I have been trying to build up my mileage lately to train for an upcoming marathon with mixed results. My marathon training plan calls for me to run six days per week. At least three or four of those days are “quality” days with either speedwork on the track, a tempo run, a race pace run or a long run. Yeesh!
I eventually (after a hip injury) had to admit that I don’t recover as fast as I used to, and cut back on the volume and intensity of my training. Let’s be honest – I am just trying to finish the race with a minimum of pain. I am actually not a great long distance runner. The shorter the race, the better my chances are to do well in my age group. Usually, in a marathon, finishing is winning for me.
In order to alleviate the pain in my hip, I returned to my old “frenemy” yoga. I call yoga a frenemy because when I do yoga, I tend to obsess about getting my yoga fix at the expense of running. Once, I sabotaged my training for a half marathon for which I paid a large registration fee and traveled seven hours to do, because of a 40-day yoga challenge.
I began doing yoga about 15 years ago when I was on a one-semester sabbatical from my teaching job. I was taking graduate-level courses, beginning my thesis, and missing my teaching friends and students. My happiness meter was reading pretty low, and I considered going to therapy. I actually made an appointment with a therapist, went to her office, and waited for her to call me in to begin our first appointment. And waited. And waited. I eventually said something to the receptionist, who called the therapist. She had forgotten my appointment!
I took this as a sign and started doing yoga rather than therapy. (Disclaimer: I know that therapy has helped many people, and yoga is not a substitute for therapy. It just worked for me.) The type of yoga that I did was Bikram (hot) yoga, and I loved it. I loved to sweat, I loved to contort my body into the difficult poses, I loved the cold, smooth stone the instructor placed on our foreheads during the savasana (rest period) at the end of each class, but maybe most of all, I loved the quotes the instructors read to us while we struggled to hold impossible poses.
I wish now I had written some of them down, or at least asked the name of the books that the quotes were from, but I remember they were very inspirational. One of them in particular, a short, pithy one, stays with me: “Relax into the pose.”
This was usually said during pigeon (hip-opening) pose, my favorite yoga pose of all. This is the pose that makes me “hurt so good” in the immortal words of John Mellencamp. Our initial reaction to pain is to stiffen, to resist, but when we relax, oh, when we relax.
As soon as I heard the words “relax into the pose“, pigeon pose went from being the most dreaded part of the practice to the part I looked forward to the most. It was like those four words taught me how to achieve the pose. My practice became deeper, stronger, more beneficial. I could just feel those hip muscles relaxing, stretching.
Dread is a human emotion that is detrimental to the dreader most of the time. I am sure there is an evolutionary reason we humans feel dread. Anticipating something dreadful (like an attack by a saber-toothed tiger) kept our ancestors alive at least long enough to procreate.
Now we dread the mundane, such as a trip to the dentist or the DMV. (Does anyone else have dentist issues?) Dread in this type of instance serves no beneficial purpose and releases cortisol, the stress hormone, which wreaks havoc on our bodies over an extended period of time.
I sometimes feel as though I need to “relax into the pose” in other areas of my life.
How often have I wasted time with worry or dread, only to have the event that I worried about actually be enjoyable, or at least tolerable? Experiences that have turned out to be beneficial, that make me grow or bring out the best in me are often met with initial resistance. I tend to hold on to the illusion of control with a death grip.
It makes me wonder, what could I accomplish if I would just “relax into the pose” more often? What adventures am I missing by resisting? What opportunities slip through my clenched fingers? Relaxing takes a certain amount of confidence and trust. It must be learned, because it does not come easily, but the benefits are substantial.
I need to learn to assess the differences between situations that I can and can’t control. If I can control the situation, the best attitude is to attack the problem with a positive, “I can get it done!” attitude. If I have no control over the situation, the best response is to be assured I can handle the outcome. Either way anticipating the situation with apprehension is not a productive strategy.
There is some good advice about worry in the sixth chapter of Matthew in the Bible: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” and later in the same chapter, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew is telling us that life is meant to be joyful. Happiness is part of being human. Don’t bring undue stress into your life. As Bobby McFerrin says, “Don’t worry, be happy“.
I don’t do Bikram yoga anymore. The brand of yoga I practice today is a relaxing, stretching routine, much less of a workout than Bikram. My practice is limited to a maximum of two or three days per week, and I do it at home, rather than driving to take a class. I still treat myself to savasana at the end of each session, although I don’t chill a stone to put on my forehead. I am trying to take my instructor’s sage advice, offered so many years ago, into my heart. “Relax into the pose.”
I am linking up with Clean East Fast Feets for her Week in Review, Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun, blovedboston for Weekending, Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Char at Trekking Thru, Rich Faith Rising for Unite, Shelbee on the Edge for Spread the Kindness, Abounding Grace for her Gracefull Tuesday, Nicole and Annmarie for Wild Workout Wednesday, Running on Happy, Crazy Running Girl, and Coach Debbie Runs for Coaches’ Corner, Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart, Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday, Sharing a Journey for Wellness Wednesday, and Shank You Very Much for Dream Team.