I often feel that so much attention is paid to finding “balance” in life, but finding a balance in fitness is rarely discussed.
I love to run. At present, it is my primary source of fitness.
Running is vigorous, energizing and physically demanding. Whether the focus is on speed or endurance, it is ever-challenging.
To balance my love for running, I also practice yoga. While yoga can also present a tremendous physical challenge, it is a much more passive activity than running.
During my travels throughout China in 2011, El Profesor and I learned a great deal about Yin and Yang. Yin characterizes the negative or the passive aspects of nature, whereas Yang characterizes the positive or the active. The concept of Yin and Yang seems to exist in every aspect of Chinese life.
“Yin and yang are opposite in nature, but they are part of nature, they rely on each other, and they can’t exist without each other. The balance of yin and yang is important.” (source)
If running is my fitness Yang then yoga is my Yin.
Yoga practice offers a balance to running. Whereas the focus of running is relentless forward motion, in yoga the focus is about finding stillness.
When I run, my intention is to hit a particular pace or distance. My focus is on what my body can do physically. I can often run myself to a state of catharsis, but that is never my focus or my goal when I lace up my sneakers. When I hit the mat, it is the opposite — the balance.
When I practice yoga while training for a race, I stretch better and more deeply. I loosen the muscles tightened by running and strengthen even the muscles that are not challenged by running. Yoga also helps me focus inward. When I set an intention for my yoga practice, it is usually something personal — let go of anger or frustration from the day, or relax to a state of restfulness.
I am a better yoga practitioner because I run. My body knows that it needs the stretching, the lengthening, the flexibility.
On Sunday afternoon, I took a Yin Yoga class. I usually take Vinyasa or “Flow” classes and it had been a while since I took a class like this. In a Yin Yoga class, postures begin seated or laying down and are typically held for three to five minutes. In yoga-speak, this gives your body time to “melt” in to the pose. You stretch more deeply and can more freely disconnect from your body. Remaining in a passive posture while the gentle voice of an instructor guides you leaves your mind to run free.
I felt so relaxed.
My body had stretched, lengthened, found flexibility and balance.
The next morning I went out and ran an 8.25 mile training run with five miles at half marathon goal pace. The run was challenging and energetic and I loved every minute that I pushed myself harder and harder to hit paces and run long. My Yin Yoga practice the night before had prepared me well.
I am a better runner because I practice yoga.