Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From Anna: An Excuse, a Diagnosis, and a Warning

I have always wanted to be a runner. Everything about it appeals to me. The ritualistic nature, the endurance and athleticism, the moving meditation, connection to the breath, and the revered "zone" that runners all talk about. Not to mention, the bod. I don't care how tight my hip flexors would be, I would love to have a runners body. But frankly, it's just not my thing. At least once a year over the last decade, I've made up my mind to "become a runner." As though it's something one chooses, like a haircut or a sandwich.

But I've never made it past 2 weeks of running before it becomes something that I can easily talk myself out of doing, in favor of... I don't know... legs-up-the-wall, perhaps? I keep reading that it takes 3 weeks to develop a habit so maybe one day I'll make it past the 21 day hump. But until that day, I'm just another runner wanna-be. Except that now I can also use my yoga practice to talk myself out of it. It's like my buddy Krishnamacharya used to say: "Running is for horses."

In totally unrelated news, I just finished nursing a pulled scalene muscle. How does one pull a scalene muscle, you may wonder?... By performing the extremely advanced pose: taking-off-my-shirt-asana. No joke. Laugh it up. Luckily it was short lived, coming on suddenly but healing completely in less than a week. But for those first few days, it was extremely painful. Initially I was a bit baffled, since I felt sharp pains underneath my collarbones but also, all the way up my neck when I turned my head. Separate, but obviously related, I could barely move my shoulder in any direction without feeling pain all the way down my arm. Desperate to self-diagnose, I whipped out the anatomy books and realized that the scalene muscles run down the side of the next but attach to the top 2 ribs. It had to be scalene related, and a trip to the chiropractor confirmed my suspicions.

In the week that followed, it became the perfect example of how an injury can inform and deepen our anatomical understanding. Turns out, these previously unnoticed muscles are active in every deep breath that we take, manage the weight of the head and stabilize the neck, and have trigger points all over the upper torso and cervical spine. I just wish I could have learned these fun facts in a less painful manner.

So take this advice, friend. Being mindful in your practice is a lovely thing, but it turns out that an comparable mindfulness should be practiced when disrobing. Just fyi.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

From Liz: Right Foot, Left Foot.

My parents are practicing Christians. But the religious ritual that has been most deeply etched into my neural pathways is the practice of cardio. Specifically, running. My father has run every day of the year, with a few exceptions, for the past 30 odd years. (The day after he had fairly invasive surgery to remove a skin cancer, my mother had to chase him down with her car to get him to come home, as he staggered up the street, trying to get "just a quick run in.") My siblings and I have practiced with varying levels of devotion throughout our adult lives. But my dad gets up at the crack of dawn (4:30-ish) every single day, pulls on running shoes and faces the weather, the dawn, his own groggy consciousness, and once a rabid dog. (Which, of course, ended with a course of rabies shots.) Surprisingly few of his injuries are related to the actual sport. He has had many scrapes and bruises, but mostly from spacing out and eating pavement. So mindfulness is the name of the game once you reach his level. Keep vigilant, once you are athletically capable.

I run too. I try to keep it to a bare few days a week, for fear of compromising my yoga practice. But it's in me, that need to just get out there are run my brains out. My practice has illuminated my running, clued me in to the way that I can moderate and modulate around the breath, pace myself to pull through to the end. My body aligns more naturally than it used to. His body has figured all of this out after years, without too much analysis. His really is a habit of, "one percent theory, 99 percent practice." After a while, these things simply go without saying. Right foot, left foot... that's all there really is to it.

My dad has a book on his shelf called "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner." That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? Ashtanga yoga, and running. Ultimately, solitary practices. You might "share your breath" if you practice in a Mysore room. But you are really alone on your mat. Maybe this is why they both suit me so well, I'm comfortable here, alone in this space.