A couple months back I wrote about my overstimulated mind and that I was on a mission to bring balance and a stronger presence to my running and everyday life. I thought I could go to yoga or incorporate meditation and that should do the trick. Guess what…it wasn’t that easy. Just like any new life change, you can’t “hack it” you must put in the work to see the results.
I live in LA where there are more yoga studios than Starbucks. When I first moved here from Chicago, I kind of fought embracing yoga, because I didn’t understand the appeal. Yes, all the cool kids here do it, but to be brutally honest, I never liked yoga. One day, when attempting a class that I was actually enjoying, I came to the realization of why I didn’t like yoga. I wasn’t good at it and I really didn’t understand it.
My body isn’t very nimble or flexible and it can be intimating attending a class with experienced yogis who flow through poses like an acrobat. I get lost when I am in a class where there is chanting or new age music.
However, I started to take notice of runners that I admired and one common thread I found, is that they all had incorporated some sort of yoga and/or meditation practice into their life. One of these runners is my friend Lauren, who put together my current trail running training plan. She is a yoga professional and she actually included yoga sessions into my weekly workouts. I finally was convinced I needed to bite the bullet and give this yoga thing a shot.
And so my journey began to embrace the suck of something I knew I didn’t really enjoy.
For the first few weeks I tried a few community yoga classes. One was very challenging. (I swear I lost my breath just trying to get through the poses so quickly) Another was a bit to slow and wasn’t holding my attention. Then there was the one with a group of flexible experienced yogis and I’ll be honest, I was too intimated by their Instagram worthy poses to get into my own rhythm.
Then I heard this podcast from Running on OM. I had been lucky enough to talk to Julia a few days before, inquiring about what she thinks is a good way to begin a yoga practice that I could utilize in my running training plan. She advised me to listen to this episode because her friend Rebecca Pacheco, could explain it better than anyone. And boy was she right…hearing Rebecca and reading her book was a complete game changer.
Rebecca wrote a book called Do Your OM Thing, and seriously everyone should read this. I have read it twice, and highlighted practically every chapter. It is just that good. In the book Rebecca breaks down yoga in a way I have never seen written before. She explains everything from the poses, the reasons for the practices, to mediation and the tools to embody the practices in your everyday life; all in a way a complete beginner or 20-year yoga vet will understand. Rebecca is also a pretty respectable runner and athlete, with a realistic view on how to incorporate yoga to make you a stronger athlete. Her explanations of “coming to the mat” use a voice and a tone that I resonate with. Once I wrapped my brain around this new knowledge, I knew I could head to a yoga session with a difference perspective.
Over the course of the next 6 weeks I visited Yoga studios around the west side of LA. (a lot of the studios will give you a 2-week trial session for a great price). I tried hot yoga, which I didn’t really love. (warm yoga=awesome, hot yoga=ugh) I tried the sparkly new studio that sells pressed juice and has post workout cool towels, and it was very fun but the classes were packed liked sardines. There was this small studio in my neighborhood where the average teacher had over 10 years’ experience so their teaching practice was less bells and whistles and a little more focus on form and lessons in a meditative practice. (spoiler alert, this was my favorite) I attended flow classes, beginner classes and restorative session.
The one thing I didn’t expect; they all provide a different purpose to developing a yoga practice. The flow class was a great workout (depending on the class and the instructor), the beginner classes help me feel less intimated by the poses, and the restorative, hurt so good but provided a strong lesson in mental toughness that I was searching for.
I tried a few on-line options and found some great ones. Lauren recommended Lululemon, which are free YouTube videos taught by some of their high level ambassadors. There was a good variety including ones which were a bit shorter and more convenient than going to a 1 hour session. I also found a couple great virtual options that offer monthly subscriptions such as Jasyoa and Yoga Collective
**One other shout out to all the unique classes that are offered in LA, such as rooftop moonlight yoga, glow in the dark yoga, and year round SUP yoga.
You can't do yoga in LA without dabbling into mediation. The Instagram pics don’t tell you this but meditation is hard, really hard. Sitting quietly and not getting carried away with random thoughts is a big challenge, especially when you think you might miss an email or a think of another thing to add to your to-do list. I quickly realized I couldn’t do this by myself, so I utilized an app called Headspace. Headspace offers 10 minute sessions of guided mediation. It doesn’t utilize mantras, but more awareness of thoughts and feelings. After a couple of weeks, I have incorporated this into my morning ritual about 2-3 times of week. It doesn’t take much time and I have found it gets me grounded for a good day. One tip: if you have the opportunity to mediate outside I found it works much better. It doesn’t get much better than deep breaths of fresh air while sitting on the beach.
So, where do I stand today? I have a few pros and cons to yoga.
Here are the pros:
Here are the cons:
Overall this has been a very enlightening exploration. I wouldn’t describe myself today as a yogi, but I do feel it is a practice I can and want to grow into. I have seen the benefits of this both physically and mentally. Having looser hips and stronger abs are physical benefits that will help my running and prevent injury. By learning a few fundamentals such as breathing through a pose, or settling back into a mediation after acknowledge a thought or emotion, I can push a little bit harder during a hard cycle of a trail run. I am recognizing when I am not as present as I should be during a conversation with a friend, and I am working toward not checking my social media first thing in the morning (boy that’s a tough one). The best part of this though, is that I am only touching the surface. There are so many layers to yoga and the benefits it provides I will continue to learn and grow for quite a long time.
The most important thing I have gained from this, is the understanding that a yoga practice isn’t only about the time on the mat. This is only where it begins. The enlightenment you receive in developing a practice can help guide you through all areas of life. I experience this with endurance running as well. Logging miles and hours on a trail can help find clarity, understanding and even a stronger heart. Yoga is so similar, I don’t know why I fought it for so long.
If you haven’t tried yoga and/or mediation do it. If you don’t like the class, don’t give up, find another one. If you want to be empowered by a beautiful soul, read this book.