How yoga made me a better runner…..

Before I was a yogini, I was a runner.

16 years ago, I ran my first marathon.  The year before, I joined a running group in Pittsburgh called People Who Run Downtown -a running group that meets weekly throughout Pittsburgh at different restaurants.  I attended the first one after reading about it online and thought I’d give running a try.  Once there, I found an accepting and great group of runners who would greet newcomers and pair them up with similar runners.

For a running newbie, this was a relief.  I’d half-run, half-walk my way through the 6 mile run and meet new friends at the gathering afterwards.

A group of these runners were also members  of another running group- coined as the “Drinking group with a Running Problem” -the The Hash House Harriers.  In between runs, beers and antics-a group of us decided to run the Pittsburgh marathon.

For a girl like me who had never considered herself an athlete, let alone a marathoner, it was a confidence booster.  Training for the marathon gave me purpose and direction.  I relished in the long runs with other athletes, the deep conversations and connections.  But, it also brought up my need to excel and ‘fit in’.  Runners are skinny people!

I joyfully watched the numbers on the scale tick down as my mileage ticked up, and it inspired in me an attachment to my weight as a measure of success.  And, I did great job of pounding the pavement as a way to get that thin runner’s body.

By the time the marathon came around, I was at an all time low weight-wise and finally felt like an ‘athlete’.

I ran the race in an decent time, despite a tight IT band which prevented me from bending my left leg for the last 8 miles.  And, with the race medal around my neck I felt victorious!

The next day, I struggled to walk downstairs and had to ice my leg all day at work.  When it didn’t get better in a week, I called my insurance and went to the Orthopedic Surgeon in my network.  I entered into the Orthopedic Surgeons office which was filled with geriatrics in wheelchairs and neck braces.  I was a third of their age.  Before the surgeon even touched my knee, he looked down at my chart and shook his head-

“You’re too heavy to be a marathon runner!” he exclaimed!  My jaw dropped and I almost cried.  Hadn’t I just run and starved myself into an all-time low (I was down to 119 lbs on my 5’8″ frame)?  Wasn’t that the goal (never mind that I’d stopped menstruating)?  It only reaffirmed my belief that my body was something to be fought with and I ran through injury after injury, convinced that if I could just punish my body enough-I’d finally get thin enough to look like a runner.

Years later, I got smarter at marathon training and recovered better and with less injury. But, at each race expo, surrounded by rail-thin runners, I’d hear those words in my head again “You’re to heavy…..”

But, I continued to run and my running was one of the big things that brought me to San Francisco.  After running the Big Sur marathon, I decided I needed to live in CA.

I got more than I bargained for……

While I found more running (and a great group of Hashers to run with)

I also found yoga.

At first, my goal in yoga was to make my running better.  Inspired by the svelte bodies at every yoga studio, I was attracted to the physical practice as well.

Little did I know that I’d find much, much more.

I’m lucky enough to study Bhakti-the yoga of Love and Devotion.  My practice is Ashtanga-based and inspired by love.  Each practice begins and ends with a prayer and a chant.  And, spirituality is woven through each practice.  Through this I’ve learned basic yoga precepts and disciplines which, ironically, start with the social discipline of ahimsa.

Ahimsa is the first ‘Yama’ or ethical precept which is the first in the 8 Limbs of Yoga written by Patanjali which instructs us how to relate to our world.

These ethical precepts come before the asanas (or physical practice) and sets the foundation for the physical yoga practice.  The idea is that you cannot even BEGIN the physical practice until you establish these disciplines FIRST.  And, the principle of ahimsa is directed both outward and inward-the idea of not harming oneself is included.

As a result, I started viewing my body differently.  Suddenly, it wasn’t the numbers on the scale, or the size of the clothes in my closet.  Suddenly, my naturally muscular frame wasn’t something to be starved or punished.  In the yoga studio-there are as many girls who look like me as there are skinny ones.  And, my ‘workouts’ weren’t exercises in torture but asanas designed to open up channels in my body and allow me to feel better inside of this body.  It has allowed me to accept who I am AS I am.  And, I hope this is expressed in the classes I am blessed to teach.

I’m still a runner-and I still find temptation to compare myself next to the svelte marathoners bodies.

So, I breathe with it and remind myself that ahimsa begins at home-right here in this muscular, curvy body that has completed 9 marathons-over 50 half marathons and several triathalons.

And, I’m the go-to person for all of my running friends when they suffer injury or tightness.  So, I’ve got the best of both worlds and maybe, just maybe, it takes a bodacious booty to carry all of that.

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