Retrain Your Brain

I love starting off the day with a workout. Starting it off with a workout and writing? Now that just makes me feel rich.

I woke up at 5:30 with no chance of going back to sleep, and all I could think about was starting running again. I had tried following this 8-week beginner’s running program in January, but gave it up after having knee pain that lasted several days. I decided to focus on other fitness goals, like finally getting flexible. You have probably never seen me try to touch my toes, because I try to avoid embarrassing myself in front of others. It’s like watching a T. Rex play volleyball; the effort just falls short of the intended results. Though as a child I was rather athletic and did all types of sports—gymnastics, swimming, basketball, softball, soccer, you name it—sometime after elementary school I stopped being bendy and started tanking on the flexibility portions of the Presidential Fitness tests in gym class. Even post-soccer practice in high school, I’d look around the field at my teammates in their effortless ballerina splits and Gumby-like stretches, and silently wish for longer hamstrings.

So once the running thing didn’t pan out, I started looking at other things I suck at and decided I no longer wanted to be a Stiff Sally, a Tight Tina, an Inflexible Inez. Instead, I’d aim to be a Bendy Belinda. And not only would this be a challenge for my body, it’d also be a challenge for my mind. Yoga is one of those activities I’ve secretly wanted to love but for all my attempts (DVDs, classes) it never stuck. I like competitive, mind-engaging activities with specific goals and strategies (see above: childhood sports). How could I possibly get into such a calming, meditative activity as yoga?

I was going to try, gosh darn it. Time to start developing those inferior aspects of my personality, the things I’m not so good at. So, I downloaded some yoga apps and started practicing for at least 15 minutes a day. I’d get home from work, throw on workout pants, and roll out the yoga mat. Within a week I could feel my lower back muscles getting toned. Two weeks later I could bend over while keeping my legs straight, and touch my toes. That’s right, people. I could now do what children everywhere have mastered by second grade.

What surprised me most was how much I started to look forward to my yoga practice each day. I quickly grew to appreciate those muscle-awakening stretches after sitting for eight hours, and the quiet space yoga afforded me. There is something invigorating about clearing your mind completely and only listening to your body. There is so much noise from work, home, cooking, cleaning, social engagements, bill paying, that it’s surprisingly easy to pay no attention to what your own skin is experiencing. Decluttering the mind is just as important as decluttering that desk.

And even though I’ve taken a month off from running, the benefits I’ve gained from yoga were apparent in today’s run. The improved tone and flexibility seemed to help my muscles operate at a higher level than they had previously. And because my core is stronger than it was five weeks ago, it was easier to pay attention to the running aspects I had neglected before (and which likely added to the knee discomfort), such as striking at mid-foot, leaning forward, and keeping my feet in line. I’m still working out the kinks in my running technique, but I am energized that today’s workout resulted in no knee stress or pain.

So, running, we meet again. And this time I’ve got yoga as a sidekick. Bring it on.

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2 thoughts on “Retrain Your Brain

    • The apps I like best are actual videos of an instructor doing the moves along with you. I tried other ones that had libraries of poses, but they were too static for me–like trying to look at a yoga book while making the poses. I started with Simply Yoga because it was free and I didn’t want to spend money on an app I wasn’t sure I’d use. It has classes of 20, 40, and 60 minute lengths, so you can work your way up to longer sessions when you feel ready. However, it is a bit limited, so after a few weeks I splurged on Yoga Studio for $1.99. It is fantastic! It has tons of pre-made classes of different lengths and ability levels, plus a calendar so you can schedule the classes. And you can make your own class using their library of poses. It’s all narrated and her voice is pretty soothing. Once you hit play you don’t have to think about what pose to select next because the class is all put together for you. If there’s a pose you’re having trouble with, you can view just that pose. I’ve downloaded about six of the classes (all beginner) and not been bored yet.

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