Eight Steps to Running EnlightenmentUse yoga to get the mental edge
Just as strength and flexibility are intimately connected to running performance, mental focus is inextricably woven throughout the physical practice, and a focused runner is more competitive, especially in tough races. Here, we’ll look at yoga’s mental benefits and learn how to sharpen your focus through eight steps, from breath exercises to meditation to training.
These are four tenets that detail behaviors to avoid, reducing the causes of suffering both on ourselves and the people around us.
Each of the restraints has a direct application to runners’ behavior. The first restraint, not harming, seems an easy one to abide by in your running life, until you consider how often runners ignore the symptoms of overuse injuries and continue training until the injury becomes severe. Denying shin pain, for example, can lead to a tibial stress fracture.
The second restraint is being honest about what is happening in your body. In combination with not harming, being honest can save you from the injuries that plague many runners. Practicing honesty also helps you set reasonable running goals. Knowing the true state of your current fitness helps you pace yourself correctly, which is especially important in longer races. A dishonest sense of your abilities, on the other hand, can encourage you to start off too fast in a race or to deny yourself a peak performance by starting too slowly.
Practice honesty about what you feel in your body, remembering that you should avoid harming yourself and others. When you do pull back when you might have pushed, be pleased and have faith that it is the right decision.
The third restraint is not stealing and not grasping. Don’t steal from yourself by underestimating your talent, but don’t overreach and cause yourself suffering you might have avoided. In your relationship with other runners as well, you should not indulge in envy or jealousy.
Notice the internal dialogue that arises when you compare yourself to others. Does it reveal a sense of scarcity or lack? Can you instead consider your strengths?
The fourth restraint teaches you to use your energy appropriately. For runners, it directs us to consider the best use of our physical energy, to direct it to the appropriate pathways and to relax everywhere else we can. This practice directly enhances your endurance, efficiency and self-control.
As you run, try to use only the energy you need to complete what you are doing. Look for places to relax, both in your body and in your mind. Observe whether freeing up your resources in this way improves your overall running experience.
The next step toward achieving harmony between our mind and body is to practice observances that increase our sense of happiness. To that end, you should remain pure in your focus: physical cleanliness in the form of a healthy diet and a well-organized living space and life will support your disciplined work toward your goals. When our running gear is organized and our training plans are neatly laid out, we are more likely to direct our energy toward our goals in appropriate ways. You should also choose the foods, training partners and friends that support your clear pursuit of your goals instead of muddying your path.
Neatly arrange your running gear and see how that affects your attitude. Organize your training plan and your log. Having an orderly approach to running can free up energy for better effort in your workouts.
The right attitude can make or break your yoga practice session, workout, race and season. Practicing contentment will allow you to reduce the suffering and increase the happiness in your daily life. Shifting your attitude, of course, is tougher than simply telling yourself, “Buck up!” Start small by practicing contentment with positive elements of your day. The more you can cultivate a relaxed sense of happiness with the mundane elements of your life, the more you’ll be able to develop equanimity. Equanimity gives you the balance to stay centered whether your running is going well or not.
During a run or meditation, reflect on a favorite running moment. Next, contemplate a positive experience from the last week of running. Finally, choose a moment from your last workout when you found joy: watching the sunrise, hitting your split times or simply feeling good enough to head out the door.
Most runners are familiar with the discipline and zeal that push them to create change. This is the drive that pulls us through yet another interval repeat, that pushes us through the rough spots of a marathon, that keeps us going when the urge to stop is almost overwhelming.
In order to know what we can change, we need self-knowledge. This comes through continued inquiry, in running, on the mat, in our daily lives. We watch how we react when things get intense. We learn tools to increase our focus. We begin to discover what we are made of by putting ourselves into situations that challenge us, be it mile repeats, balance poses or public speaking. Along the way, we gain awareness of the elements of our nature and the world around us that we can control and how to marshal our energies to deploy them where they can create change. And when we cannot change them, the best choice is to surrender to them.
As you prepare for your next race, notice the thoughts that arise concerning the race. Are your concerns inside or outside your control? If you can control them, note how; if you cannot, choose a mantra (for example, “Oh, well”) to repeat if the issues manifest on race day
3. YOGA POSES
These should be steady and easy, reflecting strength and flexibility. The goal of the physical practice is to build the strength and flexibility for a steady seat so that the practitioner can focus without an aching back and tight hips as a distraction.
As a runner, your goal is to develop a strong spine and flexible hips so you can move with more freedom in your run, focusing on the connection running fosters between body, breath and mind.