Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Home Stretch

downward dog posture I took this picture for u...Image via WikipediaJust as the mental calm created by a regular yoga practice permeates the rest of my day, my asana practice tends to show up in my other physical activities, especially running. In addition to being aware of my breath, I also adjust my posture to Tadasana (mountain pose) as I run - lifting the front of my pelvis, engaging my core, relaxing my shoulders back and down. And Uddiyana Bandha has gotten me up more than one tough hill.

No surprise that when I need to stretch after a run I turn to the asanas. If you're looking for a few good post-run stretches, here are my favorites:

Kapotasana (pigeon pose) is my go-to pose after every run. Folding forward into what I affectionately call "lazy pigeon" opens the piriformis on the front leg side (nasty little muscle that thinks nothing of pinching your sciatic nerve if it's tight) and stretches the hamstrings and glutes. The quadriceps of the back leg get a nice stretch, too, and they deserve some pampering after a run, especially if you've been on hills. The key in pigeon is to keep the hips squared and level, rather than collapsing to one side. Keep drawing the hip of the back leg forward and breath through that juicy stretch in the other hip.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose) opens the backs of the legs and, with a few minor adjustments after you've settled in, opens the low back. As your heels sink toward the floor you're lengthening your hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus (those well-defined calf muscles that let everyone know you're a runner) and glutes. With a reach back through your tailbone you can lengthen the sides of your waist and decompress the lumbar spine a bit, which is nice after it's been your shock absorber for a few miles. The diaphragm and intercostals also get a stretch. Know what they've been doing? Working really hard helping you suck in oxygen.

Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee pose, or half forward fold) gets to all our favorite muscles down the back of the extended leg - hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus, piriformis and glutes. Up in the torso you're opening lats and obliques. You're also hitting the hip adductors in the bent leg. Since deepening in this pose requires some help from the breath, you'll feel your heart rate come down as you focus on breathing deep.

Take five minutes in some yoga poses after your next run. Your body will thank you. And who knows? Maybe yoga will start sneaking into the rest of your life.
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Half-Mary and a Smile

When I decided not to register for any triathlons this year and just do the Adirondack Distance Festival Half-Marathon, I set a goal for myself to get faster. My training runs were faster than last year and I felt ready to run today's half and better last year's time.

Knowing that I could have done it makes me feel really good, even though I didn't.

For the first time, I had someone to run the race with. Mark, a friend and former ultramarathoner, decided to get back into running this year and trained for the same race. Our schedules were different so we didn't do any training runs together, but we enjoyed supporting each other on Facebook and when we saw each other around town. Our training paces were pretty close, so we agreed to run together.

I could have run faster if I'd pushed hard, but, in the end, running with Mark became more important than the time. I didn't want to run fast by myself. I wanted to finish the way I started, with my friend.

Unseasonably warm weather, one week after unseasonably cold temperatures, slowed our pace a bit. 80 degrees is a bit warm for a fall marathon, and there were a number of people needing ice baths at the end. (At least last weekend's 30 degrees cooled the lake for all the runners who jumped in.)

I didn't push. I didn't melt in the heat. I only got a couple of small blisters, which I didn't feel until we were almost done. My bad knee isn't even sore. And I had the most fun I ever had running 13.1 miles.

We finished in 2 hours and 22 minutes, which is a decent, middle-of-the-pack time.

Thanks, Mark, for keeping me company. I'm smiling in the race pictures, thanks to you.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011


In five days I'll be running my second half-marathon, on the beautiful Adirondack Distance Festival course around Schroon Lake, New York. Since it's our home-town race, I've run sections of the course many times and I know I can finish. I'm experiencing my week-before-a-race calm (perhaps the people who vie for the top spots get nervous) and feeling pretty good.

Except for the blister.

If there is one thing (other than my perpetually funky knee, which is much better than last year at this time thanks to yoga) that keeps me from enjoying taper weeks, it is chronic blisters. Last season they haunted my heels, so I tried a different brand of running shoes and got some wicking, double-layer socks. Heel problem solved.

This year they popped up on my toes.

Part of the problem is hiking down mountains, which sends my feet sliding into the front of my hiking boots. Nearing the bottom of the trail off Noonmark, too tired to pick my feet up, I stubbed the same toe five or six times. Before the next climb I got new hiking socks for more cushion, but the damage was done. Blisters on the tips of all my toes.

The blisters seemed to heal quickly and when I made it through a twelve-miler blister-free I thought I was safe. Who knew that it would be the last long run, an easy eight miles, that did me in?

I'd post a picture of the killer blister, but I can't get a camera between my toes. That's where it is. On the inside of my big toe. And it hurts.

I soaked it. I popped it. I bandaged it. All day yesterday it felt fine. Then, in the middle of the night, my toe woke up screaming in pain. Of course, my toe couldn't be awake without the rest of me.

Instead of losing sleep because I'm excited about race day, I'm awake because of a blister. Laying on my back with my legs up the wall (Viparita Karani, anyone?) all I could do was hope whatever was making my toe hurt would drain out and let me go back to sleep. It worked, and I fell asleep right there with my legs on the wall.

I've got a brand-new package of blister Band-Aids and I've done some self-Reiki, hoping this nasty thing will heal before Sunday. Thirteen miles is a long way to hop.

My off-season plans? More research into blister prevention. Because I'd really like "blistering" to describe my pace, not my toes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Two designs of iPod earphones. The current ver...Image via WikipediaI lost my iPod headphones. Actually, they're not really lost, they're just buried somewhere under the piles on my neglected desk. I'm sure I'll find them when the colder weather forces me to stay inside and deal with mess. In the meantime, I've been running sans music.

Last year I ran without my iPod on any runs under five miles. Since headphones are against the rules in triathlons I thought it would be good to make sure I wasn't depending on the music too much. But I always had music for my long runs, because two hours of talking to myself didn't seem like fun.

Now here I am training for a half-marathon with no tunes to keep me company. And it's been great.

Yes, sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I even talk to myself out loud, which is okay, because I know I'm staying under the first VO2 threshold if I can still talk.

Other times I find myself counting my footfalls, like I count my breaths when I practice yoga. That's all I do - just counting, no thinking. Which is exactly what I've been trying to do in my yoga practice - just counting, no thinking.

Then there's the times when I stop counting and just run. My brain is doing nothing and a mile or two will go by without a thought. The sound of my footfalls fades into the background and there is absolute stillness. My body moves through that stillness without any instruction from me. The muscles know what they're doing anyway.

Am I meditating while I'm running? Maybe. Exercise science tells me that when my muscles are working hard there is less oxygen going to my brain. The parts of my brain that need to work - those parts that subconsciously make sure I keep going in the right direction and don't face-plant on the pavement - may be taking all of the limited resources available when my muscles are taxed, leaving nothing for random thoughts. That's not the same as sitting still, breathing easily, giving my brain plenty of fuel for thinking and then telling it not to. But the experience is the same.

Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah.
Yoga is settling the mind into silence.
(Yoga Sutras, 1.2)

The Sutras don't say I can't get there by counting my footfalls.
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The F-Word

If there is one thing people in upstate New York and Vermont didn't want to see right now, it's a flash flood warning. But that's what we have as some thunderstorms with heavy rain threaten our already soaked area.

Hurricane Irene might have been downgraded to a tropical storm when she blew through the Adirondacks, but that didn't stop her from doing serious damage to some of my favorite places. Keene and Keene Valley, where my son and I have spent almost every Wednesday this summer as we explored the surrounding mountains, were under water after the Ausable River jumped its banks and flooded the towns. (Check out the eyewitness video below to see some of the flooding.)

The tiny town of New Russia lost a number of homes to the Boquet River. Route 73, part of the Lake Placid Ironman bike route, was washed out in places and some of the bridges have been compromised.

We were lucky in our town, just some trees down and power outages. But our lake is fed by a river and the lake has risen to spring thaw levels. We had our own historic flooding here at the end of April and we are watching the lake level nervously.

Flash floods would not be welcome.

Looking at the pictures, I can't help but be amazed that water, so necessary for life, can create so much destruction. I am reminded that nature's elements cannot be controlled, nor should they be taken for granted. Humankind tries too hard to overcome nature rather than accept its role as part of it, and that is a dangerous thing sometimes.

Water is associated with the second Chakra, the energetic center of our emotions. We can be calm like a still mountain lake, but we can also rage like floodwaters. Even the most peaceful among us have the capacity for an emotional outburst, under the right circumstances.

We might even use the F-word (which is, of course, flood).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Over 1,500 yoga studios (including mine) offering free yoga classes during National Yoga Month

Free Yoga Classes and Event during National Yoga Month September
September is my favorite month, and not just because it's my birthday. It's also National Yoga Month!

At my studio, True North Yoga in Schroon Lake, NY, we are kicking off Yoga Month with free classes on Labor Day. We are also participating in the One Week Free Yoga program for new students, so don't be shy. Print out your card and bring it to the studio!

Throughout the month of September, people across the country will have access to an entire week of free yoga classes by visiting www.yogamonth.org. The offer is part of the National Yoga Month campaign which is designed to educate, inspire and generate awareness of the positive impact of yoga on health.

During National Yoga Month, one of a select few national health observances, millions will come together for free events and activities. Festivities will take place across the U.S., with hundreds of studios, teachers, individuals and organizers taking part in their own hometowns. The events are all designed to educate people about the mind and body benefits of yoga practice.

“We are all looking for ways to take an active role in managing our health. There are readily available solutions that don’t necessarily require insurance or even a doctor,” said Johannes Fisslinger, co-founder of National Yoga Month. “Preventative wellness can be accessed by simply unrolling a yoga mat!”

As part of its mission to provide actionable guidance and tools, National Yoga Month is providing people with an opportunity to try yoga for free. Whether you are attempting it for the very first time or are an experienced yogi looking to deepen your practice, participating is simple. Just visit www.yogamonth.org and search for free yoga classes and events in your town or print your Yoga Month Card to be redeemed for One Week Free Yoga at over 1,500 participating yoga studios nationwide.

About National Yoga Month
In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services designated September as National Yoga Month, one of a select number of national health observances. That same year, thousands of yoga and health enthusiasts participated in a 10 City Yoga Health Festival Tour featuring yoga classes, lectures, music, entertainment, exhibits. Since then, the initiative has taken root as a global awareness campaign, educating, inspiring and motivating people to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Each September over 1,500 yoga studios will participate in the One Week Free Yoga program and host over 1,000 yoga classes and events.

The Yoga Month campaign is administered by the Yoga Health Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization registered in the State of California. All funds benefit the national awareness campaign and yoga health education for at-risk kids in schools.
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