26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
MILE 5- Flexibility and Strength–On Finding my own Balance
It might seem strange to some that I would dedicate miles 5 & 6 to yoga postures. But the truth is, I have learned so much from each posture that I practice that it was difficult to narrow down which lessons I’d pull from most often in my training and in the race. One of these choices though was obvious. Standing bow has always been my favorite posture for two reasons: beauty and growth–neither of these things have ceased since I began practicing almost nine years ago.
Standing bow is all about balance. The beauty in standing bow comes in your ability to hold it. There is actually a line in the Bikram dialogue that says “The harder you kick, you can balance forever.” They say this because your kick up balances the weight of your body down; you need these two opposing forces to stay in it. Many of us think of balance as 50/50, equal parts; I thought of it this way for years. After overextending my hamstrings over and over again from relying solely on my flexibility for this posture, I realized that I needed to engage my strength as well. I set forth with the standard 50/50 mindset, after all even the dialogue seemed to point to needing equal parts of each component. My pain persisted.
It took me about six years to understand that my correct ratio of strength to flexibility in standing bow is about 80/20. More than anything, I have to concentrate on pulling up on my quad and using my strength to kick–the strength of my kick lifts my whole body up. I need determination, concentration, and then…I need patience. Just because I have more flexibility, it doesn’t mean I should use it. If I’m patient and I wait, my body slowly opens up in a way that doesn’t cause me pain or injury. This is my lesson. This is what I will take to mile 5. The Universe gives us all these different gifts in varying quantities. I think part of the journey is figuring out our own balance–when and with what force to employ each gift. I expect I’ll need some restraint at a time in the race when my legs start to recognize that they’ve finally arrived at the Big Kahuna; something tells me this is when they’ll know that they’ve finally reached the day they’ve been training for. When the moment comes, I think my mind will give them and all my emotions a soft Shhhh. “Easy,” it’ll say. “Patience and focus now while I’m running things…trust me, you’ll need ALL that heart for later…save it.”
MILE 6- Standing head to knee-On finding my Own pace
Yoga and running have a lot of things in common. A big sign of growth and self realization in both of them is the moment you realize you are legit–that even if you can’t straighten your leg completely over your head, or run a 7 minute mile, you are no less a practitioner than the bendy speed demon to your right.
Standing head to knee is a particularly difficult pose. People can work at it for years and if they’re not paying attention to tiny intricacies, they might feel like they’ve never made any progress. There are so many stages of this pose. If you peek into a class, you’ll see a great deal of variance amongst students. You’ll notice lots of people trying to kick their leg out while they stand on a shaky bent knee. Instead of anxiously pushing themselves into the next stage of the pose, they might actually be better served by hanging back and waiting to kick out until they have a strong, locked out leg–a solid foundation from which they can move forward. On the other side, you’ll see students frozen–standing there like perfect one-legged statues. Although they’ve mastered the first part of the posture, something inside makes them hesitant to kick out–to move forward. Sometimes they’re protecting themselves, they have some limitation due to strain of injury. Other times you see the ones who have to be encouraged by the teacher to try and kick out. It seems as if they would rather stay in the spot they are confident in, than thrust themselves into the unknown.
Finding my own pace has been a constant theme in my running, in my yoga practice, and in my life. I remember when I first got sober I was incredibly anxious to work the steps because I understood very quickly that that was where the change was going to come from–that was what was actually going to make me better. Jumping into the steps right away worked well for me, and for years, I couldn’t understand why anyone else would go at it any other way. Now that I’ve been sober for longer, I realize that everyone is different, and recovery moves at all different speeds–none “better” than the other. Finding what’s right for me as an individual has been a journey of finding and really knowing myself. Respecting the varied paces of others has been a great teacher of patience, and my admiration for diversity continues to grow every day.
I stood on a solid locked out leg in standing head to knee for years. I was one of those students who had to be coaxed out of their shell. Now I’ve got my leg kicked out but my flexibility comes and goes and allows and limits whether I can kick even more forward and bend my elbows down. It changes from day to day, but I’m right there with it–I can see the little wins and I know that I am progressing.
I hope at mile 6 I start to find my own pace–the one that combines what I trained for and who I am on that day. I don’t want to fall into the comparison trap, and try to keep up with anyone else around me. But I also don’t want to let fear hold me back, I want to believe in my training and realize the strength that I own in each moment. Each foot forward is progress–I’m on my way…my way.
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