By Samara D. Anderson, Esq., 200 RYT, Yoga Medicine 500RYT ongoing*
Most runners would answer this question by stating that yoga is important to a runner because it simultaneously builds strength while stretching. While I would agree on the gross level, the more subtle answer is that the true power in yoga comes from increasing your self-awareness of your body: the recognition that there is no separation between the mind and the body. When you stay mentally strong, your body will follow. And vice versa. If you are mentally weak, the body will give up too.
I still recall my re-immersion into running after taking 1990 – 2001 off because I had torn ligaments in my knee from being a hurdler in high school. It was after my first year of law school and I had gained about 15 pounds due to studying 17 hours a day and eating mindlessly whatever I could find when I was starving. I had started the separation of the mind and the body. I became a brain separated from my body. Rationally, I knew that to lose weight and feel healthier, I needed to move my body more. So, I started to run 3 miles cold turkey after an eleven-year break! And those were the hardest and longest three miles of my life. But, I didn’t give up and each time I ran it got easier because I was getting stronger. I started to feel, sporadically, that “runner’s high” euphoria, but mostly it happened AFTER I got done running. But, it still felt awesome and I wanted to keep feeling it.
Many of you can see where this story is going. Yes, I decided to sign up for my first race: the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, Vermont right after graduation from law school in June 2003. And I loved it! So, that same day I signed up to gain entry into the New York City marathon via the lottery. And I got in! Thus, the summer I graduated from law school was spent training my mind to pass the New York State Bar and my body was training to run my first 26.2 miles in the New York City Marathon. I felt that I was balancing my strengthening of the body and the mind in separate, but equally challenging, physical and mental marathons. But, I was still keeping them separate. I was not connecting them in any form of self-awareness or mindfulness.
My path to evolving into an elite endurance athlete competing in the 70.3 Ironman events continued until 2008. But, my body started to break down because I did not listen to the subtle things my body was telling me. The debilitating illnesses that started to consume my body and prevent me from working as a lawyer or competing as a triathlete: bronchitis, tonsillitis, walking pneumonia, mono (AKA the college kissing disease), IT Band Syndrome, and plantar fasciitis, just to name a few. Keeping the mind and the body separate was not sustainable for me.
Then, it happened. In 2008 in a last ditch effort to find relief and healing I took a friend’s advice and booked 1:1 therapeutic yoga sessions with a Suzanne Lynch, a yoga teacher in Saratoga Springs. My body started to respond and feel better, but my mind also started to feel more relaxed and less stressed. I started to actually embody my body, instead of just seeing it as a separate mode of transport through space. I started to understand how injuries are the body screaming for healing because I was unable to hear the softer voices of imbalances and asymmetry in the body, which lead to my injuries and illnesses. I saw how being present with what was occurring in my body as I trained or competed was powerful because I could use this feedback to focus my therapeutic yoga sessions and training on creating balance within my body between strength and softness, so the muscles would activate when required, then be able to relax with ease when the activity was completed.
I also learned that the mind plays a powerful part in whether my body was able to meet the challenges I set for it. Previously, my mind would start to become fatigued and tell me “you can slow down, you sprained your ankle a weak ago, you don’t need to push yourself, just back off, there will always be another marathon you can qualify for Boston in…” When my mind was weak, my body was weak. But, becoming aware of the power of my mind enabled me to focus more on strengthening that muscle through yoga and meditation. I could stay focused mentally and because I always trained myself properly, the body was strong enough to achieve whatever I could imagine. Sometimes it was even stronger!
This is when I believe I became a successful athlete. But the real lesson I learned when I incorporated yoga into my training regime is that cultivating this awareness is something I will be challenged to do for the rest of my life. And I love a good challenge!
To learn more about how you can fine tune your ability to strengthen your mind-body connection as an athlete, contact Samara – email@example.com – or attend one of her monthly Yoga for Runners class through the Albany Running Exchange (https://www.albanyrunningexchange.org/m1/index.php) or her therapeutic yoga classes and workshops at Heartspace Yoga and Healing Arts (https://heartspacealbany.com/) in Albany, NY.
*RYT stands for Registered Yoga Teacher and the RYT 200 is one of the designations offered by Yoga Alliance, one of yoga's leading professional agencies. The requirements for the RYT 200 are based on hours and content (e.g. RYT 200 yoga teacher training programs must offer 20 hours of anatomy training).
Samara is completing her 500 hour Registered Yoga Teacher training with Yoga MedicineTM Yoga Medicine teachers are rigorously educated in a fusion of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics with the traditional practice of yoga. Through our yoga teacher trainings, we extensively instruct our teachers to work with you and your healthcare provider to find a yoga practice that is a therapeutic adjunct to your medical care. (www.yogamedicine.com)