Marathoner, Anjana Mohan talks about how running should become an essential part of life and not just something based on numbers.
The finish line is in sight. You make that final push. Over the timing mat, your body slows and your brain catches up with the emotions of your effort. In the midst of other runners, medals, crowd, sweat, high fives, the noise begins to clarify into individual voices…
“Awesome, what was your timing?”
“Got my Personal Best!”
“What was your target?”
“Negative or positive splits?”
“What’s your next goal?”
We see running as a competitive sport. Against others or ourselves, we use competition to improve and measure with numbers, timings, splits and more. We validate our running with metrics – distance, pace, and personal records. Rarely do we give credence to qualitative aspects of our runs. Even when we do, we use it as auxiliary data to analyze our performance. We articulate time spent running as “training” for some specific goal. The activity we do – is an effort towards a goal – that is ultimately intended to – improve our activity. Why do we run? = To run better! This strange recursive addiction is healthy for our bodies and constructive for the mind but falls short of evolving us as profoundly as possible.
There are many benefits to such a relentless focus on improvement. It can be supremely satisfying, empowering and motivating to experience a slow mastery over something. Comprehending our progress can inspire us to adopt a growth mindset with other aspects of our lives. The fitness habits we create manifests our victories over our struggles. Our successes can teach us lessons about perseverance and patience. Improving and recognizing our progress is intoxicating. It can increase our confidence and inspire others. However, it tends to need the limiting gears of competition and comparison (even if to oneself) and essentially feeds the ego.
Competition and comparisons are dark tools with downsides. Linear in their measures of success, they don’t always accommodate the many facets of our daily life or changing circumstances. They rely heavily on the past and future without an adequate appreciation of the present. Perhaps it is befitting that performance takes no excuses and primarily focuses on outcomes. Despite the benefits of comparison, competition and performance, and however high we fly on the wings of these powerful tools, running has still more to offer us. I believe that many of us under-utilize the sport.
To understand this better, imagine our yoga practice the same way we view running:
“How many ml did you sweat?”
“Ten breaths of Kakasana? High five!!”
“Got to your target weight?”
“Did you get your personal record in Dandasana?”
“Were you calmer than last year?”
“How many minutes could you remain thoughtless?”
“What’s your next goal?”
Measuring yoga through performance or improvement is absurd because yogic progress is private, internal and balance oriented – not competitive or comparative. As contrary as it may seem to the essence of yoga itself, we are so steeped in a culture of competitiveness that we may well have seen or engaged in this sort of practice. Social media encourages us to reduce even the comprehensive and integrative practice of yoga into a visual display of flexibility or strength. While the same regressive madness is possible in yoga, its fundamental tenets can be a template to re-calibrate our running for comprehensive personal harmony and evolution.
Yoga holds self-evident the integrated nature of our breathing, rest, emotional and mental state, nutrition, body, and balance. We can invoke our awareness of each of these interconnected conditions to deepen the consciousness of our running practice. Yoga also recognizes that we are each unique, not just in body, but the condition in which we arrive for each practice. This too we should accommodate in our running. Rather than measuring each run by statistics, we may review their quality and their contribution to our overall well-being. We may increase awareness of how our running evolves with our life circumstances. We can understand running as equal allies of our breath, rest, emotions and thoughts, nutrition and other body processes.
As you “train” for your next goal, try these 10 ideas to bring the transformational power of yoga into each “practice”:
- Begin your effort by setting an intention. Some may call this a meditation or prayer before you begin. Create the intention to be fully present and engaged with the effort you are about to invest in
- Recognize and respect the uniqueness of your body and circumstances.
- Remind yourself to remain consciously present in mind and body. Align your breath, thoughts, body, pride, and ego with your effort.
- Invoke positive narratives of rejuvenation, growth, ease and vibrant alertness during your effort (rather than the typical trope of intentionally creating micro muscle injuries to be repaired with post-run proteins)
- Strive to achieve a balance between all facets of yourself and life circumstance as you run.
- Increase your sense of connection, empathy, and oneness with other runners or even include all who are in your path.
- Observe any discomfort you may feel dispassionately. Shift your focus to dedicate yourself to your effort without concern for the fruits of your labour.
- Nourish yourself healthfully and naturally. Pay attention to the impact of what you are consuming, not just on your running, but on your overall life and values.
- Allow these disciplines to become a part of all facets of your life, far beyond running.
- Within the paradigm of metrics and goals, you can use your running app to capture your sense of well-being. This will remind you to stay aware of each run’s contribution to your overall sense of harmony and joy.
When we run as an integrative life practice, running can become a medium of profound self-transformation. It can create sustainable chemistry of optimism, health, spiritual contentment and harmony. Rather than setting goals for running, look within for the ultimate goals for your life, then ask how running can support that.