The first time Sage Rountree tried yoga, she was underwhelmed.
Or maybe devastated and humbled would be a more apt description.
As a runner, Rountree – who has since become a respected yogi and a popular speaker, the author of six books on yoga, and an endurance-sports coach – assumed that the yoga class she’d observed through the gym door would be easy.
The first class she attended, though, was “devastatingly hard” and “so humbling,” she said on a recent Runner Academy podcast. After three classes, she gave up and didn’t try again for a few years. But that time, it clicked. Here’s one thing she learned:
“There is such a range of yoga practices available that I really want listeners to know that if they have a negative experience, as I did, in the first class or two, keep looking, because it’s just like running shoes – there’s so many different styles out there. … You have to keep trying until you find a teacher and a style that works for you.”
In other words: Keep an open mind, and don’t give up.
That is great advice for all areas of life, not just for finding the right yoga class. After all, Rountree is a published author, sells DVDs of her classes and gets invited to speak expertly about yoga on runner podcasts. Maybe she would have become a prominent and respected figure without yoga (after all, she has a PhD in English lit), but perseverance was, no doubt, a key ingredient in her success.
Many times I’ve looked back at situations where I’ve given up before seeing success, and I feel regret. This is especially true when the stakes are high – when success might have meant a change in my life for the better. Or maybe it simply would have been an opportunity to build confidence or endurance, or to set a positive example for someone else. Maybe it would have made the difference between kicking a bad habit or establishing a new one.
Interestingly, when Rountree tried yoga again a few years after the initial frustrating attempts, she encountered the same teacher she’d had when she called it quits. But this time she was in a different stage of life, and this was a different type of class. This time she was pregnant and tried a prenatal class, which she loved for its gentleness and camaraderie with the other moms-to-be. She persevered, and she discovered something wonderful.
As a fairly new practitioner, I’ve learned that key concepts in yoga are strength, balance and alignment. Many people associate yoga with flexibility, and that definitely is a component, but my local teacher gives the concept of strength a slight edge over flexibility. (In the podcast, Rountree addresses flexibility in relation to runners, specifically.)
Yoga can be a great complement to running and other endurance sports – not only physically but mentally – as well as living our best lives. Open-mindedness and perseverance are just a couple of the benefits we can gain from yoga. Here are six other ideas I took from the podcast:
It helps develop mental toughness (stepping outside our comfort zone).
Runner Academy’s host, Matt Johnson, asked Rountree how to help men get over the perception that yoga is for women.
As we know, men’s and women’s physiology is different, Rountree said.
“You just have to accept that your body is gonna work really differently … so male bodies are going to look pretty different going into the shapes [poses]. If you can accept that and be open, well, that’s one step toward good mental skill for your racing: accepting the things that you can’t change and instead coping with what’s happening right now in the moment.”
It underscores the importance of making changes when necessary.
In the interview, Rountree talks about incorporating yoga into a training routine with running. As a coach, she integrates different types of yoga with different stages of a running program, depending on the type of race and the length of the training cycle. (For instance, for a 16-week marathon-training program, the first few weeks might be fairly challenging, the middle moderately so, and the final two to four weeks will be gentle as the runner tapers in preparation for race day.)
In the 21st century, one thing that’s constant is change. Being able to adapt will serve us in many areas.
It reminds us to be gentle with ourselves when we need to.
The second time Rountree tried yoga (when it finally “clicked”) was when she was pregnant and took a prenatal class. It was a totally different experience (except for a part that had previously grossed her out: massaging one another’s feet – this time she loved it!), and the gentle class was what she needed at that time in her life.
We all go through phases, through cycles of life. We all have times when it’s OK (sometimes even necessary) to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and treat ourselves gently.
(And Rountree makes restorative yoga sound amazing and wonderful – “because it’s pretty much a guided nap!”)
It helps us embrace and appreciate our uniqueness.
Runners won’t necessarily need the same type of yoga poses (Rountree calls them shapes) that others do. Most runners will be less flexible on the mat, and that’s a good thing. We want our running muscles to power us through a race or a workout, not to become relaxed noodles. Too much flexibility can actually lead to injury.
Appreciate the ways God made you different. He did it for a reason!
It urges us not to neglect rest/sleep.
Rountree talked about these two ideas separately: rest as it relates to recovery from physical exercise, and sleep as the No. 1 ingredient in restoring all sorts of physical and mental functions.
Studies have been performed for years on the benefits of mental restoration and sleep. Do I really need to say more? 🙂
It encourages us to be mindful.
Mindfulness complements the idea of mental toughness.
Rountree offered “eight steps toward yoga, or union, or connection,” and I won’t list them all here. Listen to the podcast and appreciate the practical wisdom in them, whether you’re a runner or simply someone who’d like to develop a few mental and physical practices to make life better.
(Here’s the link to Runner Academy Episode 69, or you can listen to it in iTunes. It’s 53 minutes long and worth every minute.)
At the end of the podcast, Rountree mentions Yoga Vibes and provides a coupon code for a discount on her workouts there, and she refers to other resources that runners and others may be interested in. Give it a listen.
YOGA IN BATESVILLE
If you live in or near Batesville, Ark., I would love to introduce you to my yoga teacher, Marnie Davis. She’s awesome in so many ways, and you have no need to be embarrassed or intimidated in one of her classes. She welcomes men and women, young and old, of all shapes, sizes and ability levels. (Don’t worry; she will be gentle with you.)
This summer, Marnie is teaching a class at 6 p.m. on Mondays in the Pocket Park on Main Street (unless it rains). If you want more info from Marnie, leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch.
What are some of the benefits you see from yoga?