The running came before the yoga. And let me start off by telling you that my running journey wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I HATED running up until my sophomore year in college, even though I played soccer and basketball for many years. I viewed running as punishment. Something that happened when we messed up in practice and a way to put myself down by comparing myself to others. In college, this all changed. I began to run just for me. Not to be faster or in shape for my sport, but because I wanted to be healthier. Little did I know that it would teach me how to love myself.
The Sanskrit word, Ahimsa, do not harm, is a common expression you hear in the yoga world. That’s why some yogis turn to vegetarianism. However, an incredibly powerful meaning of this expression is to not only avoid harm to others but to be kinder and more compassionate with ourselves. Throughout my youth and teenage years I most definitely did not abide by this principle. I turned to putting myself down as motivation to be my best self; thinking the meaner I got the more I would be able to push myself. The opposite happened. I just began to hate myself more.
Once I began to run for myself, those miles began to be the time where I was able to actually gain perspective. I was able to see how awful I treated myself. I imagined saying what I was saying to myself to a friend. It was horrifying. I watched my reactions when I couldn’t run as fast or as far or when I surprised myself and ran my best. I also began to see my determination and my strength, both of which I never knew existed. I was relentless to run when it was cold, raining and/or snowing. I did not let the weather or things outside of my control deter me from my goal or from doing what I desired for myself.
My most enlightened moment came when I ran my first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon in November of 2005. The farthest distance race I had run before taking on training was 10 miles and it was quite a trip for me to cover distances and speeds my old self would have never thought was possible. Crossing that finish line was a life-changing experience. I found a love for myself that I never thought could exist. After years of self-hate, self-doubt, and negativity, my running and marathon training allowed me to connect me to my best self, for I had done something I thought I could never do. AND I DID IT. I, without a doubt, would not be where I am today without this experience.
Fast forward five years and seven marathons later. My body grew tired and injured. I was completely burned out. My running high and confidence I gained through running were weaning. I needed something else. I couldn’t rely on the miles, the quest for personal records, and race accolades as methods to love myself. I was desperate to find a way to connect with myself again. That’s when yoga came into my life.
After years of colleagues and friends encouraging me to hit my yoga mat, I finally did. I found the most wonderful teacher at a local gym and fell in love. Through the practice of yoga, I realized I was perfect exactly as I was and I didn’t need a race medal to prove that. I was able to watch, listen, and practice Ahimsa in a whole new way. Trust me, this process took YEARS and is still something I still have to practice and remind myself. Now ten years+ into practicing yoga, I have learned that I don’t just have to be on my mat to practice this. I can do it when I’m trying to put my 7-month-old daughter to sleep, when I’m trying to get a stroller, a baby and dog down 2 flights of stairs to go for a walk, when I get down on myself because I feel like a did an awful job teaching a class, when I yell at my husband, and when I feel like I’m not doing enough as a yoga teacher, mom, friend, and wife. Yoga is everywhere and is a way of being mindful; paying attention on purpose without judgment (definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go There You Are).
Running and yoga have changed my life. They have allowed me to discover and love myself in a whole new way; to see and feel my determination and strength both through movement and in stillness. To be comfortable with the uncomfortable and to get real with things that are very hard in my life. Especially now as a new mom, they have been game changers for how I practice self-care. The more I can watch, listen, and empower myself, the better I am for the most important job I will ever have, being a mom.
Being a human is hard. It’s easy to hate. It’s easy to judge ourselves. I encourage you to find something, whether that’s running and/or yoga or not, that allows you to be more compassionate with yourself. Self-compassion always wins.