Beyond the Road
by J. Lance Tarr
Have you ever thought beyond the physical existence, beyond the five senses, beyond that run down the road?
I used to compartmentalize my life. There was my physical self, then the mental/intellectual self, then the emotional self, the social self, and finally, the spiritual self. The neat thing is, our 'selves' are integrated nicely, very much like the systems of the body. It is a shame to treat each 'self' separately, as it is to only treat a certain part of the body.
Abraham Maslow, a psychologist of prominence in humanistic psychology, developed a hierarchy of needs in which one set of needs could not be met (often not even considered) until the foundation needs were addressed and adequately satisfied. At the base of the pyramid lies physiological needs (food, water, warmth, etc.) while at the top is what Maslow termed, "Self-Actualization." It means, being everything you can be, approaching total fulfillment and potential in all aspects of one's life. This level is tough to achieve if one is compartmentalizing. At one time, my physical self got an overabundance of attention (running, biking, triathlon, etc.), while my other selves were given minimal attention if not downright totally neglected.
About five years ago, I attended a weekend retreat and a participant mentioned BALANCE! He was talking about balancing one's life with the rhythm of life. It struck me that I was not doing that. Guess what? I'm still not balanced. However, the first step in change is realizing that a need exists, contemplating what needs to be done, and initiating action to remedy the situation. It may well be compared to a journey without an end. In light of that, let's take a look at some methods of training which can not only enhance a good run, but can possibly balance one's life a bit better.
How Did We Get Here?
The world of sport and conditioning is constantly changing, evolving, growing. I can recall watching Jack LaLanne on TV in the late '50s. This guy was way ahead of his time. He was beyond fit, hitting the gym at 5 a.m. daily and balancing muscular strength and endurance with cardiovascular aerobics and stamina.
The mid to late '60s saw a tennis trend hit. That gave way to the jogging (man, I hate that word) craze, which thankfully, soon turned into a running boom in the late '70s through the mid '80s. As if running wasn't enough, biking and swimming were added and the triathlon masses were at it. Racquetball became quite popular in the early to mid '80s, as well. In the '90s we hit a soccer surge, hockey became popular and martial arts enjoyed a certain 'kick' in the '80s and '90s. Meanwhile, some of these same people, plus others seeking something else, decided transcendental meditation was the thing for them.
Of late, we have re-discovered some disciplines that have been around a long time. Pilates, virtually almost unheard of by the masses prior to 1990, has caught on. Yoga, which has been around for some 5000 years, is enjoying a resurgence. Tai Chi is also quite popular. Add in reflexology, massage, acupuncture, psychotherapy, rolfing, and a host of others and the regular running guy or regular running gal can get pretty confused, perhaps even off balance.
Ask yourself, "Will any of these disciplines help balance my life? Do they enhance my running?" Let's explore two of the more popular ones.
When I originally read about Pilates some years ago, I thought it was pronounced like what we call the roof of the mouth (palate). Then I embarrassed myself while talking to a professor about this old 'new' form of conditioning and pronounced it wrong. He corrected me by simply stating how it was pronounced: Puh-lot-eez.
Pilates happens to be the last name of a gentleman named Joe. Joseph H. Pilates (1880-1967) was born in Germany and may well be the Father of Core Conditioning. During WWI, Mr. Pilates was a nurse and worked with injured soldiers. He developed a method of rehabilitation by building apparatus from hospital beds and springs which he utilized to aid and challenge his patients. In 1926, he moved to New York City and opened his first studio.
Pilates recognized then that our body's core (abs, low back, glutes) is actually where all movement is initially generated and where stability for that movement is a must. Posture, synergistic muscle recruitment, control of the core, focus, and breathing are all emphasized. In fact, Joe espoused eight basics he termed 'contrology'. These are concentration, control, precision/coordination, isolation/integration, centering, flowing movement, breathing, and routine. In conjunction with those dynamics, he also originated and named the aforementioned machinery such as The Reformer, Wunda Chair, Cadillac, Pedipull, Spine Corrector Barrel, High Chair, and Low Chair. In addition, he developed a mat program by which it was not necessary to utilize machines. In all, there are about 500 different exercises you can perform depending on whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran.
Pilates benefits are listed as improving strength and muscle tone along with increased flexibility. It has a mind component in that your focus and breathing during the sequential exercise helps to release/decrease negative thoughts, promote inner harmony, and lower mental stress. For the most part, it is user friendly and can be done by all ages regardless of fitness or functional level. It can be preventive in terms of avoiding ill-health through exercise proactiveness, or it can be rehabilitative in terms of injury recovery and progressive functional improvements.
Yoga originated in India and has been evolving for about 5000 years or so. A Sanskrit word, yoga actually has a variety of meanings including 'union,' 'unite' or 'bind.' The male who practices yoga is called a yogi, while a female practitioner is referred to as a yogini.
About 2000 years ago, an Indian sage named Patanjali set to paper the oral tradition of yoga naming it the Yoga Sutra. Sutra can be loosely translated into 'putting the most information into the shortest description.' The Yoga Sutra consists of 195 statements that serve as philosophical signposts for the yoga that is now practiced.
Yoga has what is called the 'Eight Limbs' which consist of: yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyani, and samadhi. In our language, those represent: restraints, observances, postures, breathing, withdrawal of senses, concentration, meditation, and absorption. We, in the U.S., are most familiar with the third limb (asana or postures).
There are many different types of yoga. Hatha yoga is the physical aspect of yoga. Hatha has sort of a yin/yang bend to it. Translated, the ha means 'sun,' and the tha means 'moon.' It is a uniting of opposites and is utilized to balance the mind and the body. It is a kind of foundation yoga recommended as preparation for venture into other yogas.
Other branches of yoga include Bhakti, Tantra, Ashtanga, Kundalini, White Lotus, Iyengar, Bikram, Kripalu...the list is long. Each branch has a different emphasis, but yoga is primarily about self-actualization and getting to 'know thyself' with unification of mind, body, and spirit. It is a philosophy and a lifestyle, it is not a religion.
What can it do for you? Those who practice say it improves muscle tone, flexibility and stamina while significantly reducing stress and tension. It boosts self-esteem, improves concentration and creativity. It creates a sense of well-being and calm. In short, it focuses on being rather than doing. It is non-violent, non-competitive, and focuses on being in the present vs. the past or future.
Food for Thought
Too often I think we, particularly as runners, miss so many other things which life has to offer. I mentioned earlier about our different selves (social, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual). If we are very heavy in one of those areas, the other areas will not be as enriched. The older I get, the more I see the need for balance. Someone once told me that anything in excess is bad. I don't think that's true when it comes to love and faith. However, there is a certain wisdom in that statement. Connecting mind, body and spirit at various moments in time perhaps gives us a glimpse of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Don't be afraid to seek your balance.
Author's note: The author would like to acknowledge Jo Ann Gould, Aerobics Coordinator and Certified Pilates Instructor at the Howard Long Wellness Center, Wheeling, WV, Samantha Sturm, Kripalu Yoga Teacher Certified / Kripalu Bodywork Certified and Jerry Kosem for their help and instruction.
About the Author: Lance Tarr is a licensed physical therapist, an exercise physiologist, and a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specilist. He is currently a doctoral candidate in physical therapy at Wheeling Jesuit University. A former competitive endurance athlete, he now stays fit, competes less, and enjoys life more with each passing year.