Seasons of Renewal and Refinement

Spring is upon us (though the recent weather would have you believe otherwise) and that means one thing for me: running season is in full swing! Three weeks until I kick off the 2013 spring marathon season with the good old Boston Marathon. In case you were concerned, I’m still getting on my yoga mat six days per week. I go in cycles with my yoga practice and distance running, and it kind follows suit with the changing of the seasons. During the summer and winter months, I focus on progressing in my yoga practice and maintaining my running. Spring and fall are seasons to increase my endurance on the roads and maintain the state of my current yoga practice. It’s not that I’m not putting in the work on my yoga mat, it’s that my goals vary throughout the year.

There are so many more layers to practicing yoga than learning and mastering new postures, and running helps to keep that in perspective for me. Running humbles me and keeps my competitive nature in check. I still get on my mat six days per week, but during my “running seasons” I don’t have the expectation of progressing further in my practice.  I guess that isn’t exactly the correct way to phrase it. I hope to progress, but not in the sense of acquiring new asanas. My focus shifts to reinforcing the use of breath and bandhas to guide movements and develop fluidity in my current practice, which is really where the emphasis should be anyway. Running serves as a reminder that there are more facets to having a daily ashtanga practice than just mastering asanas. I suppose you could say that my “running seasons” serve as seasons of renewal and refinement in my yoga practice.

When I’m in running mode, my practice changes and assumes a whole new identity. My body adapts to the added stress and strain that is associated with long distance running. Warming up takes much longer, and my muscles are often stiffer and angrier than usual. There are days where I never feel comfortable in a forward fold, or my heels refuse to leave the ground in kurmasana.  My tight hamstrings are capable of carrying me far when my feet hit the pavement, but also produce significantly bent legs in postures like titibasana and vashistasana. But you know what? I’m completely a-okay with that. I’m a distance runner, and that’s my choice. I could quit running anytime, but I don’t want to. I make no apologies for it and believe it adds a different type of strength, grace, and character to my practice that I am proud to call my own.  Getting on my mat everyday regardless of whether I ran six miles or 60 miles that week will absolutely make a difference in my body and more importantly, my mind.

For me, running also serves as a reminder of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned on my yoga mat. Some of the most important lessons I’ve encountered touch on permanence and perfection. Nothing in life is permanent, so why expect permanence in your yoga practice? Running compels me to detach from postures and transitions I’ve grown comfortable with or accustomed to performing.

Sure, it’s entirely possible (and likely) that if I discontinued running, I’d have more consistency and flexibility in my practice. I can, however, tell you this: I can’t think of anyone in my circle of yoga friends that hasn’t encountered a lesson regarding permanence, regardless of the presence of “extra curricular” athletic activities in their daily lives. One day, you may be fortunate enough to find yourself effortlessly dropping back and standing up from a back bend, but the next day you’re lucky if you can successfully lift up in urdhva dhanurasana. You finally “get” that jump back you’ve been working towards for years, and then suddenly you are back to touching your toe before landing in chatwari. If you think about it, it’s synonymous with life and everything you experience off of your mat – nothing is permanent and everything changes. C’est la vie.

If everything changes, so should your definition of perfection. Runners often measure success by logging the “perfect” amount of miles, and performing the “perfect” types of workouts at the “perfect” pace in order to run “perfect” races. Everything seems to be going “perfectly” until you find yourself nursing an injury, recovering from an illness, or just too busy with life to put in the work necessary to obtain your level of “perfection”. It’s life. Running helps me moderate the need for perfection and encourages me to alter my idea of what “perfect” is in all aspects of life. It teaches me to toss my standards out the window and acknowledge that obtaining perfection in my asanas isn’t the only element of the practice.

Each time you accomplish a goal or conquer an asana, there is always another layer or level you work towards, so be content with your capabilities of each day. Redefining perfection means realizing that perfection doesn’t come from actual asanas and can’t be measured by a forward fold or an arm balance. It comes from making time to get on your mat as often as possible and acknowledging what your body needs each day. Some days, it could be kapotasana, while other days it could be samastitihi. Realize that perfection comes from finding peace and acceptance in any circumstance, not in how far you can crank your leg behind your head or how slowly you can lower in karadavasana.

I’m not saying that because I run and practice yoga I’m totally at peace with everything and and have it all together, because I don’t.  In reality, who does? I’m certainly not saying that you have to be a runner or pursue something other than a daily yoga practice, either. I’m not even saying that you have to practice yoga. My point is you have to do what makes you happy in order to be happy and content with your life. For me, the lessons I learn while logging countless miles and hours on my mat help me grow and evolve as a person. It helps define who I am, influences the choices that I make, steers me towards the people choose to associate with and how I handle struggles I encounter in my daily life. I still experience hardships and frustration often but knowing my strength and capabilities help make overcoming situations easier. Running season is absolutely in full swing, and I am loving every minute of it.

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