As runners, we are creatures of movement; drawn by the pulse and rhythm we get from the road. Often, we become dependent on the movement to maintain our state of equilibrium. Science will tell us this is the result of endorphins – tiny elemental chemicals which flow through our veins after a tough workout bringing messages to the brain of elation and excitement. We, as runners, concede it is not just endorphins but freedom, competition, habit, and community which bring us to the road.
I know – for me – after a tough week, an argument, or simply the drain which is the corporate America lifestyle of being chained to a desk, I want nothing more than to counter the stagnation with heart pumping thrill. So, you ask, where does the yoga come in? For me, it was the replacement – or the augment – to a former life of dance. After beginning full-time work, I noticed a slip in posture, a lack of stretch, and a terrifyingly cluttered brain that wouldn’t slow at night, wouldn’t calm in silence. Two years into work I became a frequent sufferer of panic attacks. They came on with suffocating intensity, racing heart, tingling fingers and the fog of the thickest storm cloud clouding out any clarity to my motion.
I tried to meditate without really understanding what meditation meant, and it only left me time to consider my growing to-do list. I went to yoga often, but as I tried to flow through the asanas I became restless, my breathing awry. In fact, I was finding myself so distracted during my yoga practice that I began to wonder if it was doing more harm than good.
Then, one day I got to the very place I’d been seeking through months of yoga exactly five miles into an after-work run. I thought I needed a way to slow things down, to sit, stretch and be calm. As it turned out – before I could get there - the thing to truly calm my mind was the rhythm of the road. On that run for the first time in an excruciatingly long time I heard the silence. I could think of nothing but breathing, stepping, moving…running. This is what is is. This was the sought silence. The place where thoughts exist, but do not interrupt. The “space.”
For months – scratch that – years I’d sit in yoga class, get in the zone, ready to feel free. Then the instructor would talk about “creating space” and “clearing your mind” and all I could think of was WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
So I challenge you this:
Strap on your running shoes. Every week, as many times a week as you can.
Run when you don’t want to as often as running when you do.
On your worst day, tell yourself you will run 1 mile.
Then just run. Hard. Push yourself until you’re tired.
Shake your arms out and run more.
Think, fast, forward, strong, pretty.
Run until you are so tired all you can do is run.
Think about the road, and how amazing you are for being out there. Fast, forward, strong, pretty. Then, my dear, zone out completely. Look around but don’t bother to see much. Let the endorphins flow.
I won’t lie to you. I don’t feel the space on every single run. But now I know what it feels like. Slowly I’ve been training myself to hang onto the ability to push thoughts out of the way.
It’s helped in yoga. Now even without the step repetition, the run-induced exhaustion, and the forced deep breathing I can sometimes find the space. I’ve realized through this process why they call it practice. In the same way I practice running, practice waking up early to work out in the morning, and practice eating well, I’ve needed to practice how to find the space. I didn’t anticipate it would be running over yoga to teach me what the muscle memory of a clear mind could feel like, but it continues to be the most forgiving remedy and patient teacher.