Born to Run, Born to Sit
By Paul Dallaghan
Something inspired me to read the book ‘Born to Run’. As a young teenager I had been a pretty good long distance runner but had not really done much since then, with yoga filling my bodily activity since my early 20s. Having spent this many years in doing asana on an almost daily basis to what has grown into some intense and advanced asana practices at times (read: pretty weird poses done for hours at a time :), I have been wondering how the body with such a training would work with other activities. Still the emphasis for me in doing any yoga practice is on the subtle development and so as a scientist-anthropologist I am then curious to see how different activities work with or take away from the subtle development going on inside. The Hathapradipika, a key text on hatha yoga, offers as one of its obstacles to growth in practice any “over-exertion”. So is there a way to do other activities, such as running, while adding to both the gross and subtle development of the body and mind?
The book ‘Born to Run’ does a great job at telling a really interesting story while presenting much interesting science on how we have developed as human beings with running as part of our evolutionary course. Barefoot running at that. Only the last 30 years has seen the padded sole in running shoes and with it mega corporations and brand names. The principles behind barefoot or minimalist running seem to echo those in a yoga practice: a stable upright posture with the core engaged by pulling in the area at and below the navel while allowing the arms to be as free as possible. This is another way of saying “sthirasukhamasanam”, being the definition of asana – supported yet free.
Though I feel I am still carrying out this experiment my insight so far is that the yoga practice can work quite well with such a running approach. In fact, it seems to inform it. Running in such a way may in turn help some people’s yoga practice. I have noticed over the years as many couples came on retreat and to practice, many of the men would like to go out running and prefer maybe a shorter asana routine. As I explore it further I instinctively find myself picking out the appropriate asanas to counter the running practice, to get back into the hips, pelvis, back and of course legs right after a run.
There was also an interesting line in the book stating “don’t do yoga with your running practice, it only makes the body too open and you get injured”. (I paraphrase for want of finding the exact line in the book). I understood the point but ultimately couldn’t agree. If you do asana correctly it almost has a gyrotonic effect causing a major stabilization while allowing muscles and ligaments to lengthen. And in the case of our psoas muscle in particular, lengthening is strengthening. Most long term runners have chronically tight psoas as well as hamstrings, closing off the body and in effect making it weaker and more vulnerable to injury. A lifelong runner may experience this opening while first getting into yoga and as such starts to feel these pains. If you approach the asana practice as one approaches a race, with a competitive mindset, you are going to get injured.
This was the other element of barefoot-minimalist running that appealed to me: it was not out to prove anything, win big prizes but could still be super effective, compete with the best while respecting the body’s ‘engineering and infrastructure’. One of the main characters in the book, which is a completely true and personal story, is credited with making his voice heard on barefoot running. He has become the eponymous character for it going by Barefoot Ted. So I decided to give him a call to find out more about this art of running. A really nice guy with whom I spoke for over an hour and a half on the subject. Towards the end I discovered that his girlfriend, also a dedicated runner, is equally a committed ashtanga yoga practitioner. Suddenly it all started to make sense and the connection of “Yoga Barefoot and Barefoot Running” became clearly established. What more was there for me to do but to arrange a joint retreat with Barefoot Ted to explore both the running and asana (July 7-14, 2012 at Samahita Retreat – Yoga Thailand)
Christopher McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’ has been, for me, one of the most exciting and interesting books I have read in a while. (I must be reading too many yoga books o) He also introduces Professor Lieberman and his anthropological studies on how the homosapien is a unique species that can run super long distances, separating it from other species, even our close rival, the neanderthal. The science presented to support this evolutionary running development, barefoot at that, is impressive. Others have suggested we were best as sprinters. One thing is for sure, we have been good at using our intelligence to evolve society and how we live with nature. We may not need to run super long distances today yet it has become a huge pastime for many. Through all of this my own mind’s trajectory cannot help see it all end up at being ‘Born to Sit’.
So from running, to asana positions, to sitting with breath till there is just space. I can’t help but see this line in our evolution that we have refined the body and its movements, while using our intelligence (though observing humanity obviously not enough in many instances), to then be able to explore the subtleties within. It seems the human experience is capable of spanning the range of, as I will dub it, “From Running to Sitting”. Or better still, “Born to Run, Born to Breathe, Born to Sit”. How could these two not be connected – running and yoga? It’s just a matter of how much you do and how you balance them out. That’s what I hope we can explore more.
July 7 -14, 2012
Yoga Barefoot and Barefoot Running
With Barefoot Ted McDonald and Paul Dallaghan
At Samahita Retreat – Yoga Thailand
An opportunity to explore the movements and subtleties of the body, finding a connection between running and yoga practice, sharing insights, tips and experience.