Namaste! For a while now I’ve been looking to shake things up, training wise. My routine consists of a few runs a week (it was 4, but as I’m currently riding the crest of a running-based enthusiasm-wave, not unlike how Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda surf that tidal wave in Escape From L.A., its currently up to 5) and doing some weights using a set of dumbbells in the discomfort of my own living room.
Now when it comes to doing exercises with the weights, I have a ‘reliable instructor’ and a ‘well thought-out ritual’. The aforementioned instructor is the sheet of exercises that came free with the weights themselves. Combined with my hapless interpretation of it. As for a ritual, well initially I did all the exercises on the sheet over the course of a week on the days when I wasn’t running. But over time, some exercises have been mysteriously dropped/forgotten/ignored and I’m left with ‘the ones I like’ and ‘the ones that are easy’ (there’s significant crossover between these two groupings…) Thus, I am now left with something of a gap to fill in the overall fitness schedule. A sensible person would of course fill that gap with ‘rest’ and ‘rehabilitation’. But this is me. So that isn’t happening.
I wasn’t looking for anything too cardio-heavy to fill the gap. But what was I looking for? Well, something…different. But something that would hopefully compliment the running. And, on a typically baseless Taylorson impulse, I thought ‘I know! Yoga!’ Quite why I thought of yoga, only Shiva et al can tell you. But, hurried, half-arsed Internet research seemed to imply that there would be several benefits to giving yoga a try:
i) Strength. That can only be a good thing. I once saw a video of a man who was strong enough to fold frying pans into a sort of cylindrical shape. A remarkable, if somewhat useless skill – unless there’s a call for crimped kitchen hardware that I’m unfamiliar with. Still, maybe after enough yoga it could be me impressively ruining the Tefal.
ii) Flexibility. We could all do with a bit more of that. I could be the real life equivalent of the ductile member of the Fantastic 4. Or the non-cartoon version of Flex Dude from The Simpsons. Never fear, Bendy Ben is here *dons cape*
iii) Breathing. Having taken a while to appreciate the importance of a good breathing rhythm when running, again I’m seeing benefits here. Focusing on the importance of breathing can only be a good thing. That reads like sarcasm, but its not. Honest. I remember having an epiphany whilst doing press-ups and finding them extremely difficult. When retrospectively analysing my performance, it became apparent I was holding my breath. For the whole set. Not advisable.
iv) Balance. Now you’re talking. I’ve seen The Karate Kid. About 400 times. I know that to achieve balance in life you must first achieve it physically. It’ll be me doing crane-kicks on the groynes down at Redcar beach before you can say ‘fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?’
v) Mental wellbeing. Despite coming across as a calm, rational chap** I do have issues with anxiety and stress. Whereas running affords the opportunity to focus solely on the road/trail/ridiculous hill at hand, an activity that might help me to deal with certain mental issues instead of burying them like a deceased pet could well be of benefit.
So, with all of these benefits looking…well, beneficial, what I wanted to know now was if other runners we’re finding that yoga was making them more awesome. I turned to Twitter, and specifically to the people who make up the #ukrunchat community, to find out. Stifling untold levels of awkwardness and the illogical and completely unfounded assumption that #ukrunchat ‘wasn’t for the likes of me’, I threw the question out there. And behold, responses! Several of them! I must pause here to sing the praises of all the people who contribute to #ukrunchat as from what I’ve seen, its fab. Anywho, the opinions were in. All positive. Huzzah!
So, yoga gets the thumbs up, running wise. What next? Let’s dive straight in. As the fates would have it, there’s a class on up at my local church hall. Sadly, the default, instinctive response to this from the ol’ inner monologue is ‘Urgh? Classes? People?! But you’ll be shite, it’ll all be women and they’ll think you’re a pervert’. With this compelling argument against the yoga class option ringing in my internal ears – so compelling in fact it was causing me to sweat somewhat with hypothetical embarrassment – it was time to turn once more to the wonders of the Internet. Where I found Adriene. And her Yoga.
Yoga with Adriene offered just what I needed. Specifically, a beginner’s 20 minutes video. I could clear a space in the front room, prop up the iPad and be guided through the basics. It’s worth noting at this point that, really, I still had no idea what yoga was beyond the stereotypical broad strokes. And what I found out first was that it was quite hard. But also compelling, bordering on oddly addictive. So I returned the next day to try a longer, 40-minute beginners video. By the end of that, I was something of a sweaty, wobbly mess. But again, compelled to continue.
With me the switch is either on or it’s off. There are no half measures of anything. So before you could say ‘Downward Facing Dog’ I’d committed myself to the Yoga with Adriene 30 Day Challenge. By the time this blog is published I should be on day 11. My thoughts so far:
i) Physically, I’m finding it quite tough. I never realised how comparatively weak I was in certain places. Indeed, when day 6 required me to ‘concentrate on the abs’ for the duration of the session, I may have whimpered pathetically at one point. I will however confess that Adriene’s words of encouragement and assurance have kept me going on several occasions. Even if I admit to replying to her proclamations of ‘you’re doing great/just two more breaths/you can probably feel a little heat there’ with ‘I’m dying/its all going grey/someone call the fire brigade’ respectively. Lets just say I’m a long way off one of these:
ii) Of all the poses I’ve managed attempted thus far, I’ve enjoyed the ‘lying down’ ones the best. ‘Balasana’ or ‘Child’s pose’ usually comes as a welcome relief, but the one where you lie motionless and spread-eagled like a passing bus has just flattened you is definitely the favourite. I believe its called ‘Savasana’. Which means corpse pose. Which, by the time I usually get to it, is incredibly apt.
iii) I’m highly amused by the term ‘yogi’. As in, someone who does yoga. i.e. me (Rather than the bear. No pickernick baskets here, Boo-Boo). It took me a little while to grasp this though, and that when Adriene says ‘yogi’s choice’ – when it comes to a choice of how you enter a pose or something – she means it’s ‘my choice’. This is not dissimilar to an incident earlier in the year, when arriving at the Sunderland Half Marathon. I was frantically looking for somewhere to park. Having located what looked like a possible car park, I was dismayed to read the word’s ‘Athletes’ Parking’ on the entrance sign, and resigned myself to looking elsewhere. Until it dawned on me that they in fact meant me. Participant = athlete. What followed was a complex mixture of emotions. Fury at having to find a place to turn around before heading back to the ‘athlete’s car park’. Ego-swelling pride at being referred to as an ‘athlete’. Albeit by an inanimate object.
iv) I enjoy the vocabulary associated with the exercises. Talk of ‘bringing integrity to the mat’ and ‘doing what feels right’ and ‘being in the moment’ is all rather profound. But I will confess that I’m some considerable distance from ‘connecting with the spiritual side’ of yoga. And by ‘some considerable distance’ I’m offering an understatement. A massive, massive understatement. I’m mostly focussing on the ‘effort and pain’ side of things for now. But my hope is that once my body becomes acclimatised to being stretched and I build strength in new and exciting places, the spiritual bits will come. For now though, I’m a way off attaining omnipresent super-galactic oneness whilst in ‘Baby Cobra’ position.
No man should spend too much time considering his gravestone epitaph. However, alongside ‘avenge me’ and ‘I’m so coming back to haunt you’ mine should read ‘a fad is not truly a fad until you’ve spent money on it’. And with that in mind, I rushed out to buy (A leotard? A joss stick holder?? Several plaques with inspirational quotes on to dot around the house???) a yoga mat. A man (sorry, yogi) like me can’t be expected to yoga away on mere carpet. No, no. I need a mat. But for an idiot like me, the purchasing of said mat could well prove to be a logistical nightmare, owing to a crushing bout of irrational self-consciousness regarding the unsuitability of a grown man buying a yoga mat, despite the fact that no one cares. The buy-it-on-the-Internet option was out, because I wanted needed it NOW. But then that meant buying one in person. In Middlesbrough. Where people have surely been stabbed for less.
But, I manned up. Well, I selected the relative anonymity of Argos. The pulse quickened as in the catalogue they all appeared to be pink at first glance. But there was a grey one. It was £3 more expensive, mind. As if requiring a non-pink yoga mat called for some sort of diffident idiot tax. But I went for it. And as I approached Collection Point B, I was all prepared with my ‘IT’S FOR MY WIFE AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!’ mildly hysterical over-explanation, if required. It wasn’t.
Running this week:
I’ve slammed 27.9 miles into the running basket this week, with a 12 mile marathon training run on a rather warm day (during which, around mile 10, I passed a postman whose body odour was discernible above even that of my own), two speed work sessions, and a couple of steady-away runs. The highlight of this week was finding a stuffed Gruffalo toy whilst running. Alas, the feeling of triumph turned to disappointment on discovering a dog (or similar) had mauled its face off.
* – Behold the magnificence of Redcar’s vertical pier:
** – A certain degree of sarcasm is inherent here…