygen as it clears away built up carbon dioxide, strengthens the lungs and diaphragm, and focuses the mind. For meditation, I mostly focus on the three-part yogic (dirgha) breath--belly, rib cage, and chest. 
  • Small snack (if needed)--prevents the body and mind from being distracted by hunger. I'll sometimes eat a handful of mixed nuts or 1/2 a BudiBar to tide me over until breakfast, especially if I went to bed feeling hungry the night before.
  • Elimination--emptying the system (both ways) prevents the body and mind from being distracted while running by a need for relief!
During the Run 
OK, so here's where it gets more interesting. First, several koshas, or levels of being, are recognizable when one is running:
  • Physical body (annomaya kosha): a focus on good posture / alignment. Some things I think about during my run include: am I rolling through my feet properly? Are my knees locked? Is my tailbone tucked and my belly drawn in to elongate my spine? Are my shoulders relaxed and moving down my back? Is my face and jaw relaxed? Are my arms swinging out to the sides (instead of crossing my chest) to enable deep breathing? I've found that moving from the ground up (as a yoga instructor would do to cue a posture) is helpful in maintaining good running form.
  • Breath body (pranamaya kosha): a focus (obviously) on breathing. Back in February I learned the many benefits of comfortably breathing through the nose even during a run. I never thought I could do this, but it's related to "the edge" (see below)--in other words, if I'm gasping for air through the mouth, I know I've probably gone past mine!
  • Witness consciousness (vijnanamaya kosha): asking the questions above while running means that part of the Self is aware enough to do this. Noticing when either the body or the breath is lacking "good form" and re-establishing it with compassion and without judgment, is key. In my experience, this protects the body and makes the run steady (stira) and sweet / easy (sukha).
So what about that pesky mind and all its thoughts and feelings (manomaya kosha)!? Many people, including myself, have probably spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to distract the mind during a run. Or, maybe that's when some feel they do their best thinking. Either way, I've come to the conclusion that taking the mind away from the run is not a good thing, because I'm not paying attention to my body or my breath--and these can tell me a lot about whether I'm helping or hurting myself.

Here are some yogic concepts I've found helpful in dealing with the mind during a run:
  • Sense withdrawal (pratyahara): quite the opposite of distracting the mind through the sense is the idea of focusing on the body and breath during the run itself. When running at the gym, I used to: watch TV (both the images and reading the closed captions), people watch, listen to music, and sometimes read a magazine. I also used to look down at the display several times, which caused my mind to calculate the minutes left or set goals around the calories I should burn. In retrospect, none of this ever made me feel better, and sometimes it even made me feel worse. These days, I listen to Krisha Das (unlikely running music for sure!), cover the treadmill display with my towel, and gaze straight ahead at a single, non-moving point (drishti). When I run outside, this turns to gazing at the horizon as much as possible.
  • Micro-movements: if one is completely focused on the body and breath while running and there are no distractions, then what is one to do when discomfort arises? Well, here's an example: the other day I noticed my left knee started to hurt, so I asked myself: "what small adjustment (micro-movement) could I make to relieve this pain?" Then I listened to my body for its wisdom and trusted it would know what to do. Within a minute, I internally rotated my thighs, and the pain stopped. Interesting, no?
  • BRFWA: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, & Allow is another technique for dealing with discomfort. Here's an example from my experience: it never fails that in minutes 3-5 of any run, I get really hot, and start sweating, and it's really uncomfortable. It used to make my mind think: "I can't really run, who am I kidding?" and "Maybe I should stop and walk." Now, I just notice it. I view it as an expression of my life force (prana) building with the movement of my body and with my breathing. I relax into it and it quickly melts away.
  • The edge: compassionate self-awareness compels one to generate sensation, yet understand and respect one's limits. For me, this involved learning to breathe through my nose--I initially had to take my run way down, back to a walk (and be OK with that!) before building back up to a jog. Noow I do about 5.5-5.7 on a treadmill comfortably. It took a lot for me to accept that as my speed, but I'm consistently running 4-5 miles at a time, and finishing my runs feeling eerily calm and content
  • Loving-kindless (metta): when running with other people on treadmills at the gym or during a race, I've found that the pace of others can be helpful or hurtful. I've started thinking of others as my running community (sangha), which consists of people who want happiness just like me. So, when I lose my drishti and notice someone running faster, or if someone passes me, I send them loving and kind thoughts. The same goes for someone ahead of me whose clearly struggling and slows down. And I send it to myself as well, any time I feel like a kosha other than witness consciousness has taken me over!

Please consider choosing one of these techniques and trying it out. It's done wonders for my running, and I'd love to know how it affects you!

17 June 2012

Looking for a Kripalu Yoga Teacher?

Hello Everyone,

I'm happy to announce that I'm back home after successfully completing the second half of my Kripalu Yoga 200-hour teacher training, and I'm now certified to teach!

Please check out the new Kripalu Yoga Instruction page on my web site, and let me know if you or someone you know has any interest in organizing a group class or booking a private session with me. I'm eager to share the gifts of this beautiful yoga tradition and help others live more peaceful, loving, and joyful lives.


09 June 2012

Certification, Here I Come!

As you read this, I'm about to start the final week of my 200-hour Kripalu yoga teacher training. Being optimistic and practicing Ishvarapranidhana, I'm going to believe that by the time I write again next weekend, I'll be a fully certified yoga instructor!

As a result, there will be no "real" post today, just a request for your kind and loving thoughts as I close out this tremendous experience and begin what will hopefully be a whole new chapter in my life. :-)

Thank you for reading.


01 June 2012

Hiking Mt. Misery

This summer, my husband and I thought it would be fun to do more hiking. That way, we could get outside and enjoy the weather, spend time together doing something we both like, and get some exercise. And, since we got engaged a few years back at the top of Mount Hor in Vermont, it seemed only fitting that we chose to hike around Mount Misery this past Memorial Day weekend.

Around 8 am Monday morning, we headed out with a few supplies and our trusty instructions. We made the mistake of thinking we knew exactly where Drumlin Farm was, and initially passed Lincoln Road, but even with the backtracking we arrived promptly at 8:30. Parking was plentiful, and we saw the start of the path easily. We quickly came across a little snake we thought was dead (only to find on the way back that he must have just been cold, as he was very much alive)!

A Woodsy Path
After walking a little ways we came to the field. The path was clearly chopped about 4 feet wide across, but the grass was still a little high and between the rain and the dew, our shoes got pretty wet. A short time later, the path split: to the right it was still whacked down; straight, there was only a person-wide space through grassy-like weeds as tall as my shoulders. We pondered briefly, then decided the narrower path was actually what was referenced in the instructions, and continued on. This was in fact the right way, for when we got to the opposite end of the field, we came to another perfectly lovely woodsy path!

View from the Bridge
We then reached the bridge that crossed over railroad tracks that went in both directions, as far as the eye could see. It was really peaceful and had we more time, I may have sat on the wide wooden beams of the bridge and meditated into the endlessness. I'm not sure why, but I had a minor flashback of crossing the Black Diamond Bridge (maybe because this bridge was very stable and new, in high contrast to the scary, run-down railroad bridge that was very near my house in high school).

After joining up briefly with a bike path and crossing a street, we got to walk through Linden Tree Farm, and noticed they were growing lots of strawberries! This area was obviously packed down by tracker tires and very open, with a somewhat sandy terrain. After that, we picked up another woodsy trail into the woods and followed some wooden-stake trail markers, until we got to the point where you had to follow yellow trail blazes on the trees. Here it got a little confusing because there were multiple ways one could go ("two paths diverged in a yellow wood..."). Immediately before the summit, the trail got a little steep for a very short period of time, which was the first time it really felt like a hike to me.
Lovely Smelling Flowers
When we got to the top, which was really just a small rock platform that must have been some kind of structure in the past, we were accosted by a geocaching woman's dog. The referenced "Outlook" sign was nearly invisible, leaning quite heavily into the trees. There were some small cairns at the top, which we added to before heading back down and back, pretty much the way we came. Fortunately, we didn't have to trudge back through that field again!

The instructions said 2 hours roundtrip, but we made it in 1 1/2 hours, even with stopping and smelling the lovely flowers before crossing the road to the farm.
All in all, it was an OK walk, but I wouldn't really call it a hike, and it was clearly a mishmash of actual hiking trails connected together by cut-throughs of various areas (like the field, and the farm). Not a "misery" per se, but definitely not the best hike I've been on! Still, since we only wanted to dedicate a few hours to something nearby to Waltham, it did the trick. We got to talk, absorb some sun on the beautiful day, and did get some exercise. Also, if you're not up for a more strenuous hike (say, like one we did last year at the Blue Hills Reservation), it might be perfect for you!