The physicality of yoga is what initially captures most practitioner’s eyes. Photos of extreme flexibility in yoga poses populate social media and create an image of who can and should practice yoga. But, only attending to the body creates an imbalance, similar to what I was experiencing as a runner.
As someone with limiting physical abilities because of past running injuries, I find it is essential to see that the practice offers much more than physical benefits. Yoga means to unify the mind, body and soul.
Yoga means to unify the mind, body and soul.
Born and raised in Chicago, I began my running career at 14 years old. The city energy combined with my high school cross country and track teams’ support ignited an intensity within me that urged me to go, go, go. I was the runner who, if her watch read 6.93 miles and her tongue was swollen from dehydration, wouldn’t stop until the mileage read 7.01. My limbs ached with lactic acid thick as frosting yet I was addicted to the high. For me, running started off as a positive sport that slimmed my figure and my free hours alike, teaching me time management and dedication. But if I went a day without running, I’d sit with pattering feet and a mind fogged with disappointment. I bought new gym shoes almost every other month because of the mileage I put on.
I ignored my body’s signs of wear and tear, the shooting pain up my shins as I took the stairs to chemistry class.
But when my cross country team placed third at the state meet my sophomore year, I believed not even child birth could compare to the happiness I experienced in that moment.
My running career met its demise after four years, two stress fractures and one debilitating case of tendonitis later.
I meditated on gratification and belonging without realizing the lines I was crossing. I honored not my inner self, but external validation. Like my endurance, my running community faded and took my sense of self with it. It is human nature to yearn for a sense of belonging, to feel valued in one’s community — it’s survival.
It is human nature to yearn for a sense of belonging, to feel valued in one’s community — it’s survival.
I graduated high school with my final track season of bench-warming and self-pity behind me.
After moving across the country to attend the University of Colorado Boulder, I went to one of my first yoga classes at a local studio. It had been four months since my last attempt to race. I came to my mat with the sole intent of moving my body in a new way that wouldn’t strain my injuries. I had no idea of the true healing power I would find, but it took time. It really had very little to do with the physical postures themselves and much more with igniting the mind, body and soul as one.
Boulder is a hub for the yoga scene growing rapidly throughout the country. The studio I stumbled upon heated its yoga room like a sauna. I spent more minutes on push-ups than the 30-second Savasana, or resting pose, at the conclusion of class.
Exercise-based yoga classes make for an incredible workout and reach a wide audience of practitioners. It was exciting to feel that fire within myself again, but I soon discovered my healing would be more than mere rest from impact on my joints, but a reintegration of my mind and body.
I soon discovered my healing would be more than mere rest from impact on my joints, but a reintegration of my mind and body.
Tracing forward to my second semester of college, a friend from school invited me to a yoga space in a normal-temperature room with props and murals of yoga Gods on the wall.
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, I was far from the city energy that propelled my need to constantly be on the move. The yoga teacher leading the class I was taking cued her students to close their eyes during Warrior II, the classic pose that pops up on most yoga Google searches.
There were no mirrors available to analyze the way my body fit into the pose. Instead, we were instructed to tune inside to see how the pose interacted with our body. It took a few breaths of resistance to close my eyes, but the vulnerability I channeled with surrender released tension from creases in my body I didn’t know existed.
The vulnerability I channeled with surrender released tension from creases in my body I didn’t know existed.
Yoga deities represent divine power already existing within ourselves. Being in their presence in that room guided me to see my sense of belonging and community always existed within myself — all I had to do was look inside.
Yoga as a business (think cash and body-centric) definitely exists as the fitness world engages with the ancient practice. According to “The Science of Yoga” by William J. Broad, many physical aspects of the practice we think of as traditional yoga today (i.e, Sun Salutations) are simply modern inventions. Like running, it is possible to overdo the competitive edge in the yoga scene, too.
But, with the many forms of yoga on the market today, practicing whichever style that helps you safely delve inside best is valid. It is completely possible to flow at any pace as long as one is mindful and aware of their body. Yoga’s roots are about sustainability and balance within the self.
It would’ve taken a moment of surrender to truly listen to myself and see that 6.87 miles was enough to stop and sip some water.