#RunningYogi T-minus 10 weeks

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I have ten weeks until the Great North Run on Sept 13th… I swore to myself weeks ago that I would start a blog tracking my running journey, yet like many things this has not materialised until now. My training hasn’t been going as well as I wanted, or expected it to if I’m to be entirely honest. It’s been tough – or rather I have been tough on myself I guess – part of me thinks I’m too old to be doing this, I’m not the 26-year-old long distance runner I used to be, it’s never going to be like it used to be so why bother? The other part of me says – stop making excuses, it’s not just about the race it’s about the motivation behind it – to raise money and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK – stop finding excuses as to why you can’t train – cancer certainly doesn’t procrastinate and find excuses…

I wanted to start running to train for this race and raise money and awareness for Prostate Cancer – that was one of the motivations for me. The other was that I woke up one day and wondered why on earth I stopped running when I loved it so much? The answer was that my Bikram teacher told me to… and I just did what I was told. This was also the same person who let me to do a standing straddle forward bend with my feet mat distance (the narrow width) apart, my head on the floor and all with raging sciatica….I realised it was definitely time to give running a try again for sure. (And, if you have sciatica and are reading this – no the pose I just described it certainly not a helpful pose for you to be doing if you have shooting pain in your butt and leg!)

The other element to this journey is what I call “dirty love” – I used to run 5 times a week, I could run a 10km in 44 mins and a half in 1hr 46 – I was a bit of a running bad ass if I say so myself. The dirty love bit is how I got that far – I trained like a fiend – everyone was in awe of how often I went to the gym and how long I could run on a treadmill for – I was the fit and healthy one. Which all sounds very nice, but the truth was this – I actually consistently over trained and looking back I would say I had a problem with over exercising and obsessive calorie watching. I was super skinny – but only because I would run on a treadmill until the calories counter threw itself back to zero again. I would eat more salad than a rabbit and although I wasn’t starving myself I knew damn well that I had burned off the majority of my food intake. Yoga helped to rectify this for sure – so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that I stopped running to do more yoga.

Putting my running shoes on also puts me in this place of instant comparison with the way it “used to be” – and it’s certainly a great “not good enough” trigger that’s for sure. I cottoned onto this pretty soon in though – I figured I had 2 choices – chuck the running shoes back in the cupboard and pretend I had never even bothered, or get the running shoes on, get out there and figure out how to do it differently this time. How might it be to run and take the pressure off so it was actually fun? Not as easy as it sounds but I’m not one to admit defeat!

It’s funny – about the eating thing – I’m not sure if my running app lies to me (it has no idea my height or weight so I guess it probably is!) , but I’m pretty astounded at how much you  burn off running. The difference this time is I find myself thinking – “I really need to make sure I’m eating enough for this!” rather than the pretty much opposite as before. It makes me realise that you can avoid a problem and ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, but actually you need to grab it by the horns and face it head on if you are going to beat it. The nice thing about this race is, I really don’t care about doing some amazingly impressive time – I just want to finish it and not be completely destroyed, and raise awareness of Prostate cancer along the way.

Back to the training – it’s been an injury-fest – first runners knee – although it was never diagnosed as that. I was shocked to discover that despite all the yoga I have ridiculously tight IT bands and my glut medius thinks it’s on vacation and is doing absolutely nada! The foam roller has revolutionised my post run tension (despite nearly making me cry the first time I used it, we are now firm friends I’m pleased to report!)

I tripped running in San Francisco in February – over a massive tree root in the park, and yes, it would have made a great cartoon character sketch! No blood but I pulled a muscle in my left butt which was painful to say the least – I think I may actually have torn something in there actually and now have scar tissue as this just keeps on playing up. The upside of this is I have realised that I need to warm up properly – that this is absolutely essential before running and it needs to not be a half-assed effort! It’s also led to me getting really interested in how I can use my yoga as an effective warm down. I’m finding at the moment that practising yoga before running doesn’t help so much – not least because handstands and arm balances are way more tantalising than the idea of running and so it can become another procrastination or excuse to not go out! I have a warm up that my physio (who thankfully is also a runner) gave me, which mobilises my legs and gives me time to drink my coffee before going out first thing. When I come back, I have a great Forrest Yoga standing pose series I’ve developed that helps sort me out and stretch out what needs to be stretched. Or I may do a full practice but making sure that I work with the hips, hammies and shoulders (how much tension do runners acquire in their shoulders – seriously?! It’s going to be mega sets of shoulder shrugs after the race I tell you!)

The training plans – I was following a plan I found online, but I didn’t quite like its focus on training and running for an amount of time – I feel like the mileage is also important. I’m not saying one way is better than the other, but I have decided to switch back to the plan I have from my old faithful “Running from Start to Finish book by John Stanton – it’s not a flashy, trendy looking book but the training plans always served me well. I’m adapting the 2 hour plan so I will run slightly less sessions per week and see how I go from there. The key is to listen to my body and do what feels right for me, without finding excuses to not train because my mind thinks so!

I’ve been enjoying running outside (except, as my family will testify, on our recent holiday in Florida, where running at 8am meant running in 30 degrees celsius and was a KILLER! Sweaty doesn’t even come close to describing my post run appearance!!) I think I am going to sign up to the gym though so I have a treadmill to do hill training on – Peterborough is pretty flat and I think that on a running machine I can’t pretend I am running up hills when I’m not! In short – on a treadmill you get to control your hills but it makes you do them at the same time! It will be good to have an indoor option if the weather gets miserable too – once again – no excuses!

Yesterday was a 5k easy run – I was at a Yoga festival all weekend and had massively tight quads but running felt great and after my yoga session after it I felt invigorated and strong rather than knackered and a quivering mess – always a good sign! Here’s a post run lunge – felt great in the hip flexors! Lunges used to be my nemesis pose but lunges up the wall are fast becoming a runner’s fave at camp Ros! I will endeavour to update the #runningyogi blog on a weekly basis from now on – I figure it will be a great motivator and it’s good to share tips and experiences to help others too.

Running in Beauty!

Ros

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Prayer with a Dew Drop

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During my recent sweat lodge experience, I spent a good 5 or 6 hours just sitting on the land, connecting with nature and re-connecting with myself. There was one lone dewdrop, almost microscopic, hanging from a blade a grass sparkling in the sun. It taught me an important lesson: that which might  initially be thought of as insignificant, is actually truly beautiful, if only we remember to see it that way. I’m not normally one for writing poetry but I was inspired to put pen to paper as I had the privilege of sitting with something so tiny, yet so special.

The more I look, the more dewdops hanging off blades of grass I see,                          Reflecting back the beauty that I realise completely surrounds me.

Appearing precariously balanced at first glance,                                                              That the dewdrop mysteriously holds onto the grass is truly no chance.

I watch the blade of grass move gently with the flow of air,                                              Feeling this opportunity to connect with nature is so so rare.

But the beauty and mystery of the dew drop is always there for when we choose to see, Mother nature’s gentle reminder to connect with the beauty and mystery lying deep inside of me.

Aho!

 

(Image from “55 Stunning dew drop photographs” by www.incrediblesnaps.com – well worth a peruse if you like nature photography).

 

 

To Truth Speak or not to Truth Speak – is that the Real Issue?

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” 

Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”

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As kids we were (most probably) taught that speaking the truth was good, and not speaking the truth, i.e. telling lies was bad and would be punished accordingly. It was maybe a bit more clear cut back then – when you said you’d done your homework so you’d be allowed out with your friends you knew deep down if you had or hadn’t done it; whether you were actually speaking the truth or not. For many of us though, somehow on the journey to adulthood the ability to know if we are speaking the truth or not has become blurred. And once we’ve got that figured out, having the actual courage to speak our Truth – well that’s a whole other ball game altogether! Since when did Truth speaking become so damned difficult?

I have to admit, I am sometimes on occasion left wondering why I bothered to speak the truth at all; if having the courage to speak truth is a challenge, likewise so can our willingness to hold space to hear the truth be equally so. I recently spoke the ‘Truth’ to a health professional I had been working with. When asked if I had been following a series of exercises I had been given, I answered truthfully in the negative and explained why. In the past, I would have let myself fall into the trap of playing the ‘good girl’ role – giving the expected response, justifying it in a way that totally negated what I was actually really feeling. I decided there was no point in pretending I am doing something I blatantly haven’t been doing, just to tick the boxes on somebody else’s list. Part of me feels like I’m acting like a naughty child who won’t eat their vegetables, not doing said exercises, the other part of me feels that there is a good reason why I haven’t been doing them – they aggravate the injury that took me to see that professional in the very first place. Exercises aside (the psychology of that one I’m sure possibly warrants a whole blog post of it’s own), that’s not what I’m talking about here. What’s up is this – I spoke the truth, and I didn’t try to people please for the sake of it. The response I got was, as you have probably already guessed, not a particularly receptive one. The result: I sat and read the email feeling like I wished I’d never been honest in the first place. I know I’m not the only person sat reading this who has had this kind of experience. So, yes, it’s no wonder as adults that we have lost our ability to speak the truth – for many of us, it’s been over shadowed by the need to appease others.

In thinking about truth speaking, I was drawn to look back at The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement he describes is to “Be impeccable with your word”. He says:

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

On paper this doesn’t sound so difficult, we’re all thinking “well of course I’m impeccable with my word…most of the time anyway….” The second agreement presents the flipside of the truth speaking experience though – “Don’t take it personally”. As Ruiz explains;

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

So, if we are opening ourselves to truth speaking – our Truth – it’s equally important to examine our response to hearing the ‘Truth” of others. Our reaction to other people’s truth often says more about us than it does them. My reaction to the email response I had to my truth speaking is not really about the person who wrote it; they were (hopefully) just speaking their truth back to me. It’s really about the trigger it was for me – it peeled back a delicate layer of my own insecurity in speaking my truth. And as my teacher Ana Forrest says, “Never waste a good trigger” – so I decided to delve deeper into the paradox and complex mystery of “Truth”.

On a similar vein to Ruiz, when Brene Brown discusses worthiness in “The Gifts of Imperfection” she says:

“When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness”

So, here’s another twist about truth speaking – it’s not just about hearing other people speak the truth and our reactions to it, but also about our reactions and fears to hearing our self speak our own Truth. The trigger I experienced has made me sit with the question – “how do I actually feel when I speak truth, about speaking the truth – am I actually prepared to hear my own truth, never mind anyone else? I’ve started to acknowledge the little tricks I’ve employed to conceal my Truth from myself – completely giving up drinking any alcohol full stop is maybe one of the bigger ones (and once again probably another blog post in its own right), as are the other little ways I distract in order to numb from what I’m actually feeling. I’ve decided to make a concerted effort with seated meditation to explore the intricate workings of my mind further – to sit with what my truth is and what triggers my barriers to it, as a regular check in as to what I am actually feeling right now, rather than what I think everyone else expects me to feel.

Speaking our truth takes courage, and hearing it just as much so. Brown describes courage as speaking ‘one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”, and highlights that this ‘ordinary’ courage involves us putting our vulnerability on the line, speaking honestly and freely about what we’re feeling whether it be good or bad. I feel that this brings us back full circle to our sense of worthiness – can I own my story and my truth enough to speak it and feel that I am enough? Brown also makes another really interesting point – are we speaking our truth to someone who has earned the right to hear it and can hold space for it? Our most vulnerable truths are maybe not meant for everyone’s ears. I think perhaps it’s somewhere between our concept of our own personal worthiness (or lack of), alongside not fully trusting (be that subconscious or otherwise) the person we are telling our truth to hold space for us, that maybe we have ended up turning our back on our truth altogether. Life keeps us busy enough that we don’t find time to ask ourselves “what’s really going on here? What am I really feeling?”

Brown highlights that not everyone we meet has earned the right to hear our story and I agree. I’d take this a step further though by highlighting this: We have earned the right to hear our own personal story and Truth, if only we can trust our authenticity and worthiness enough to sit still and actually listen to it.

 

Image courtesy of Elad Itzkin London Yoga Photography

 

On trusting my gut and communicating my desires to the Universe

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 I recently read a book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. It’s funny; I actually bought this book and started reading it on my last journey back to UK from the US. I proceeded to read half of it and then never finished it. It sat on the bedside table on the opposite side of the bed for 18 months untouched. I firmly believe that we will access information we need to access when the time is right. And for that reason I didn’t question that it felt appropriate to start reading this book on my recent trip.

There are many really useful insights on cultivating and taking time to appreciate happiness in your every day life in this book; I highly recommend a read whether you are looking to do your own happiness project or just want a good novel. I think this is a book I will definitely be delving in and out of in the future. I considered passing it onto someone else so I didn’t need to carry it back home, but it feels like I will need to refer to it again at some point so I wedged it in a corner and home with me it has come.

I realized there are many ways I can work towards cultivating more happiness for myself. I won’t detail them all now. I’d like to share two things that I realized are more significant than I had previously given credit to.

Trust my intuition more:

I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions not listening to my gut feeling and then just doing what I think I ought to do, normally because it works for other people. This often is at the expense of my energy and time, which leaves me feeling burnt out, exhausted and a bit resentful of doing whatever I have said I will do.

It’s a hard thing to learn to listen to your own intuition, and I think it can be even harder when it’s for your own good. I realized I have been spending a fair bit of time feeling bad if I’m doing something for myself. A couple of incidents happened during the retreat that made me realize my intuition is often pretty spot on when I am intuiting things for other people.

When we arrived one of my new friends expressed dismay that she hadn’t been able to find an important special item she had wanted to bring with her when she was packing; she didn’t know where it was so she couldn’t bring it. I immediately made a passing comment that I suspected she might find it hidden in her suitcase – if it was meant to be here it would indeed be. Ten minutes later she came bounding back into my room with a massive grin – said item had indeed found its way into her suitcase and was here with her after all!

In the final gratitude circle we had all put a gift in the centre of the circle. As soon as the person that got my gift got up to make her choice I knew she would be the new owner of the mala I had created especially for that present. Sure enough she walked around the circle, stopped right in front of where I was sitting and picked it up the gift I had placed there.

The two examples above are indeed of spontaneous comments that popped out of my mouth and thoughts that crossed my mind. These are different scenarios I agree. However, they served to remind me that my intuition is pretty damn spot on, and so I need to practice listening whole heartedly to what it has to tell me for myself as well as for other people.

 

Don’t be afraid to communicate my desires to the Universe:

I guess compared to some people I’ve been pretty daring in my life choices; I’ve followed my heart’s desires, sometimes got it right, but also got it wrong. In a world rammed to brim with social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is doing it better, having it better, and feeling happier than yourself. From my experience this can lead to anxiety, feeling not good enough and feelings of helplessness. Being self-employed can be a lonely affair; it’s not like working in a corporate office environment where you have the support of colleagues and a bigger master plan of the company strategy to direct you. (Although admittedly, as I have discovered, there are also many benefits of not having said corporate guidelines!)

I spent a lot of time in nature on the retreat; it was a great reminder that there is something much more powerful than us at work out there. The power of nature revealed itself through the torrential rain we experienced for the first couple of days, the brilliant sunshine that illuminated the yoga room as we sang in the morning, the sound of the frogs croaking at night, the misty sunrises and the vibration of the land. The universe is indeed a force to be reckoned with, and I was reminded that amongst other things this is a good power to draw on when you feel you need it. It’s not always easy to ask for the big things, or maybe it’s the trusting that they will come to fruition that’s the hard part. Either way, I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks that subconscious requests I’ve made to the universe have indeed come true.

It started off on my birthday morning – I was fortunate enough to celebrate my birthday during the retreat. I love being upside down (as anyone who follows me on Instagram will probably know!) and so that morning as I responded to the birthday Facebook messages I had received I joked that I really hoped there would be some birthday inversions in morning practice rather than birthday lying on the roll! Sure enough – that was the only day in the week that we did handstands in morning practice!

The most humorous occasion was our final evening on the retreat. The building I was staying in had steps leading down to it. At night they had been quite dark and I kept forgetting my torch, which meant some careful ascending and descending! (But a good opportunity to practice mindfulness nonetheless!) As we walked up the steps to go to our closing ceremony I commented to my room mate – “Gosh, I really do wish there was a light on these steps” – literally as I spoke a light which had never previously been lit suddenly came on! As my roomie commented – Spirit really does listen and give us what we need! Admittedly, I think sometimes it’s possibly a little more subtle than this “let there be light’ example though!

A couple of days ago I walking down the street and realizing I needed a snack before doing yoga that evening, only to have a packet of gluten free chips thrust into my hand by someone handing out promotional freebies.

Arriving at the SFO airport lamenting the fact that I have yet to ever get upgraded on a long haul flight. I’m trying to be more positive – “oh well,” I told myself, “lets hope the flight will be only be half full”. I’m typing this sitting with three seats at my personal disposal….

Once again, these might be small examples and who knows maybe they were just good luck or sheer coincidence. Or perhaps there a little kick up the butt from the Universe – a reminder that although we do have to put in the hard work to create our own happiness and bring our goals to fruition, it’s ok to ask the Universe to have our back too. That it’s not selfish to ask the universe for what we desire, however big or small it might be.

For me, listening to my gut is a great way to assess whether what I am doing is feeding my Spirit. I’m trying hard to remember to give it the listening ear it deserves, and the little examples I detailed above were a very good reminder that my intuition has something to say which is worth listening to. One of the reasons I love practising SUP yoga is that being out on the water reminds me I’m part of something bigger and more powerful than me. The universe has a lot to offer if only we let it. By communicating my desires and putting my intent out there I still need to put in the hard work, but safe in the knowledge that the universe will create the opportunities that I need to get me where I need to go.