Ugly is Good.

Most Sunday mornings, I wake up and go for a long run. This past Sunday was very different. Instead, I woke up and headed to Lehigh Valley Yoga for a morning Mysore practice. There was a time when I followed the syllabus for second and third series, but I knew Sunday’s practice would mean going back to the beginning – to primary series:

Ashtanga-Primary-Series-chart

Micheal Lear is an Ashtanga yoga instructor who is fairly well known in the Ashtanga world. He happens to be from my area, so when he isn’t teaching in Thailand or somewhere on the other side of the globe, he teaches at my home studio. While he was never my main teacher, I’ve practiced with him often over the years. He’s seen my practice when it’s been at it’s best, and when it’s been at it’s worst.

When I walked into the studio this past Sunday, I was greeted with many familiar faces and several new ones. I was also greeted by Micheal, who gave me a huge hug and a warm welcome. Micheal knows I’m a runner and with other interests besides yoga, and truly respects that. Most traditional Ashtangis think that daily practice is the solution to everything – physically, mentally, and spiritually – and everything else is just a distraction. Even in the height of my practice, I could never commit myself to just Ashtanga yoga.

As he hugged me and asked how I was feeling, I told him I’d abandoned a traditional practice. I told him that I’m not just stiff and tight from running, I’m stiff and tight from neglecting yoga. My practice was going to be ugly. His response stuck with me for the rest of my practice, and has resonated with me over the past few days.

“Ugly is good.”

As I stood in samastitihi and began to move through Surya Namaskar A and B (sun salutations), everything ached. My hamstrings were tight, especially the pesky right one. That was always the tighter of my two hamstrings, even in the height of my practice. It’s funny how some things never change. My muscles on the right side of my chest from pole class the day before were screaming at me. Why am I here? I don’t belong here. This isn’t who I am anymore. Everyone else looks so pretty. Comfortable. Smooth. And why in God’s name do I feel like bursting into tears? My practice looks so…ugly. Ugly is good.

I finished the sun salutations – five sets of Surya Namaskar A, five sets of Surya Namaskar B. I began moving through the standing sequence, modifying Padahastasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana. I notice a woman who was a beginner, someone I taught during her first days of Ashtanga, enter the room and begin her practice. She’s lost a significant amount of weight, and she moved fluidly through the postures. She looked graceful and beautiful. I remember when her practice was not as solid, not at steady, not as sure. When it was “ugly”. Ugly is good.

I moved into the seated sequence and I noticed my friends who encouraged me to come, Dina and Jen, to my right. In the height of my practice, I used to be on the same level as them. On Sunday, I started from the beginning, as they continued to move forward. They were gracefully moving through second series, a more challenging sequence that I somehow used to prefer but can’t imagine doing anymore.  Jen reminded me that I was the one who taught her how to jump into and out of a headstand to complete the “Seven Deadlies” at the end of second series (a sequence of seven different variations of headstands). She said she thinks of me everyday during that time in her practice, and tries to mimic the grace and control I had when I would do that. I would have never described my practice as controlled and graceful. I always thought it looked choppy and ugly. Ugly is good.

20130722-081840.jpg

Even though Jen, Dina and I were all in very different places on Sunday morning, something about the whole thing reminded me about the first time we all practiced with Micheal – when we were all on the same level. All of our practices were pretty “ugly” that day, too. Over time, it evolved and blossomed into something beautiful. Ugly is good.

As I reached a posture that I knew I would struggle with – Supta Kurmasana, which requires you to put your legs behind your head – I saw one of the new faces directly across from me. She was also working on second series, and she was entering Eka Pada Sirsasana. It’s the beginning of the extensive second series sequence that requires you to put your legs over your head. She reminded me a lot of myself when I used to have a traditional practice. The way her leg hit the back of her neck and the way she folded into the posture was very familiar. Since that pose was a challenge for me, I only ever saw my flaws when I would be in it. I used to think that pose looked ugly on me, but with patience and practice it became beautiful. Ugly is good.

20130722-081604.jpg
During my second series days – eka pada sirsasana is the bottom center picture.

As I laid in Savasana, I closed my eyes and listened the Ujai breath of those still practicing. I tried to clear my head, relax, and focus on my own breath. Instead, I started thinking about why I came to yoga that day. I think part of me wanted to see if I wanted my practice back, especially after what happened in Indianapolis. It was heartbreaking to train for 19 weeks to have it end the way it did, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little lost.

But I know that starting Ashtanga again would mean I would need to stop running. For me, an Ashtanga practice isn’t something I can just drop in and do once or twice a week. If I chose that path, it is a commitment to a lifestyle. Did I want that? Was that why I was there? It certainly stirred up a lot of emotions. A bit of nostalgia, because part of me misses being able to move through the challenging postures with ease. A bit of sadness that I let my practice go to the wayside. A sense of peace because watching everyone practice, I knew that with hard work I could practice the way they all were. I’ve done it before, and I know I am capable of that.

But there was also a sense of relief that I didn’t have that daily obligation to get on my mat. Because towards the end, that’s what it became – an obligation. A chore. So I stopped. Ultimately, Sunday reminded me of that and opened my eyes to something else entirely. That anything challenging I’ve ever wanted started out ugly. It had to be ugly, before it could be beautiful. Ugly is, in fact, good.

20130722-081827.jpgI still want to run. I still want that sub-3 hour marathon. Maybe I sound foolish for having such a lofty goal, especially since I’ve never felt so far away from achieving it as I do right now.

Lately, running has been ugly for me – but this isn’t my first rodeo. There were many times where I chased goals and things got ugly. The first time I wanted to qualify for Boston. The countless attempts at breaking 3:30. Oh, did it ever get ugly. But here we are, five Boston marathons later and many sub-3:30 finishes under my belt and I’m staring down a goal of a sub-3 hour marathon. Things got ugly. Yet as ugly as it became, running was never a chore. It was never an obligation. Two days after my crash and burn at Indy, I found myself wanting to run. All week, I found myself wanting to run but refraining because I was letting my body heal. It’s my hope that the time away healed the strain. I’m sure my first run “back” will be ugly. Ugly is good.

I’ve had some really ugly days out running. Days where I go out for a training run and everything feels like crap. It might be on a day where I’m just supposed to run easy, or it might be on a day where I have a track workout or a tempo run planned. It’s ugly, but progress is still happening because I’m out there doing it. Ugly is good.

I’ve had some really ugly weeks. There are times in the middle of a training block where I have an entire week where every single run is ugly. No matter how much I stretch or foam roll, I feel stiff and awkward. No matter how many pounds of Epsom salts or ice I soak my body in, I ache. It feels ugly. But then, a new week begins and everything feels fresh and new. Ugly is good.

I’ve had some really ugly races. Days where I toe the starting line and start to run, and my legs want none of it. The days where simply finishing the race is the only goal I can accomplish. Those days are ugly. But then, I run a race and achieve a goal I never dreamed would be within my reach. Those ugly days make the successful races that much better. Ugly is good.

I’ve had some really ugly seasons. Ugly seasons where I’m fighting to keep my fitness through cross training and physical therapy appointments, and struggling to remember why I began running in the first place. Seasons where I laugh at myself for even considering that I could run a certain pace, or hit a certain time. Then I have a season where it all goes right, and ends with race times that blow my original goal out of the water. Ugly is good.

2015 was an ugly year. It began ugly, and it ended ugly. I don’t know what 2016 will bring, or if my luck will change anytime soon. I hope I can continue to get back up when I get knocked down, because I know that nothing good comes easy. In order to achieve big goals, it’s likely that there will be great struggle involved. It will be hard. It will hurt. It will break my heart. It will knock me down more times than I think I can get up. It will be ugly.

Ugly is good.

June 2014: PR at the Charlevoix Marathon, 3:06!

Advertisements

42 Replies to “Ugly is Good.”

  1. I love this. Actually, the nostalgia and loss you experienced while doing yoga pretty much perfectly describes the way I’ve been feeling about a (non-athletic) area of my life that has gone through *huge* change over the past couple of years. And it’s been pretty ugly at times. So thanks for the reminder that that’s normal and actually good.

    1. It was a really weird experience! Even just going to the class, my husband was like, “You’re going to yoga?” Because he knew what that used to mean. I’m glad I went. Strangely enough, it was a good reminder of why I love running so much!

  2. I can’t imagine you hitting an ugly pose, but I appreciate that ugly is good and necessary! I don’t think I could ever devote myself to a full time yoga practice, because running is what “does it” for me. 🙂

    1. That was always my problem! I could never fully give up running, so I definitely had plenty of roadblocks in my yoga practice. Since abandoning my traditional practice, I enjoy taking vineyasa classes and yin yoga to get my yoga fix!

  3. Well what a beautiful post! Allison, the thing that has always shined out from your blog and your comments is your amazing inner beauty. Your zest for life. Your ability to make others feel special, even when they are amazed at everything u achieve. Do take some time to think and reflect and decide where u go next. And keep chasing rainbows. Even when things feel ugly. I loved this post and found it inspiring. Thank you

    1. Awwwww, thank you so much Niki!! I am so glad you enjoyed it. I really just had some random feelings that day and wanted to try to make some sense of them, and it turned into that! We have some really special and wonderful people in our awesome blog community and I love being part of it!

  4. Oh I just love this! 2015 started off ugly for me as well and then it went up and down. I went to Vinyasa yoga today and it was great. I almost held the birds of paradise pose than longer before. The instructor even said twice to watch what I was doing to others…that felt kinda cool. Ugly is good, without ugly we cannot strive for better.

    1. I love that! “Without ugly, we cannot strive for better”. SO TRUE. I think it took me something like 1600 words and that is exactly what I meant to say, haha! I saw your yoga mat on Instagram today and I was excited to see you went to yoga! Bird of Paradise pose is so tough – I always fall out of that one because I am terrible at balancing, but it is so beautiful!! You are awesome!

  5. I love this. It reminds me how important it is to remember to look big picture at our running instead of basing all of our running feelings on the most recent run, no matter how terrible or amazing. Sometimes it gets rough and ugly for a single run or a bunch of runs, but there is light and there is always progress to be found somewhere in there. 2016 feels like your sub-3 year to me…

    1. Thank you! Of course, I hope it is my sub-3 year – but if it isn’t I would settle for just being able to run injury free! But honestly, the class I took on Sunday help put a lot into perspective. It really reminded me that hard work DOES pay off, at some point! How are the aerials going??

      1. ehhh, we’ll see. Some weeks it feels like I’m doing horrible and it will never stick, but other weeks it’s the opposite. Either way I still love it so I’m trying to just ride that for as long as I can. I thought of you the other day because I accidentally found a pole studio relatively close to where I do aerial! I need to check their schedule, but I definitely want to check it out.

      2. You should totally try pole classes! I have no idea why your posts don’t come up in my reader but it looks like I have a lot to catch up on today! Keep going to those classes – you will make progress!

  6. I really like this post because it’s not very often that you really get into the meat and potatoes of your thoughts and feelings. I feel like I know you more and relate to you better. I don’t do yoga, but if anyone were to convince me to try it, it would be you. Oh how I so wish we lived close to each other so we could train together. And guess what! I just did a plank for 4:30. It took everything I had in me to make it to that time. I can barely lift my arms to type this but hey. I did it.

    1. Thank you, Suzy! ❤ AHHHH 4:30 PLANK!!! I was wondering how long you held it – you were saying something like you guess 2:30 and I was sitting here in PA laughing at you because you are a beast (I mean that in the best way)!! I wish we lived closer, too! I feel like we would have some epic training runs…and post running vodka sodas!! I have a hard time talking about my feelings. I don't know why!! I hope blogging keeps helping me with that. I feel a lot better when I write those posts, so I need to do it more often!

  7. I’ve gone through some ugly yoga times, and I’m always so afraid to go to classes when that happens. It often coincides with them I’m teaching too much and feeling a little burnt out. I like that… “ugly is good”. I think that’s a really good mantra to keep during a yoga practice (and running). Ugly doesn’t last forever… but I think ugly gives us a good lesson.

    1. My yoga teacher (though I haven’t practiced with him in awhile), David Garrigues, used to teach us to be detached from our physical practice because it is not permanent. It is so true. One day, you can lift up and jump back from seated to chataranga while the next day you have to walk back. Often there is no explanation when you “lose” a posture if you are a regular practitioner, it just happens. I don’t think I ever really understood what he meant when he said to be detached from your practice until this class last Sunday. It took me losing a lot to realize that the practice itself was never about the poses, which is why we should be detached from them – it was about the process! Sometimes the process can be ugly, other times it is beautiful. I think that’s why ugly is good 🙂

  8. Your strength inside and out is admirable! The yoga poses did not look “ugly” to my non-yogi eyes. Thanks for sharing the light when it feels like you’re in the dark. I definitely love your positive attitude and with that, I’m sure you will get to your sub-3 goal 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! Those photos were taken in the days when I was at the height of my practice. Now, I do think they look pretty but then I would have sat there and criticized them to no end! It’s funny what you see when you look back on something like that. Puts things other than just a yoga practice into perspective, ya know?

  9. I think I need that on a sweatshirt. And tattooed on my forehead so I will see it every time I look in the mirror. It is so easy to get up caught up in the hustle. Look good, feel good, run faster and faster juggling tennis balls at the same time. Like if we aren’t perfect in every way, we must be lacking in something. When really, like your instructor said- “ugly is good”. Great post!

  10. Something you said in one of your comments really stood out to me:

    “It took me losing a lot to realize that the practice itself was never about the poses, which is why we should be detached from them – it was about the process! Sometimes the process can be ugly, other times it is beautiful. I think that’s why ugly is good :)”

    I can only imagine how much anger and frustration you left Indy with, but maybe try framing the experience with the above quote. Running is not just about the races, it is about the process. Sometimes races are going to be ugly, other times they turn about beautifully. Unfortunately 2015 was a year for ugly races (well, except those 10k and half PRs). But in terms of process, from what I’ve read since ~April/Mayish, you’ve been putting in all the work and you’ve finished the season without getting injured. I really think 2016 is going to be your year.

    1. Thank you so much!! I really do feel a lot better about Indy. I wrote about it, and that really helped. After that, I wasn’t angry anymore because of something you said. I put in the work and I came out uninjured. Well, relatively uninjured. I did hurt my calf, but it was minor since I didn’t push and backed off. I ran today for the first time in 10 days with zero pain. I don’t think 10 day is going to make me lose my base, so I think if I can come back slowly, I will be okay. Either way – I went through the process. I ran 70+ mpw and survived. Mentally, I know I can do it – and that is the part of the process that will help me next time around! Thank you so much for your support ❤

  11. That’s such a good mantra to have in mind, your teacher sounds amazing. I think we often get caught up in being perfect or looking good or elegant when we run/do exercise but that’s usually not possible! I need to get back into yoga but it’s just so expensive in London! I used to practice outside on my roof terrace but now there’s bloody torrential rain all the time so maybe not!

    1. He is pretty awesome! And omg, practicing on a rooftop in London sounds downright incredible. There is some famous Ashtanga teacher there but I forget who it is…one of my friends went to London on vacation awhile ago and went to his shala everyday! I can’t remember who it was. I do know there is a huge Ashtanga community there, though! Why is yoga so damn expensive?!?!?! It can get pricey here, too. Not fair!!

      1. I went to a yoga studio in central london on like a trial basis (which was really good value) but never did Ashtanga for some reason. I did love all the teachers tho. I actually did a class which was called Hot Boxing Yoga- a mix of martial arts and yoga, in a bloody sauna. It hurt so bad but it in the best way!

      2. It’s not funny but I am laughing at your pulled oblique. Because if anyone could manage pull an oblique, it would be me. I had a strained boob last week from pole classes. Real life over here.

  12. I love this post. Love it. Love it to pieces. One thing really resonated with me- “Why am I here? I don’t belong here. This isn’t who I am anymore. Everyone else looks so pretty. Comfortable. Smooth. And why in God’s name do I feel like bursting into tears?” That feeling. Doubt. I know that feeling. I choked up reading those sentences. While I have never seriously practiced yoga, I should. I get so much out of it. So much more than I put into it. You are so strong. So fierce. Your ugly is the beauty I long for. In many ways I would think it’s like riding a bike. Your body remembers what to do. Your mind just has to let it. Ugly is good. For sure. 🙂

    1. Thank you! Yes! It was total doubt!! Ever since my race in Indy, I think I was feeling a lot of that and not really realizing it until I headed to yoga class. Dumb running and yoga gets me all emotional. WTF. Next thing you know I’m going to start crying when I’m in a pole dancing class. GEEZ!! I ran on Wednesday for the first time and it was slow and felt really awful. Today, it felt great. You are so right – your body does remember what to do but your mind has to let it!!! Wise words!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s