When my hamstrings started bothering me a few weeks ago, I decided it meant I must be doing something right, since most runners talk about tight hamstrings. This is called putting a positive spin on things! Positive spin or not, my legs have been reminding me that they wanted attention. I knew that the days before some action would be needed were numbered.
I had put corrective action on hold until the two half marathons I had scheduled were behind me. Having now completed a relatively low-key local half on May 13 and a large, festive gathering of nearly 12,000 runners for the Ottawa Half on May 27, together with my husband, son, and brother, these are my take-aways:
1. I do a LOT better running in cool weather. (It was beautiful and cool for the local race and beautiful and warm in Ottawa!)
2. It’s really fun to be part of Ottawa Race Weekend, regardless of the temperature or your time.
3. It’s really, really fun to participate in a festive race with your family.
4. It’s time to take care of my hamstrings.
Now, what kind of action does one take to whip those hamstrings back in shape, so they no longer feel like they’re about to cramp most of the time? Going online, I can find lots of advice that sounds very similar to how one approaches any soft tissue injury: rest, ice, compression, elevation, ibuprofen. And strengthen your gluts. But I kind of feel as though, along with this standard self-treatment, maybe it’s time to try yoga.
Yoga comes up in all kinds of conversations involving flexibility and core strength these days. I’ve had it recommended to me by several much younger running colleagues, both female and male. People I know who have had no success in overcoming back pain and wanted to get back to their favourite sports activity have tried yoga classes in desperation and now swear that it made a real difference.
Of course, for many years – decades, in fact – acquaintances who were not sports oriented were devotees of yoga for what it brought to their lives: peace, centeredness, and flexibility. And most recently, the topic of mindfulness has come to me from many directions: from Bhutan, from articles on mindfulness in leadership, and from those engaged in the practice of yoga. It seems that in this increasingly frenetic world, where there is so much to distract us and keep us from focusing, ancient eastern philosophy has something to teach us.
For years, my feeling was that yoga seemed to be great for others, but not necessarily for me. The vocabulary itself is hard to get into. The philosophical underpinnings require acceptance rather than skepticism. I did try a class once or twice, but by the time I figured out what position I was supposed to be in, the class had moved on to the next one. And I couldn’t place my hands flat on the ground because of my arthritic thumbs, nor could I stay in some positions for long because of reflux issues, so why even try? I clearly didn’t belong in the class.
However, I am now willing to admit that in order to benefit from yoga – as with anything new – I need to give it a chance. For starters, I need to slow down in order to fully absorb what it has to offer. Perhaps that is one of the tenets of yoga that is fundamental to its strengths. I remember a friend of mine telling me years ago that if I didn’t have time for yoga then that was proof that I needed it. She was an early devotee.
The bottom line is that I am a 66 year-old woman who would not be able to do some poses, nor would I want to. But I believe I could gain improved flexibility, looser hamstrings, and a better understanding of mindfulness through some practice of yoga. Maybe even a stronger core, now that we all know what our core is. And if these benefits could help me keep running into my 90s, so much the better!
Now that I have come this far – ready to try – it turns out that it’s not as easy as just paying your money and joining a class. There are so many kinds of yoga; talk about confusing. One of my young friends has suggested that Yin yoga is best for runners. Another young friend swears by Vinyasa yoga for helping get his hamstrings loosened up. (I love that both these young friends are former students of mine.) Meanwhile, another friend has started Qi Gong yoga and loves it. When I look online there is a long list of possibilities, few of which are distinguishable from their descriptions. When I look locally, there are endless options – and this is a small town. There are larger classes, smaller group sessions, and private lessons. How does one choose???