Part of my pre-marathon ritual involves attending a Bikram Yoga class the day before my race. Now, while many people argue that I should be resting, and tell me that Bikram will dehydrate me, I ignore them, knowing that for the past 4 or 5 races, a pre-race class has been just what I needed to physically and mentally prepare. Today was no exception.
I started with a pre-race “dead body pose,” (or in the yogi language of Sanskrit, “Savasana”) where I visualized a solid race with little pain and no injuries or other issues. In other words, I played out a little fairy tale in my head, because I know that few (if any) marathons feel “SOLID,” or even “GOOD” the entire 26.2 miles. There are hiccups along the way that challenge my body and my will. That’s the nature of a marathon.
Savasana or “Dead Body Pose”
This said, I decided to dedicate my class to visualizing my desired finish time (which will remain unprinted for fear of jinxing it) and along the way, visualize as pain free a run as possible.
My corpse pose was interrupted as the instructor entered the room and asked us to come to our feet. At the start of every Bikram class, instructors poll the room to see if there are new students- those who don’t know the Golden Rule- that you must stay in the room the entire 90 minutes. Next, the instructor will try to calm those who freak out at the possibility of no escape, by telling them that if they feel sick or tired, they can take a break on their mats. (To which many new yogis no doubt reply in their minds with, “Thanks, Jerk, it’s 105 degrees in here, I’m sure sitting down will help me feel better.”) Each instructor has a different way of giving that “you better not leave” message. It seems that my instructor today catered these words just for me. What he said was perfect not only for that particular class, but also for my marathon tomorrow, and quite possibly for every uncomfortable situation in my life.
The instructor told us, “Welcome to Bikram. My name is Cornelius. As you go through the poses today, if you feel uncomfortable or challenged; just take a moment. Breathe. Relax. That uncomfortable moment will pass. It always does.”
How do you say “BINGO” in Sanskrit? In about 15 seconds, this instructor articulated the solution to my biggest marathon dilemma- how to deal with the many instances throughout the 26.2 miles that were uncomfortable or challenging. Any marathoner knows that a given race can hold many such moments. They are moments of physical pain (i.e. blisters, leg and stomach cramps, runny noses, aches that come out of nowhere, emergency bathroom issues) and mental pain (We are only at 10?!?!/ Why is that man breathing so loudly?/When is the next water stop?/Why did I sign up for this?). And here’s the thing, new issues crop up all along the course. It’s not like each runner gets just one uncomfortable thing to deal with and that’s that for the run. You don’t know how many challenges will pop up, and you don’t know when to expect them. Sort of like teaching a class full of middle schoolers, the likelihood that something is going to send you over the edge exists at every moment. You’re never “safe” during a marathon.
With this in mind, one can imagine how my wise yoga instructor’s words resonated so deeply with me as I prepare for tomorrow’s challenge. I thought about his words throughout the class; a class which at times was difficult as my head chatter brought all of my anxieties to center stage in what was supposed to be 90 minutes of meditation. Again, the instructor repeated the message, this time during one of Bikram’s most challenging poses- camel. Camel is notorious for bringing all emotions and physical pain to center stage at once. Instructors will tell us after camel, “If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or emotionally spent after doing camel, you’ve done it right.” Well, Cornelius had his own version of this message as well, “Remember that in camel pose, sometimes you’ll feel like a million dollars, other times not. Don’t worry about it if you feel uncomfortable; just acknowledge what you are feeling and then move through it. The pain will pass.”
Again, a fabulous reminder that no matter how bad I feel… whether at mile 20 in my run tomorrow, at 10:00 a.m. during a bad day at work, or in any given situation where I’m feeling discomfort… that moment WILL pass. Acknowledge the pain, yes. But acknowledge it, knowing it won’t last forever.
As class wrapped up, and we again found ourselves in Savasana, or “dead body pose,” Cornelius had one final message for the class. He thanked us for coming to class and sharing our energy with each other. He reminded us that “yoga” means “union,” and that in our class, we all moved together, struggled together, sweat together. In other words, whether we thought about it or not, we all got through those moments together. Tomorrow, as I run with thousands of other marathoners, and pass the crowds who have gathered to show support, I’ll try to remember that there IS indeed energy all around me that can help me get through the uncomfortable moments that await me along the route.
So friends, the next time you feel especially uncomfortable or challenged, please remember to breathe and relax… and know that you are not alone. Those moments will pass… they always do.
by abbey algiers