Eight Steps to Running Enlightenment - Page 2
Your breath and the life force it embodies is prana. I think of pranayama as using the correct breath for the task at hand.
Depending on your goals, that breath could look very different. If you’re running at an easy pace, a different breath will be in order, one that’s free, organic and allows you to carry on a conversation with your training partners. If you’re running a tempo pace, you’ll need a different, more rhythmic breath, and if you’re running a quarter-mile race, the right breath to feed that effort will be different still.
Choose a moment in your day to notice how your breath is moving. Is it appropriate for what you are doing?
Ask yourself this question through the day: in traffic, during warm-up, in hard intervals, at dinner, at rest. See where you can relax more.
5. BEING AWARE
The skill of listening to your body and drowning out external distractions is especially valuable for pacing your run, and thus for endurance. A useful tool for engaging is to notice the data coming in through your senses, then to soften your awareness. For example, notice the sights around you and then soften your awareness of them, using only as much as you need to maintain what you’re doing. If you’re running, for example, you’ll need to watch your step. Do the same with the sense of hearing, listening for sounds, then listening to sounds closer and closer to your body. Tune out the crowd around you in a race; tune in to the sound of your footfalls. Tune in to your own breath.
As you learn to pay attention to the sensations of intensity brought by your running and asana and meditation practices, you’ll be able to explore them and to watch them shift. Comfort with the discomfort of intensity is key to success in running, in yoga and in life.
Over the course of your day and your workout, take time out to consider what is going on inside. Tune out sights and sounds and tune in to the internal experience. What is happening within this moment?
Once you’ve learned to draw your attention away from the outside world and into interior space, you’ll be able to focus all your awareness on one thing. That thing could be a visual point, the focus called a gazing point. You’ll find this useful in running when you look at a competitor just in front of you, at the space in front of your feet, at the horizon or at the finish-line banner.
Verbally, a mantra will help you by providing you with a singular item on which to focus. This mantra could be as short as a syllable or as long as a phrase or chain of words. As you internally repeat the mantra, the meaning of the words grows less important and yields to the state of single focus created through the repetition.
Choose a word on this page and give it your sole focus for the next 10 breaths. Next time you are in line at the grocery store, choose an item and give it your full attention for 10 breaths. On each run, choose a mantra to focus on for 10 or more breaths at a time.
Once you have developed the capacity to concentrate on one thing, you’ll be able to hold your consciousness on many things at once. This meditative state is called flow. When a skilled practitioner is working at a difficult task, he can slip into the sense of flow, where perception of time and space shifts and performance of the task reaches a level of ease disproportionate to its challenge.
You probably know this state as a runner. It’s what keeps us involved in the sport year to year: those runs and races where everything clicks and even stretch goal paces are manageable or, better yet, easy to achieve. Regular practice of the preceding limbs of yoga will help you reach this state: Avoid actions that cause suffering, commit to actions that increase happiness, be stable and easy in your physical pursuits, use the right breath for the moment, keep your attention on the internal experience and practice singular focus. When you’re good at these, you’ll be able to find the flow state more and more often
Achieving flow is less about making it happen and more about creating the situation where it can arise. When you find yourself in the flow state, don’t over think things. Appreciate the moment without attachment—the more you cling to the experience, the more fleeting it becomes.
The goal of the practices of the first seven steps is blissful connection. When we are in this state, we rest in our true nature, and the perceived barriers that separate us from each other and from the universal energy that permeates everything fall away. If you’re lucky, you’ve had tastes of this bliss in your running. Bliss can be easier to come by during periods of physical exertion like trail running, especially in picturesque natural settings with sympathetic training partners or new friends. The more we can access it in controlled settings, the more we can remember and find it again under duress in less glorious circumstances such as a long race.
Just as joining your mental and physical selfs is the ultimate goal of yoga, it is also the goal of running: to be able to stay present and witness the inherent beauty in our interconnectedness, to learn the truth about who and what we are. Even with, or especially because of, the demands we put on our physical bodies, we recognize there is something more to us than mere flesh and bones.
Excerpted with permission of VeloPress from The Runner’s Guide to Yoga, by Sage Rountree. For more information, please visit velopress.com/yoga.