Notes From a College Student: Yoga Nirvana

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by By Amie Dahnke /

KING5.com

Posted on June 1, 2009 at 7:58 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Track star Amie Dahnke is an English major at the University of Portland. She also holds the fastest Crystal Springs course time in UP history, and she became the first freshman since 1990 and the first Portland runner since 2000 to win the women's WCC individual championship. Her fastest 5k is 16:51; her fastest mile is 4:51.

As a runner--even a perpetually injured one--I usually take motion for granted. Running is (obviously) movement, and running is my preferred course of motion. While running, I not only experience a compelling forward motion that makes me feel swift and strong, I feel a smooth cyclical motion in my arms and legs, reminding me of the endurance in my muscles and the pulsation of blood churning through my heart and veins.

The movement of my body when I run makes me feel alive. It is exhilarating, daring and incessantly tests my tolerance for pain and my commitment to hard work. Running can make my muscles simultaneously scream in agony and shout in delight, making me feel more powerful than the Hulk.

But I've cut back on running, especially after almost damaging my body beyond repair, twice. Scaling back from 80-mile weeks to 25-mile weeks left me antsy, unfulfilled and bored.

But then I found yoga, the antithesis of running. Although I'd tested the yogic waters before, I hadn't positioned myself into downward dog for a solid four years. Yoga was always too static--too contemplative for me. When I'm running, my mind speeds a mile a minute, jumping from to-do lists to dinner menus. Yet, I've come to discover that yoga, with its quirky, holistic ways, delivers the same honesty of motion that running does.

Yoga, specifically hatha yoga, focuses less on the physicality and strenuous effort that running requires and more on the holistic, therapeutic and meditative movement of the body. Hatha yoga is one of two branches of yoga that focuses on the physical. It utilizes physical postures to help stimulate purification, moral discipline, yogic breathing and meditation--all skills my damaged body (and mind) needed to develop.

Hatha yoga is relaxing, while running (yes, I'll admit it) can be harsh. Moving from one position to the next during yoga, my eyes comfortably closed, I am able to focus on pushing the air and pulling my limbs. I imagine my chi flowing through its pathways, building strength and nutrients and clearing the road blocks that have set up camp in my body. Curling up and then elongating every one of my 68 inches to the max, creates a whirlwind of motion. It feels as though I have microscopic runners in my veins and chi pathways, pushing up hills, breaking through barriers and breathing in goodness.

While running makes the muscles durable, the heart strong and the body lean, hatha yoga provides more internal benefits. According to my acupuncturist and yoga instructor, signs of success in hatha yoga are slenderness of body, having a cheerful face, hearing mystical sounds, having bright eyes, possessing a sense of well-being, having control over the bindu, increasing gastric fire and experiencing purification of the nadis.

Although I have yet to hear any mystical sounds, I can honestly report that my face is definitely more cheerful, my eyes are brighter (despite only sleeping four hours a night), and my gastric fire is revving up. (My acupuncturist says my bindu and nadis need some work ... whatever that means.)

I know that I'm happy with yoga and with running. Both provide a sense of vitality in this world, but do so by tapping into completely different sensations. The two activities complement each other in ways I'd never thought of. Running strengthens my heart while yoga strengthens my breathing. Running tones my muscles while yoga elongates them. It's a perfect yin and yang.

Although I don't believe I'll ever, ever, ever stop running, I can say that yoga is quickly becoming an integral part of my weekly workout schedule. Who knew that working out could be so relaxing?

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