Never say never: lessons learned through yoga

I’ll admit that when my sister suggested I try yoga, I wasn’t sold on the idea. I didn’t quite understand how stretching and holding positions could help me – after all, I had a lot of weight to lose and a steep climb to fitness. In my experience, hardcore cardio was the answer, but she continued to press me to sign up. Shortly after her visit and through the magic of Groupon, an amazing deal came along. I figured, eh, $20 for 20 sessions, what’s to lose? (other than dignity, of course.) Early one Saturday morning I got up the courage to drive to Kensington to attend my first class at Yoga and Beyond. 

The first hot yoga class was tough. Real tough. I liken it to Mr.Harvey’s basketball practices in which I thought I was going to throw up 99% of the time. There was one point in the session where I thought, “I should have updated my will.” For a solid 75 minutes I thought that there was no other torture but hot yoga. And then it was over. I felt terrific – albeit, lighter due to water loss. 

The teacher was fantastic. She took time to help me with my poses; showed me the correct form and gently encouraged me to push harder. It was different than any other sport I had tried. Though I love team sports, the yoga environment differed in that I never felt self-conscious. It  was wholly supportive – though it was obvious I struggled, everyone was eager to encourage rather than judge or worse yet, ignore. I still distinctly remember being in downward dog (with blood rushing to my head; pins and needles in my fingers and sweat pouring off my face) when the teacher claimed that soon it would feel like a resting position. That we would gain strength and feel normal like this. I don’t know if my scoff was audible or not, but oddly enough, when I practice nowadays down dog is comfortable. She also said that without realizing it, the poses and sequence will become so natural you’ll no longer feel awkward moving through them. She was right. She said I’d have more energy. I do. I’ve experienced several benefits from yoga, but I know there are still lots of people out there (like me) who will be hesitant to give it a try; Hear me out:

I’m a normal chick. Not an athlete. Not a skinny, lululemon girl. But I practice yoga and I love it.

I never thought that I would ever consider downward dog a resting or comfortable position. Now I do DDs every morning when I get up to stretch. AND I never thought I would be able to do downward dog with both feet, flat on the mat. I can! 

I never ever thought I would be able to complete a full-bind. I have. 

I never thought I would be able to “gently float my feet back to the mat”  which is another way of saying going from standing to plank position gracefully. I do. 

I never thought I’d be able to do salutations properly – because I could never do a push up. I’m proud to say I can do a real, proper push-up AND salutations!  

I never thought I would be able to do a proper bridge pose or a full backbend and even laughed when it was suggested that I try. It took a while, but I did that too! 

After just over a year of practice, I’ve accomplished a pretty awesome list of things I thought I would never be able to do. I wholeheartedly recommend that you try yoga. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hockey player, a runner, bowler, whatever! Young/old ... Yoga is amazing. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be like this lady when they grow up -> 

Night Running: Pros and Cons

 <- My vest was not this cool.

I’ve always been partial to running at night. Twelve years ago when I first started running I was fat (so proof that anyone can run). I can remember someone remarking that the only reason I could run was because my weight pushed me forward (though I remember this asshole distinctly, I’ll withhold the name to protect their identity.) Yep – it was a brutal comment to hear, but nonetheless gave me the drive to continue running.

For a few reasons, I think that running at night is the bomb-dot-com:

  • Running at night always seems more peaceful. The darkness provides a bit of a safe-haven if you’re a little self-conscious; when you’re not super stoked to publicize a rosy face, runny nose and the look of death from running.
  • If you’re like me (swivel head) there’s actually less to see at night, so you can focus on your breathing (or just remember to breathe period.) And technique.
  • It’s a huge stress reliever. If you’ve had a particularly hectic day, go for a jog. I guarantee by the time you come back, you’ll feel better about whatever problems you had prior.
  • Finally, I like to belt out songs while running and this just seems less strange at night. I do tone it down if I happen to meet someone on my travels, but I guess it helps that I can’t see the expression on their face.

 Now there are some downfalls to running at night: 

  • Cars. Make sure you wear reflective bands. When my parents bought me a running vest several years back, I felt like a complete tool – however, I’d much rather wear a running vest than the grill of a car.
  • Weird people come out after dark. Be mindful of who is around you. Keep an ear bud out or turn your music down so you can hear better. And it doesn’t matter if you live in the nicest, wealthiest neighbourhood as my mom says “Rich people are weirdos too, sometimes the worst,” (this advice she gave while I lived in NYC.)
  • It’s hard to sleep after a night run. During my university days I could work until 11 p.m. and then go for a run, not the case anymore. If I run past 8 p.m. I am wired for most of the night.
  • It’s dark. Duh. Know your route so you don’t hurt yourself. Actually, I do the same 5K route pretty much all the time and I still managed to slip off the pavement and complete a full somersault in front of a mortified dog-walker.

In spite of the cons, running at night is still my favourite time of day to run. I feel stronger at night and I always have my best runs. If you are going to run at night, make sure people can see you, take ID and your cell phone (just in case you need to call a cab!)

I’m interested to hear from other runners who get out in the wee hours of the morning, or on their lunch breaks. Let me know what time of day you consider the best for a great run and why!

Post-run routine to reduce sore muscles and stiffness

The two key components of post-run routine:

(1) Stretch

(2) Eat something!

Several years ago, my brother and I both participated in the Cabot Trail Relay Race at the same time. I ran leg 8 (12.3 km) and he ran leg 5 (17.5km). It was a hot, sunny day – so naturally we laughed at him when he demanded all-dressed chips and chocolate milk as he neared the end of his race. But as it turns out, he may have been onto something.

I’ve never been a huge proponent of eating after a run, especially if I’m running in the evening. However, I recently learned that if you do indeed drink some chocolate milk or have a yogurt/banana smoothie soon after a run (say, within 30 minutes), you can reduce muscle soreness & stiffness. (I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve suffered through a Charlie Horse or two and this is by far a better option). You can also carb up with Cliff Bars or other protein bars; Cliff Bars are the best (in my opinion), especially the brownie flavour. And for those of you who are gluten free, try the Luna brand, mint chocolate chip. Also, it’s important to rehydrate after a run so drink plenty of water. Additionally, I’ve been told by a very hardcore gym lady that “Elevate Me” bars are excellent as well. Gluten & wheat free. Just fruit and protein. No added sweeteners, preservatives or flavours. 16 grams of protein. You can buy them at Costco or London Drugs and stores like Planet Organic & Community Natural Foods.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I religiously stretch before and after a run, however, I find now that my knees aren’t as tough as they once were, I’ve made more of an effort to stretch. The best stretches are static. Click here for a PDF of awesome post-run stretches.  I also incorporate some yoga poses in there to keep my muscles from becoming too stiff.

Disclaimer: I do not encourage eating all-dressed chips post-run. But you only live once so if you want to eat chips, go for it!

Day 1: I think Jillian Michaels may be my arch nemeses!

Tonight was Day 1 of my preparation for the half-marathon. Not sure quite what to do, I thought I’d consult with fitness guru and the spawn of Satan, Jillian Michaels. Several years ago I picked up a book of hers called “Making the Cut”  (not to be confused with the Canadian reality TV show)- despite her fierce delivery, Michaels book is a phenomenal source for everything fitness-related from her designer daily meals to a 30-day gruelling workout routine. When I originally bought the book, I completed the entire workout twice over. Then, as usual, I grew bored of it and it landed in a box. But after two years, it finally made its way back to my Calgary bookshelf and then my gym bag.

The first workout was a mixture of weights, resistance training, yoga (I added this in), jump rope and biking. I was cursing Jillian by circuit 2, but by the last circuit (5) I felt fantastic – knowing full-well that I’ll most likely be sore tomorrow for my 4 mile run. There is something totally satisfying about being able to complete the workout without throwing up – so I must pat myself on the back! I also committed a gym faux pas – I wore grey! I know, I know… you’re not supposed to wear grey because it shows sweat marks, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I was so excited to get this show on the road I didn’t care if people knew I was sweating! I finished the night with a 1o minute bike ride. It was boring. However, I did manage to find someone at the gym who was wearing the Vibram shoes I had recently posted on Facebook. He said they were great and I was happy to hear that you can buy them at Mountain Equipment Coop downtown, so I’ll be making a pit stop down there later this week. But I’m still curious to hear how women like them? I’ve read that if you’re a heel runner it’s extremely hard to adapt. I don’t know much about my running technique other than I’m usually slow and probably not meant to be a runner…

So tomorrow is my first run day. To run with or without the stroller … what should I do?

If you have any training suggestions for me, please share!!