On Running

I used to say, pretty frequently, "I'm not a runner." I hated running. I hated the pounding, the jostling, the sweating, the short shorts, the fuss that goes up when people run, the spectacle, the tension I'd feel in my shoulders and neck... all of it. But, I married a runner. And when I got sober a few years back (lots more on that later), I needed to find something physical to take the space of wallowing in fishbowl-sized glasses of Pinot Noir, and something we could enjoy together.

So, on a bit of a whim, and with no running shoes and no training I decided to run a 5k. It's 3 miles. (Okay, 3.1. That last tenth for a beginner is pretty significant.) How bad could that be? It benefited my husband's school, it wasn't hot that time of year, and if nothing else, I could walk. 

I didn't die. I also noticed a few things. A feeling of lightness and joy came over me not only later, once the damn thing was over, but actually during the run. I know now that was "runner's high"-- the release of happy chemicals that happens when we push our systems into "go" mode and keep them there for a while. My yoga practice wasn't cutting it at that time-- I was healing a specific, ancient injury that kept me from doing all the intense stuff I was used to making my body do-- so the happy feeling was a bonus. 

Unfortunately, I was in terrible shape. My body was so hooked on alcohol sugar and my muscle tone had diminished as I had gotten older and more and more bendy (bendier than I or anyone ever needed to be!) plus my cardiovascular health was about a negative 10. A mile-long run felt like ten. I remember getting very very suited up on a winter morning and starting out from my house-- watching the meter click off every tenth of a mile and turning around for home at exactly the moment it hit .5 miles. But it was a start. I kept this practice for a little while, maybe six months, while I picked my asana practice back up. Running is hard on the joints especially when there's no muscle to support those joints! So I had to find a more intentional, tissue recovery, and strength-based practice that by definition had to be slower. 

All the while, my mind was changing. I was replacing the dread I felt setting out for a run with excitement. I loved the movement, the breathing, the chance to practice ujjayi and tadasana and mula bandha... but most of all I loved the chance to be in my body and feel what vairagya (non-attachment) really feels like. A beautiful view, a nice breeze, a burst of energy-- all these would come and go. And I'd keep moving.

I completed 20 races from October 2012 to December 2016. Some 5k, some 8k, some 10k. Generally speaking, 6 1/2 miles doesn't really affect me much these days, so long as my asana practice afterward rises to the challenge presented to my hips!  

When I started committing in earnest to my meditation practice, I immediately experienced the same sense of non-attachment that running had provided me. Only this time I stayed still. I stayed still through doubt, laziness, fatigue, aches, or anything else that came along. My resilience grew. 

I'm remembering a quote from one of my teachers: "We do not differentiate between rest and work, we are still in action, alert in rest." This realization that I could be both at the same time was a doorway. I did not need to chase a high. All I needed was to put in right effort toward sustained attention. 

My body has changed too-- I've become more physically resilient. I don't fatigue as easily. Somehow I have become a runner. But over time my "garden of practices" has grown to contain many other species: high-intensity interval training (HIIT), cycling, a little spontaneous dance from time to time, and still, yoga and meditation. My meditation and yoga have a "running" quality to them-- but maybe it's the other way around. Balancing the scales. Finding integration. 

"Practice these principles in all our affairs." Recovery literature says there is no separation among our lives and among the various roles we're called to play.

Still in action, alert at rest.