I hate running. I hate running so much, I’d rather spend hours with my knees buckling as I’m trying to push through a heavy deadlift or do 1000 pushups even if it takes me all day. I hate running more than I hate burpees, and God knows I hate me some burpees. It is odd isn’t it, that I’d take up the habit given that I see it as punishment every time I have to do it when I go for crossfit.
I’m not a lazy person, but I believe that running always made me frustrated because it felt like my body was inadequate; as someone seeking to be more accepting of my body, I didn’t need one more reason to hate my fleshy shell, because God knows I never ran out of reasons for self-loathing. It didn’t help that whenever I ran my thighs would swell up, turn bright red and starting itching to the point of hurting. With all of that feeling of mediocrity and a body that felt like it was turning against me, I didn’t want to run and I avoided it like I avoid Nutella (for different reasons). That is until I got serious about Yoga.
The thing about yoga is that in order to make real, sustainable progress with minimal injuries, you have to learn all the basics. How to breathe, when you should inhale, when you should exhale, how to open your chest for deeper back bends, how to stack your hips over your shoulders for a successful handstand, and most importantly, how to remain in the present. You have to stay in the now so you can be hyper aware of your body’s movements, where there is discomfort, how to adjust, and how to leap into the void and catch yourself just in time to get the desired pose.
It was with this mindset that once upon a sleepless night, I decided to revise my negative views on running. Maybe this whole time I just didn’t know the basics of running. I assumed that it only took being able to put one foot in front of the other and let the wind take me where it may. If I were to approach running as I do yoga, I’d have to humble myself, accept that I don’t know how to run, and do some research so I can do it and do it well. So off I went to Youtube and typed “how to run”.
I went back to the basics, like a child who is learning to take her first hesitant steps; that’s how the very next morning, I was off for a run to my favorite park where I like to do yoga. You should see me when I’m running, it’s quite interesting because I’m talking to myself the entire time.
“Run on the balls of your feet.”
“remember to tilt forward. Wait wait! That’s too forward you’re gonna fall!”
“keep your head high, I know you need to check your feet but you’re not well aligned.”
“hey, breathe please!”
I am on the street with a clumsy cadence of running and stopping, syncing my breathing to my steps, all soundtracked by mini pep talks of compassion to overcome my frustration. I’m sure I look as awkward as I feel (or maybe not). I still have moments when my thighs swell up and turn a shy crimson, but I manage the frustration better now. I stop and whisper words of patience and kindness to my body. Let it do what it needs to do. I found that warming up beforehand reduces the likelihood of that happening, so I do yoga before I head out. And off I go, one purposeful step in front of the other, remaining in the now so that I can make sure I am tilting forward, keeping my head high, landing on the balls of my feet, making sure to breathe.
It is now during these runs that I am able to clear my head, surrender to time and wind, and most importantly have some compassion and appreciation for my mediocrity in running. Because the mastery of a skill often means you could do do it in your sleep, there’s not much of an effort to yield and one can drift off into other thoughts, never quite being there. Allowing myself to get into the basics forced me to humble myself, surrender and focus on the right now, even if means witnessing my own mediocrity. After all, that’s how I started yoga :getting into the basics, learning to enjoy the awkwardness, and staying in the present. So if there is anything you want to learn but dread the awkwardness of starting brand new, embrace the possibility that being a novice can teach you how to be in the now and how to be on purpose. It will teach you to stay anchored in your body, to notice all its intricacies, to discover its power and resilience.
I once thought that to remain in the present, I needed to learn how to stay still. Funny isn’t it, that I found it in the most unlikely and counterintuitive task? That to harness the power of now, I actually needed to learn how to move forward.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.