For years, I have heard stories about people who have not only benefited from yoga but have had a phenomenal transformation due to their yoga practice: yoga helped them walk again, or touch their toes, or find balance, or lose weight, or get off medication…the list goes on. I have read the anatomy books and articles on which poses strengthen which parts of the body or how different poses alleviate different health conditions. I instruct students on pranayama, breath control, and balance. On the street, I speak of the wonders of yoga. Yet, I never had my own real yoga story to tell.
At age seven I started running. At age twelve running was something I did. At age sixteen running was how I found adventure. At age twenty running was my meditation. At age twenty-four running was in my soul. At age thirty-one my knees gave out.
During my early thirties I made excuses (none made sense) as to why I didn’t run: no nearby trails (I was a trail runner), too much graduate school, I rode a bike, I had a dog. The reason I was not running was simple: I could no longer run. My knees hurt. I tried to run through the pain, I tried to lose weight, I tried different shoes. I just could not run. Over the last six years, every few months I put on my running shoes, ran out the door only to return hobbling — the pain was too much.
During this time I discovered yoga. More precisely, I discovered power yoga. The transition from running to yoga was almost painless as I sweated out toxins, frustration, and stress in a hot room with other A-type personalities. But, at times, I missed my first love: the sound of my breath as my feet hit the ground, running along mountain trails, stumbling over roots and rocks. The excitement before a race and the medal afterwards. The runners high.
Over the years I became serious about my yoga practice. I went deeper within myself. I began teaching. I left power yoga and discovered the vast array of yoga styles offered. I stopped flowing so much and started to concentrate more on muscle engagement and alignment. I began to let go of the ego, and start over with the fundamentals of each pose. I let myself experiment, fall, and find out what happens with my body in each pose. How the lift of my quadriceps, an inner thigh spiral, or engaging my core affected my entire body…mind included. I played with my breath and how that could take me deeper into shapes. I began to move beyond the physical and into the different koshas, or bodily layers, to find a mind, body, and spirit connection.
Something happened. Not overnight. Not suddenly. A few months ago I went for a run, no pain. I kept at it, no pain. I increased mileage, no pain. I picked up my pace, no pain. I felt like Garuda, the mythical bird, shinning brighter than the sun and soaring through the heavens.
At one time I ran six days a week, I now rejoice I run three days a week. I am thinking of running a race. Ideally, I would love to win a medal like I could years ago and here is where my yoga practice serves me. Not the asana practice, but the practice of mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment. The part of my practice where I notice when my ego gets in the way. At those times, I remind myself, I am simply content that I am running.