I was very recently asked how I used my Forrest Yoga practice and knowledge to help me transition back into long distance running. I started getting properly back into running again around a year ago in autumn 2014. I hadn’t run for around 6 years so this was a big deal and has been quite a journey, one in which Forrest Yoga has played a very significant part. Read on...
A bit of background….
I was a long distance runner long before I was a yogi. I started running on a whim to impress the personal trainer at my gym in Barcelona. He put running on my fitness programme; I fancied him so thought I had better get on the treadmill and give it a bash. Turned out me and running would get into a more meaningful relationship than I ever did with Mr PT. I started running training more seriously around 2003/4 and competed in mainly 10K races, later moving towards half marathon distance. A tear in my ACL meant I unfortunately never quite made it to complete my first marathon.
Why did I stop running?
I quit running quite a while before I started practising Forrest Yoga – it’s easy to wonder if I had been practising Forrest already maybe I never would have stopped in the first place.
Quite simply I stopped running because my hot yoga teacher at the time advised me to. He suggested it was running that was aggravating my low back pain and that I should stop for a month to let the yoga help it heal. So, I did, no questions asked, I stopped. I never checked in with what I wanted, how my body felt and I never considered that maybe something else was causing my back pain. And after that month I never thought to experiment introducing running back into my life again. I was stuck in an “all or nothing” frame of mind and not just in my exercise habits, but in my life in general.
What makes your Spirit happy?
One of the first keys to starting running again was questioning this – I woke up one day and literally just thought “Hang on a minute – why actually did I stop running?!”
A prominent theme in Forrest Yoga (and a really significant theme for me personally) is connecting with what makes our Spirit sing – what do we need to do to feed our Spirit and feel content and fulfilled with our life? For me, running had always been one of those things, until someone told me it shouldn’t be. I suddenly realized that stopping because someone else had told me to didn’t necessarily mean it was the right thing to do. The right thing to do now was to see if it could make my heart happy once more.
Just do it! But be Struggle Free!
Realising the above was significant – but proved way easier than the next step – actually getting out and doing it! Not only did I love running with a passion in the past, but I was also pretty good at it. This meant that the thought of starting running again filled me with fear – what if I wasn’t as good as before? What if I wasn’t fit enough to do it? What if I failed at it?
There was a poster in the running shop I went to in Barcelona. Written in Catalan, it had a simple message to convey:
“Running is the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other”
Whilst I may now forgotten how to say it in Catalan, I’ll never forget this sentiment – it is so simple, yet so spot on. Running is just what it says – you put one foot in front of the other. There’s no pre-requisite to achieve. You don’t need to do it fast, or for a long time, or with massive long strides, you just simply do it. So, the second key was realizing that I just had to try; that it didn’t have to be any more complicated than I choose to make it for myself.
Forrest Yoga teaches us how to work struggle free – to recognize when we get in fight mode, the attitude where we work against ourself rather than with ourself. I’ll also never forget one particular moment on my Foundation Training – it was on one of those “snot monster” days and I was in full-on struggle mode and really excelling at it during the morning intensive. My back was playing up and I had been moved to the wall to do Half Moon . I wasn’t happy – using the wall back then only screamed ‘not good enough’ in my brain. I was definitely less than happy, more totally pissed off in fact, having a good cry whilst resisting getting any support from the wall. I remember Ana coming over to help me, and saying to me “Rosalind, why are you making this so difficult for yourself?” As much as I hated to admit it I knew she was right – my attitude towards using the wall (or other props) for extra support changed a lot in that moment – I remember a later Beauty report being that I had used the wall about three times without being told to during another of the intensives.
A note on props and support – in running what do you need to support you equipment wise? For me, getting a thorough gait analysis done on my foot and spending time to buy the correct running shoe is vital. I used an IT band compression strap to support my knee whilst recuperating from my IT band injury. I ran with it for my half too and I think this helped my IT band and knee stay stable and stress-free during it. I’m happy to say I am now weaning myself back off it successfully too. A foam roller and a hockey ball have also become my firm post-training buddies too – more on this in my follow-up article to this one. Just like using the wall, in the past I would have pooh poohed using stuff like this for running – now I realize it’s not only ok but actually feels pretty good to have this extra support!
"Comparison is the thief of joy"
Back to running – I realized I had to just get out there and try, but I also realized I had to be realistic with my expectations. If I hadn’t run for 6 years, why on earth was I expecting it to be the same as before? I was older, my body had changed, my life had changed significantly – why would running be the same? I was reminded of the importance of remembering that change is the only constant, and that we have to fully attend to what is happening in the present, the here and now, and enjoy that. There’s a quote I love by Theodore Roosevelt – “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and there’s nothing more criminal than beating yourself up about not being the same as how you used to be.
Don't let it become difficult
Ana’s words about not making it so hard for myself came back to me in the middle of my recent half marathon. I did the Great North Run in September – it was very hit and miss as to whether I would actually be able to take part as I got ITBS (IT band syndrome) about a month before the race, but fortunately recovered enough to take part. Just over half way through I had a ”wall” moment – the moment where you suddenly feel really tired, where you start to doubt whether you actually really have it in you to finish. The race was on a gradual incline for most of the course and it was starting to take its toll. Despite the fact my injury had messed up the peak weeks of my training plan, I secretly was still harbouring the desire to complete the race in 2 hours. As I felt the anxiety start to kick in, what Ana said to me that day echoed in my ear. I realized it didn’t have to be that difficult – I had a choice, I just had to commit to choosing it! I was running the race for charity – the priority all along had been this, alongside enjoying the training and the race. What was not a priority was to get a record-breaking time. In that moment I made a conscious choice to run struggle free – I slowed my pace down, I let people overtake me without stressing about not being fast enough and I focused on my breath.
If you’ve ever taken my class you will know already how much of a game changer I think this is. In running I found out this applies just as much off the mat wearing a pair of trainers, as on it!
Firstly, the ujayi breath and focus on deep breathing we use in Forrest Yoga means my inhalation is pretty damned long when running too. Before I used to have a kind of weird running breathing pattern going on – two inhales to one exhale. Now, I have a really deep, juicy inhalation – I feel like I can get so much more air into my lungs and notice I also have a lot more energy when running.
Secondly, the technique of breathing into a spot – I use this when running to help me release tension when I feel it building up, or starting to grab on in an area. Whilst working with my IT band injury I started breathing into my outer hip – into the spot where I knew the tightness was originating that was referring down into my IT band and then my knee. I also learnt I had to re-assess the way I was dong this though. I caught myself in a moment of frustration ramming the breath into the area I was working with, which naturally made it grab on more. I played then with how I could send breath into it in a more compassionate way – to let it know that everything was ok and that we had this running thing nailed. So, in short, breathing deeply and breathing compassionately are as important in running as they are in yoga. Practising this on the mat, gives me a really powerful tool I can use in running alongside other aspects of my life too.
So, from a more psychological viewpoint this is how Forrest Yoga helped me get back into my trainers and connect back with the inner runner I missed and dearly love. I had built a lot of shields up and had a lot of stories about why I had to give up running, and then why I couldn't start again. Forrest Yoga was, without a doubt in my mind, the most powerful tool I used to help me clear the murky fog that was clouding over my judgment, my ability to connect with my authentic self and most importantly my passion.