My primary reason for getting on the yoga mat has nothing to do with what happens on that 12-or-so square feet of foam or rubber and everything to do with what happens off of it. I’m what’s known in yoga circles as a “householder,” a student of yoga for whom the practice supports her engagement in the wider world.
Yoga makes it easier for me to interact with my work, my relationships, my (sometimes strong-willed) 4 year old, and life in general in a way that reflects my core values. Yoga makes me happier, stronger, more energetic, more optimistic, more flexible, and more patient.
Over many years, yoga has affected my entire life, but in the beginning, that’s not why I practiced. When I first started regularly attending an Ashtanga-inspired class at my gym on Tuesday nights, it was to keep me on the road so I could finish a marathon in the fall of 2001.
Back when I started running (which I did when signing up for said marathon) and over the first few years, I was diagnosed with a laundry list of runners’ injuries. My ailments included shin splints, plantar faciiitis, patella femoral syndrome, chondromalacia . .
The orthopedist took x-rays and referred me to physical therapists. The podiatrist made me custom orthopedic shoe inserts and referred me to physical therapists. The physical therapist was fascinating: she hooked me up to electrical shock machines and taught me a bunch of exercises to do at home.
My podiatrist and and the guy at the shoe store agreed that I needed motion control shoes (with the custom inserts) to prevent excess outward pronation of my feet and compensate for my low arches. The right shoes are definitely important, but I still credit my yoga practice for keeping me on the road.
The poses in my weekly yoga classes strengthened the parts of the body that running neglected and stretched the parts of the body that running tightened. The emphasis on breath helped focus my mind and, like running, reduced my stress level and improved my mood. While learning to engage my muscles to properly align my bones, I discovered a body awareness that translated off the mat onto the road and has subtly and not so subtly affected my running form and stride . . . and eventually my bio-mechanics.
Last summer after a short running hiatus, my shins started bothering me again. When new versions of my old running shoe weren’t available, I went back to the shoe store for advice. As all good running shoe salespeople should, the clerk watched me run before suggesting shoes. It turns out that after decade of yoga, I had re-patterned my movement style. My feet, ankles, and shins can keep proper alignment all by themselves, without motion control shoes or custom orthotics.