Yesterday I returned my still very stiff and achey body to the yoga mat for 75 minutes of hot yoga, always a daunting challenge and a guaranteed glad-I-did-it experience. I honestly needed that experience much more than I needed to run. My legs and hips have been causing me a lot of discomfort wince my 13.2 mile run. I think they’re trying to tell me something, something about a little less running, a little more yoga, and maybe a little more rest.
A long session of hot yoga was a good start. I was reminded that I probably have yoga to thank, as much as running, for letting my body teach me more about life. My body teaches me when it’s achy, when it’s stiff, when it’s in beautiful, fluid motion, when I’m trying to take it along with me on long runs or into complex twists that require every single muscle, and when it’s given the gift of rest and quiet breath.
I’m going to take some time this month to write about yoga’s lessons that apply to running (and maybe vice verca) and to life. I was going to write several in this post, but I got so involved in just one that I think I’ll make it a series.
So here’s just one important lesson from my yoga practice:
Let go: Once when one of my favorite yoga teachers had us all in a wide leg straddle, leaning down to the floor, stretching our hamstrings to the max, she said, in a gently commanding tone: “Just let go.” She correctly guessed that we were hanging on to the tightness in our muscles without thinking about it, and that we could use our minds to talk to those muscles and tell them to unclench. And she was right. That stretch, while not easy for me, became easier when I just told my muscles they didn’t need to hang on to that tightness.
Such a simple thing, but I think about it often. I consciously loosen myself when I’m running, especially after reading Chi Running, by Danny and Katherine Dreyer, which takes tai chi and yoga thinking into the running process. Since reading that book, I frequently just start loosening every part of my body I can while I’m in motion, especially my ankles, my calves, and my shoulders.
Obviously the letting go lessons apply “off the mat,” and the good yoga teachers always remind us to use the mindsets we need to be good to our bodies, and take them “off the mat” to enrich our lives. Volumes have been written about letting go of emotional baggage, unrealistic expectations, and harsh attitudes towards ourselves and others. Like everyone else, I still have much to learn in this area. I hope to have many more years to practice an art that doesn’t come easily to us humans. But I love the idea that I can do some of that learning at the root of my presence in this world, by living in my body and learning from it.