Happy Hips for Running Happy

One of my biggest blessings and pleasures in life is teaching Yoga for Runners.  I have immense passion and love for the sport, and utmost respect for everyone who runs.  But I also know how much running can beat up someone’s body, and how much wear and tear runners suffer.  I myself have been through a series of injuries that were physically debilitating, completely deflated my spirit, and left me sidelined for months.  So my goal as a teacher is to help my runners find their ease of movement both on the mat and on the road.

Many runners complain of tight achy hips and want big stretches.  What often ends up happening is that their hips feel even tighter the day after.  In my experience, this tightness is often caused by imbalances in the hip girdle and/or weakness in the glutes.

My approach is to correct the imbalances on the mat by stretching opposite muscle groups equally: if you do Pigeon pose to stretch the tensor latae fasciae and the illiotibial band (outer hip) you should balance it with Frog pose to stretch the opposing adductor muscle group (inner thigh).

Strengthening the hip girdle sometimes can be as easy as a quick dynamic warm-up and activating the right muscle groups before you head out for your run.  I use a quick Myrtle routine before all my runs, which incorporates both strengthening and mobility we need for happy running.

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Life (and Yoga) by the Numbers

What do you try to get accomplished in the short span of 24 hours each day? Wake up at 5, gym at 5:30, so many miles on the treadmill at such and such pace, step on the scale and have a specific number flash at you as a reassurance that all is well in the world. We judge ourselves by the amount of money made, project deadlines met, number of pushups done. Chasing numbers: it’s like the NY Stock Exchange ticker rolling through the brain.

It wasn’t until my injury that I realized how closely I tied my own feeling of self-worth to my accomplishments. I had goals to meet, so an injury was most certainly not on the to do list for me. And yet there is was, staring me in the face every time I tried to put my left foot down, slowly eroding my feeling of self-worth, unraveling my idea of who I thought I was (how long can I take a break from running for and still consider my self a runner?). The foot pain and the existential crisis kept me up at night.

The epiphany came when I realized that I couldn’t care less about friends’ PR’s, their incomes, or whether or not they could do a handstand: unlike self-love, my love for them was unconditional. What I valued in others was kindness, compassion, generosity, empathy. They laughed with me, cried with me, listened to me complain about my injury, and I thought they were the best thing to ever happen to me, regardless of any other accomplishments they may or may not have.

It is a long journey for me. I try and catch myself when the negativity starts rearing its ugly head. I try to hang on to that warmth of having a student thank me at the end of class. My newly adjusted (or adjusting, I should say) sense of self-worth comes from knowing that maybe I helped someone breathe a little easier today, maybe I gave someone a reason to smile. These are the things that are truly valuable at the end of the day. Numbers only go so far…

Movement is Life

Nari Kripalu Dancer PoseMy whole body has ached since my injury nearly 6 weeks ago. A tiny, invisible, undetectable thing, this stress fracture, has completely upended my life: it has changed my daily habits and eating preferences; it has made me anxious and irritable, unable to burn off the excess energy; and has made me question the essence of my own being (can I still qualify myself a runner and a yogi if I cannot do either of these activities?). Every day I wake up ready to lace up and got for a run. Every day my body feels like a prison. And the inactivity makes the pain all the worse.

But then 2 weeks ago I went to Kripalu on a yoga retreat for my birthday. Even though I had always been more inclined to practice more vigorous and energetic styles of yoga, I was starting to dabble in Yin and Restorative practices, since that was what my achy body had been calling for. So when we got there, and I saw plenty of Restorative classes being offered, I knew, I was in for a treat.

Here I was, after weeks of being trapped in my own body, waking up on my mat at 6:30 in the morning. And then returning to the mat after breakfast again at 9:30. Then there was dance with live drumming. As the beat flowed right through me and resonated inside me, I couldn’t help but move. More a shuffle than a dance, but my soul was jubilant: I was discovering that there still were ways in which my body could move pain-free. I dabbled in some kayaking, some hiking (my doctor would potentially disapprove), and all the yoga I could cram into 2 already full days.

However different from my usual practice, it was really my time on the mat that made me feel at home in my body again. It gave me the awareness of when to move and when to back off so as not to hinder the healing process. It allowed me to begin addressing all the imbalances that contributed to the stress fracture in the first place. It helped me find a pain-free space for my body, where both my body and mind could find peace.

Since that weekend at Kripalu my doctor has cleared me for non-impact cardio, and even though I still cannot run, I am back at it swimming, spinning, and lifting weights to strengthen my body. But most importantly, I am back on my mat: still gingerly and cautiously, but I am flowing, and it makes the energy flow. Yoga returned me to movement again, and movement is essentially life.