Before yoga, there was running. There were countless miles on the city streets of New York and LA and San Francisco. And on good days, really good days, there were trails: long and lush and green, winding around lakes and along the curves of mountains. When I was running, I was in heaven.
This love of running was a total surprise to me. I was never athletic growing up. I preferred books and music and writing and plays to running and jumping and gymnastics and swimming. And although my family played tennis, everyone knew I was only in it for the outfits.
But over winter break of my sophomore year in college, everything changed. My father died suddenly on Christmas morning. And after the first few days of complete shock, I woke up one day and had to get out of the house and away from everyone. I needed time alone to process, I needed time alone to grieve. I laced up some shoes and ran out the door, and I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I realized on that run, for the first time ever, that my body was my friend. That working with my breath equaled peace. That there was such a thing as moving meditation. Running was my salvation during the lowest point of my life. It gave me the strength of heart and peace of mind I needed to move forward with my life.
For the next 20 years I ran. When I lived in a small city, I ran every inch of it, over and over again. When I lived in a big city, I learned quickly that 20 North/South blocks was one mile, and how to slip around the side of a tourist, without getting hit by a taxi. And when I lived out of a suitcase, the first thing packed was always my pair of running shoes. I have literally run all over the world – except in Bangalore (too hot) and Tokyo (too crowded). From small country lanes to a 30th birthday run along Sydney Harbor, running was my best friend. I ran while pregnant, and you bet I ran afterward. First, with a single Bob Stroller, then with the double Phil and Ted. I decided to run my first marathon at 39. My second was at 40 and my third at 41.
Then I stopped. Pretty much cold turkey. Maybe because the last marathon I ran was in a monsoon. But honestly, I was in my 40s, and a new kind of moving meditation was calling to me. One that seemed more sustainable. And I went along whole heartedly.
However, in yoga teacher training, I started to have second thoughts about my first love. My strong marathoner’s body was being questioned for its “lack of stamina.” My hamstrings, which had propelled my legs over literally hundreds of miles, were now labeled “tight,” and not in the good way. And this body that had run all over the world, birthed two babies, and carried around a big brain and an even bigger heart was considered “stiff” and, even worse, “old.” Wowza.
I began to lose faith in my own body. I longed for a dancer’s body, a gymnast’s body, a Cirque du Soleil body - anything other than my own 42 year-old runner’s body. I longed for strong, steady arms that knew how to do something other than lift a water bottle. I almost quit, about a 100 times.
But you know what you learn running a marathon? You learn to never give up. And while I was learning fancy mantras in ancient languages, my old mantra of “just keep running, just keep running” was ingrained in every cell of my body.
So I just kept going. And eventually I realized that the keeping going was the whole point. None of the good, juicy stuff is about just the body. The really good stuff happens after the poses are done.
Now, do I wish I had learned how to do a handstand at 7, like most girls, instead of trying that move for the first time in my 40s? Hell yes. And while I am stronger and more flexible than I once was, I will never be able to do the things I see on Instagram every day. And sometimes that really sucks.
But I’ve finally learned to love this body of mine. It’s curves led to relatively easy deliveries of two giant babies. These long-ass, Elastigirl arms can wrap around my entire family, and an entire gaggle of girlfriends. My tight hamstrings hold me up, steady, no matter who or what tries to knock me down. And you know what this body did yesterday? It went for a run. An hour-long, trail run in the mountains, on the path where I first started to really love running 25 years ago. And I was very, very happy.
So, what’s the real point? Is all of this just about exercise? For the careful observer, methinks not. We need to keep the body healthy to keep the mind calm and the heart open. We are here, I believe, to care for one another, to protect our earth, and to love ourselves. These various shapes are just containers for something greater, something eternal. And by connecting to this powerful force within ourselves, we can connect to a profound sense of peace and joy. And who doesn’t want more of that?
My hope for all of us is that we stop looking for the body we wish we had, the job we wish we could get, the partner we wish we could marry, and look inside. That we learn to appreciate the beauty and the strength that comes only from the choices we’ve already made. Then, we’ll find the stamina, the satisfaction, the love we’re seeking. All inside our own selves. And as we feel our hearts begin to swell up like the Grinch’s, we’ll see how easy it becomes to share that love with others. And, no joke, the world becomes a better place.
That’s the real goodness. And it comes with or without tight hamstrings.