This weekend I was asked how my half-marathon training was going and I realised that although I'm still clocking up the miles on a weekly basis with evening jogs and early morning beach walks, a lot of my "training" has actually shifted to my yoga mat.
It has made me realise that there are a lot of commonalities between the art of running and what I practice in yoga. For instance, both require a focus on breathing and a connection with my physical body. In both I have to listen to my body in order to pace myself and understand my movements. In both disciplines I had to build my strength from the ground up.
Whenever I'm running, just as with yoga, I notice that my mind is often fully attuned to my breath. I try to find that sweet-spot that allows me to keep my pace whilst maintaining a particular breathing pattern. If I overly-exert myself my pace will quickly slow down and become more laboured. If I keep my breath and my pace in harmony I find I am able to continue at a steady pace for much longer and with significantly more stamina.
In yoga I have learned how to improve my flexibility through breath work. I send my breath to those parts of my body that feel tight. I use my breath to release the tension in my muscles. In running the same principles can be applied with notable benefits. When I'm out on the road in the evening, I feel that I run with more fluidity, more clarity.
When I began yoga, I lacked confidence and was fearful. Never mind a headstand, I couldn't even balance on one leg! But through perseverance and training I learned that my body could become more flexible and that I could become stronger and more balanced. In running I am beginning to experience those same changes not only physically, but also mentally. I am more confident and I'm not afraid.
Incorporating visualisation work with a focus on running has also worked as a powerful tool in my meditation practice. I often picture myself before, during and after the event. I see myself at the beginning fresh and excited, full of energy amidst the atmosphere of anticipation. Muscles at the ready, limbs stretched, ready to go.
I always manage to run those first few miles at a cracking pace. I then picture myself at the midway point, I'm getting tired but I focus on maintaining my pace through the training method of fartlek. I'll never forget my joy at discovering this word! Fartlek actually means "speed play" in Swedish and is a training form that combines periods of fast running with periods of running at a slower pace. Your pace of course depends upon your own personal ability. Towards the end when my body is struggling, I picture myself determined and strong, pushing through to the finish. Those visualisations have helped me get through every race.
In many ways running is also a time when I find a Zen-like state of peace. I leave behind all my stresses and I'm just in the moment. The sound of my breath, my feet pounding the road, my body sweating, my heart beating....... I'm alive and everything else fades away. Once I've finished running, I experience a real sense of serenity and calmness, which is very similar to what I feel after meditating.
So in response to the question about my half-marathon training, I guess I'm doing OK, I guess I'm running like a yogi!