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.

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Yoga for Runners – Boat Pose

Strengthens: Abdominal muscles, hip flexors, and spine.Nari Navasana

Contraindications: Low back or neck injury. Late term pregnancy.

Main Focus: Balance on the “tripod” of the sitting bones and the tailbone, lifting the torso and the legs up. This will ensure correct alignment, and protect your lower back.

There is one thing runners love to do, and that is running. But to keep doing it for a long time, keep ourselves injury free, and get faster and better, we know we need to cross-train. A strong core is vital for a good running form, healthy biomechanics to prevent overuse injuries, and improvement in performance.

Boat pose gets deep into your core, strengthens the hip flexors, and can be customized to work your obliques as well. Follow my cues below, modify to make this posture more accessible, or consider challenging yourself with Boat Pose Twists, and OM to your PR. Read more for aligment cues and modifications.

Yoga for Runners – Standing Forward Fold

Nari Standing Forward FoldStretches: Mainly hamstrings. Also calves, knee flexors, hips and lower back.

Contraindications: Low back or hamstring injuries. Late term pregnancy. High blood pressure.

Main Focus: Spinal length. The rest of the lengthening through the back body will come with practice.

As runners we get used to a certain degree of soreness, to muscle tightness, we stop noticing minor aches and pains. And while some of the time this is innocuous, small aches can lead to misalignments while we run, which can then lead to major issues. This is why stretching is so critical to us.

Hamstring tightness can cause lower back pain, knee joint inflammation, and even foot injuries. So consider the time you spend on hamstring stretches an investment into your running future. Follow my cues below for Standing Forward Fold, one of the most effective hamstring stretches, and OM to your PR. Read more for aligment cues and modifications.

Yoga for Runners – Downward Facing Dog

Nari Downward Facing DogStretches: Soles of feet and fascia, Achilles tendons, calves, knee flexors, hamstrings, hips and lower back, elbows, shoulders.

Main Focus: Spinal length. The rest of the lengthening through the back body will come with practice.

Downward Facing Dog is a staple posture in any kind of Yoga class, often used as a place to rest and catch your breath. But for runners, it can be all the more meaningful: it can help with many common ailments, such as plantar fasciitis, calf and hamstring tightness, IT band tightness, lower back soreness, etc. It can improve your running form by decompressing the spine and correcting your posture.

But Down Dog can also be a lot more work for runners than for your average bear: while it is an excellent stretch for all of this back body tightness, practicing Down Dog can also be a really uncomfortable experience.

So follow my alignment cues here, modify to make the posture more accessible, practice it consistently, and OM to your PR. Read more for alignment cues and modifications.

A Little Consistency Goes a Long Way

As I crossed the finish line of my last 5K race in just over 25 minutes, I thought back to a not very remote past when I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping.  Then the miles crept up on me as I checked races of different distances off my bucket list, including a marathon.  Somewhere along the way I started getting faster.  

It wasn’t necessarily that I was trying all that hard to be a faster runner, which, I suppose, made me a junk runner in the first place.  But what I love so much more is the process rather than the outcome (even though shiny medals are kind of cool).  And it’s this love that makes me committed to and consistent with my running practice: for better or worse, in rain, humidity, or heat, till stomach cramps part us…

Yoga, in the very same way, is a practice of commitment and consistency.  Peace of mind comes from finding a few moments of quiet and meditation to start the day, rather than abandoning everything and taking to the mountains.  Muscles grow stronger and more supple from a few minutes every day rather than one vigorous workshop.  20 minutes of Sun Salutations in the morning, before you even reach for your phone and start checking emails, can make all the difference in how you live the next 12 hours.  And slowly the moments of practice will add up, and all the benefits will come with it.

Growth doesn’t come from a torrential downpour, but from watering your budding practice a little bit every day, and not letting it dry up. 

Yoga Doesn’t Take Time, It Makes Time

Nari Low Lunge Giggles

Sometime life sneaks up on me: my projects are due at work, I’m having to pick out clothes based on the sniff test, I have to piece together and run through a sequence for Saturday morning, and I have already started to preemptively dread my long run on Sunday.

But I promise that once everything is squared away, once I have solved every problem and answered every question, I will get on my mat and practice.

Days pass and to-do lists get longer. And next thing I know, instead of practicing, I have spent a lot of time practicing thinking about practicing.

Sometimes done is better than perfect. And that’s all the more true when it comes to practicing yoga during busy times. Forget about lists, about plans. Don’t question why you should it, or whether you can make time for it. Unfold your mat and take a leap of faith.

Just like that, Friday nights have become my nights to practice. No matter what else is going on, I roll out my mat at the studio. I turn the page on my workweek, but don’t start the next chapter of my weekend plans just yet. I empty my cup of and allow my practice to fill it. And I haven’t regretted showing up on my mat yet.

The clarity that follows magically sorts out the plans and the lists. Sometimes it helps me find solutions, but more often than not, it helps me feel more comfortable with having unanswered question. And more importantly, it helps me find time to show up on my mat again the next day.