Bent out of shape – When runners do yoga

They say that every runner should cross train. But finding the perfect complementary activity can leave even the most dedicated of us a little bent out of shape.

The first time I practiced yoga, the yoga yogi made me sit still in a quiet room and breathe. For what felt like a whole year, but was probably only three minutes. Just breathe, she said. Be present. Clear your mind.

I nearly lost my mind. By the end of the three minutes slash year, I was ready to slash my wrists. In those moments while everyone else in the room focused on their breath and cleared their minds, my errant mind raced full steam ahead, counted the number of pages I still had to write slash edit, and measured those against the hours I had left before the next deadline, which resulted in my breath becoming so erratic that I had to put my head between my legs. True story.

Having discovered – however accidentally – that I had a natural bent towards yoga (bad pun, sorry!), I persevered. I did some research and discovered that there are different types of yoga practices, to suit different types of people.

There’s the one that focuses on breathing and being present, which I had firmly ruled out. But there were also others. The one that immediately struck a chord was that which many, many people (both proponents and detractors) described as being “ideally suited for masochists”. Laugh if you must. At least I know myself.

It’s called hot yoga, or Bikram – and if you don’t believe me, google ‘hot yoga’ + ‘masochist’. There are about 96,400 results.

Hot yoga, for the uninitiated, is practiced in a room that is heated to around 37 degrees, with the aim of “providing a more intense workout”, by stimulating a higher heart rate for a more cardiovascular workout, encouraging detoxification through heavy sweating, and with the added benefit of the heat enabling your muscles to bend that little bit further. It’s kind of like practising yoga in hell.

And I loved it.

I couldn’t breathe. I could barely see through the sweat. My brain was paralysed by the stifling fires of hell and the accompanying fire in my muscles as I bent myself into a double-twisted, back-bent pretzel. My mind was still only because it was incapable of movement.

But then, one day, I found my mind wandering. I was used to the heat. My body had become so accustomed to it that I didn’t sweat as much and I could see the mirrors – on every wall in the studio. Talk about hell. My brain had rebooted, and my mind was up to its usual tricks.

The first place it wandered was to the person standing directly in front of me, who happened to be male. Wearing nothing more than a speedo, the sweat dripping off every glistening hair. I realised right then and there why so many claim that hot yoga attracts masochists by the million.

(I also realised, on a very enlightened level, that as yoga studios are supposed to be a judgement-free zone, perhaps this form of exercise was not perfect for judgy me, no matter how bendy my bits.)

That was when I found myself back on the road. Although I haven’t tested this theory, I’m willing to bet that running + masochist will yield as many Google results, or at least come a close second.

Again. Laugh if you must. I know I know myself.

Another yoga yogi summed up my rather irrational fear of yoga in one sentence:

“Yoga is about being still and present, you need to be comfortable in your head in order to be comfortable in your practice.”

Being comfortable in my own head is not something I will ever be. I used to aspire to it, but now I know that comfort is vastly over-rated. I only get anything accomplished in a last-minute, deadline-induced panic anyway. On the run, as it turns out.

If yoga is about being still and present with your thoughts, running is all about moving, and getting as far away from your thoughts, as fast as you humanly can.

I’ll get back to them after my post-run coffee.

This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of Runner’s World. The official version (slightly edited), can be downloaded here RW PLANET RUNNER.

1 Comment

  1. Helen Eldridge says: Reply

    Comfortable in one’s head???? Didn’t know that state existed. Apparently when they were handing out menu’s I must got to the front of the queue too late. But that hot yoga sounds awesome – for detoxifying, if nothing else. Bet you needed lots and lots of coffee as soon as you got out of there.

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