The Edge: What yoga is teaching me about running

When the nerve pain in my shoulder finally inspired me towards physical therapy this past spring, it was natural for me to feel resentful.  1) it is inconvenient to get to PT twice a week; 2) it is frustrating to be forced to change one’s usual routine.  I did a lot of walking, a little more yoga, and adhered religiously to my PT exercises.  By June, I was feeling better and started to increase my running, and by July, I was discharged from PT, back to running 4 days a week, and ready for my goal half marathon in October.   I studiously ignored the twinge in my left heel and plugged away at my training plan, driven by my love of solitary, cool, early-morning runs and the anxiety of an impending race date.  Even in late July when I finally got myself to a podiatrist, I took his words of “no restrictions” to heart and continued my routine, adding speed intervals for the first time ever and dedicating myself to hills once a week.

I was exactly back where I’d been 4 months earlier, and it felt great!

Until it didn’t.

Chair-Pose

In yoga we learn about the concept of “the Edge.”  It’s the place where you push yourself almost to your limit, and learn to live there comfortably.  In more literal terms, it can mean sinking into a deeper chair pose and using your breath to tolerate it and not just praying for it to be over and straightening your legs to make it easier.  Getting to my Edge is something I’m still learning, and it takes practice and a lot of listening to my body.  The Edge is a movable thing, and every day it’s my job to rediscover or redefine it.  The Edge has nothing to do with what the person next to me is doing, or what I did yesterday.  It’s about now, and reaching but not forcing.  As one of my favorite yoga instructors says often, “if it feels like something is going to break, it probably is, so feel free to back out if you need to.”

And you know what?  If I need to, I do.  Yoga has taught me to strive, but not strain, and to be kind to my body when it needs me to be.

It would have been nice if several months ago I could have applied this principle to running!  It is so easy for runners to ignore our bodies and instead focus on all the numeric data we have.  I was so pleased, in July, to be back where I was, pace- and mileage-wise, in March.  Never mind that in the middle I’d endured a 20-mile race, significant pain, physical therapy, rest, extensive travel, and illness.  My Garmin said I was where I wanted to be!  And I was doing it in warmer temperatures!  Sprints!  Hills!  I was winning!

And holy shit, my leg and foot were killing me.   But I threw on compression socks, and kept going.  In September I got to the point where it took me 5 days to recover from the pain of a 9-mile run.  Mercifully, before the deadline I was able to defer my entry to next year’s half marathon.  I trudged on, my runs becoming shorter and slower, and my ice-and-stretch time growing longer.  I was so far over the Edge, physically and mentally, that I wasn’t sure how to get back!

With the help of a physical therapist, an amazing treatment known as Graston, a night splint, new insoles, self-massage and more stretches than I can count, I am inching my way there.  Some days, my Edge is a 30-minute walk, yoga and ice packs.  Saturday, my Edge was a 5-mile trail run that left me pleasantly sore but not debilitated.   In yoga class on Sunday, I gave myself the goal of tuning into my body.  Yeah, there was that twinge in my heel when I had to balance, but it wasn’t too bad.  Oof, I felt those hills in my quads as I lunged forward, but I managed it.  I found a comfortable Edge that for some reason is easier to locate in a yoga studio than on the sidewalk.  As I’m working on recovering, I feel like the streets around my house have too much data and too much room for comparison, so I’m working on mixing it up, hitting the woods when I can and learning to stay where I am supposed to be.  At the Edge, not over it.

Links, until further notice.

As I predicted, I’m not doing a lot of blogging this fall.  But there are people out there in the world who are still visiting my blog, and while I go through this period of “do I have enough time to continue writing this thing?” I thought I’d make a simple page with links to some of my more popular posts.  While there will always be people who find my blog by way of searches for “my cat ate my yoga mat” and “air in my pancreas,” the most popular topics that bring people here seem to be those related to the Omnipod and Heart Rate Training.  So, here are my big fancy links to those:

Omnipod/Insulin Pumps

I got my first insulin pump ever, the Omnipod, in June 2012.  Overall: I love it, and have never considered another device so I can’t really compare. But… it has not been without a steep learning curve and some ups and downs.  Here’s a little sample of my experience:

Heart Rate Training

In Summer of 2014 I began my experiment with Heart Rate Training to see what all the fuss was about.  Bottom line: several months later, I am still using heart rate zones on my runs several days a week. 

And, if you’ve been coming for news on my cats, here’s the amazing GIF of Butch:

butchie boxing

(who, by the way, has his own Fan Page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/butchieman)

Technical problems.

I’m not sure why, but someone has been trying very, very hard to get my attention these past few days.  To the tune of over 60 comments in under 72 hours.  Here are some of the points my mysterious friend is making over and over (and over and over) again:

  1. I am a skilled blogger (not a bad idea, starting with a compliment.  Though it loses its effectiveness with repetition).
  2. He or she would really like to know about my web hosting service (um, good question, friend)
  3. Skyscrapers are a great form of advertising (does “skyscraper” have a secondary meaning that I don’t know?)
  4. He or she has some great ideas about me increasing my “foot traffic.”
  5. Also – some concerns about “unhealthy NFL jersey obsession,” which is ALMOST intriguing enough for me to click on…
  6. And whoever this is has such a passion for a certain brand of designer underwear that they were committed enough to leave more than 100 links to the thing.

So yes, somehow my comments are being spammed on the regular.  Thank goodness for comment moderation, since these days I am logging on to WordPress so infrequently that I’m sure I’d miss all of this stuff and anyone who reads here would be too busy shopping that designer brand of underwear to notice.  Me, I’m too preoccupied with NFL jerseys to give this much more thought.

I spent Sunday baking…

…and while there will hopefully certainly be greater accomplishments in my life, this (almost) perfectly round, homemade focaccia bread was perhaps the best thing I did all last week:

focaccia

All breads are full of carbs, but focaccia also happens to be pretty full of air.   A generous 1/6 of this baby will only “cost” you about 30 grams of carbohydrate, which is insulin well spent! (and a pretty delicious sandwich)

Yoga, yoga, and more yoga.

So, I’ve made two pretty significant decisions in the last few weeks:

1) My very minor, “no restrictions on activity”-type case of plantar fasciitis did not respond well to 8- and 9-mile runs.  I’d actually be okay while running, but it was taking several days of concentrated stretching, rest, and wearing compression socks to recover from these longer runs… so, I made the awful mature decision to defer my registration for the Wineglass Half Marathon to 2015.  Which means I am officially training for nothing.

2) I finally used up all 10 visits to a local yoga studio that I’d purchased on Groupon, and decided to just go for it and buy a membership.

The first decision was difficult – I have wanted back in this race for two years and was also very excited about a weekend getaway… but I knew my left foot did not want me to do it.  Plus, being in pain is not fun.  The second decision was so easy!  First, the price could not be beat, and second, I have basically fallen in love, HARD, with doing yoga at a studio.

Yoga at the gym and yoga in a studio provide identical physical benefits.  I can feel my flexibility and mobility improving while I’m also getting some strength work.  Both also exercise a person’s mental focus.  But what I’ve learned, now that I’m almost 20 classes in at the studio, is that there are so many different types of yoga, and so many other amazing benefits.  The classes that I attend at the gym and work are Vinyasa flow classes, the one with more focus on flow (which translates as “heat” or “sweat”), the other focusing a little more on power/strength (um, that would be “burning muscles”).  But there are so many other kinds!

Have you ever tried true Hatha yoga?  It’s wonderfully stretchy, but also relaxing beyond belief.  When I leave my favorite Hatha class, I feel like I’ve taken a long bath.  My mind is calm, my body is looser, and I immediately want to do it again.  “Restorative” is actually not a synonym for “easy.”  It’s the way you really feel when you’re done.

Ashtanga yoga is another favorite.  This one is more intense, more “heat-building,” and I love the way my teacher gets creative while leading us through a similar sequence of poses each class.  It is always, always challenging, but I also like never knowing what to expect.

Then, this week, I had my first experience with Yin yoga.  Which, for me, is by far the most difficult class ever!  Yin yoga focuses on the connective tissues in our bodies rather than the muscles, and every pose is held for 1-5 minutes (at least in the class I attended; I think sometimes even longer!) for “deeper release.”  I am not a flexible person by nature, running has not helped, and sitting in a forward bend for 5 minutes is just shy of hell for me.  BUT the class I attended used every prop in the book to allow us to get deeper in the poses.  And in true yogic style, I didn’t look around, but I’m sure I had the highest pile of blocks and blankets.

forward bend

Like this, if she had 47 blocks under her forehead.

…which brings me to perhaps the biggest benefit of all this yoga I’ve done lately.  My mind is becoming more flexible too.  I am positive that a few months ago, when greeted with the 5-minute forward bend, or a teacher that says “we’re going without AC today to really build some heat” (yes, that really happened, and it was very sweaty), I would’ve been irritated at the very least, and probably would not have come back for more.   Yet somehow I find myself wanting to do it again, because of how great it makes me feel.

I still go to my favorite class at the gym, because I like the teacher and the class, but the rushing-to-get-up-so-I-don’t-get-stepped-on-by-someone-in-the-next-class is a far cry from relaxing in a dimly-lit studio with music playing and candles burning.  Honestly, some days joining a yoga studio feels like one of the most indulgent things I have ever done (and I totally realize the very First World Problem-ness of my complaints over the crowded classes at the gym.  I am a very fortunate person to even be able to write about this stuff.), simply because of how good it makes me feel.  It’s also, from a physical standpoint, a great counter to running (which I am still doing several times a week, just keeping the distance lower until my foot behaves) and, in most cases, that perfect low-impact exercise that my blood sugar loves so much.

Seriously.  Go out and get a Groupon!