Lessons for running—from stillness in yoga.

“Allow the weight of your body to relax into the earth, not your heart.”

When I heard this phrase from (Yoga with) Adriene one day, it struck me immediately. I turned it over in my mind, processed what it meant. It rang poetic—and powerful.

The call has also revisited me at times when I’m on the trail. It comes to me most readily when I’m feeling in a flow state, or at least close to it—cruising down a hill or gliding through switchbacks or quickly bounding over rocks and roots. No cares, just natural concentration as foot contacts ground. It’s offered a lens to observe and understand my evolving relationship to running. Here is what this concept of yoga has taught me about running and why I keep showing up to do it, even if I need a reminder on the not-so-good days.

Connecting with my environment. One day last summer, I was on a solo trail run. It had been raining all day. In the clearing at the top of the ridge, the wind blew the rain into my face, but I didn’t mind. Most of the run was under the canopy of the trees, offering protection from the wind. Water flowed down the trails in places. I had passed a group of hikers on my way out and encountered them again on my way back. One asked me how far I was running. About 15 miles, I told him. “Why so far?” he asked. I replied that I was training for a 50-mile race, but after we parted ways, I realized it was more than that. I train for ultra-endurance stuff because it offers me osme structure to go play in the woods for hours at a time.

When I’m in a flow state, I feel very aware of each connection between my foot and the ground. When I’m running, I’m taking in the world around me, whether it’s out in the mountains or close to home in the city. The birds, the light, the water, the art… I’m soaking in the place. Some days offer dark signals—figuratively and literally—of the state of our climate and environment (wildfire smoke is the most common sign here) and a need to keep doing what is in my power to shift the balance. Other days it simply offers examples of awe, in small and large ways. Running, in short, is an important way I experience the world I’m in.

Being present in my body now. I’ve long been prone to those internal narratives telling me I’m not good enough and telling me I should be better than I am. In running, the voice has usually focused on pace and effort. Why am I so slow? Ugh, this pace really shouldn’t feel that hard. Sometimes that voice has gotten into my head, and I’ve done stupid things chasing “performance” (it’s all relative) and ended up with a stress injury. Even when it’s not pushing me toward that extreme, it’s still stealing my joy—comparing myself to others, to me on another day, to some imaginary version of me… That is pouring the weight of my body—and my expectations of it—into my heart, adding emotional weight that no one needs.

When I instead allow the weight of my body to relax into the earth, I am more aware of and present in my current physical state. I try to greet it with gratitude for the gift of moving me through the world and enabling me to experience the space around me, even when I might not be feeling my best. Rather than should-ing myself, I try to acknowledge, accept, and work with what I have to bring today in terms of energy, pace, sensation… I’m far from perfect in this arena, but when I can lean into this presence, my chest feels lighter, uplifted, without the burden of anxiety and frustration in my heart.

Trusting the foundations. In yoga, I often hear a phrase about trusting that the ground is there to support you or catch you. In many ways, the same is relevant for running, particularly on trails. The spot where my foot is landing in this moment? My brain already chose and committed to that spot and is already calculating the next step (and the next). Without consciously thinking, I trust that the ground is there and will support me. Of course, on trails, it might not always be as firm or flat as I expect, but the brain and body are incredibly good at their jobs and usually keep me on my feet.

This idea makes me think of the other “grounds” I trust in running too. I trust that consistency, showing up today in a way that empowers me to show up again tomorrow, will support me in continuing a sustainable practice of movement. I trust my body intelligence to help me know when I need to just overcome a mental block and get/keep going versus when I need to slow down or take a break. I trust my training (and my coach who plans it!), that it will support me in exploring what I’m capable of and in moving with gratitude. And I trust my partner and my community to be there to support and encourage me.