Whew. I am recuperating from a sprint triathlon (swim 1/4 mile, bike 5 miles, run 3 miles) I competed in on Sunday. The decision to train for it was an odd one for me; I tend to avoid really competitive situations that involve tasks I'm not very good at. But I thought the challenge of racing with seasoned athletes would be a good one, the discipline of training a good habit to develop, and I was really interested to see how my yoga practice would contribute to the process.
Obviously the increased flexibility was an aid to recovery, and stretching was key after hard workouts, but it was the mental rigor of yoga that was most useful. Like I said, I'm very competitive--too competitive--and I know that trying to do something new with people who are better than me is very difficult. I had to summon all my powers of concentration to stay focused on my own lane and pace and not get too worked up about who was passing me. Taming that pesky ego while in last place, ug.
Running is the hardest. I plod along gracelessly--pound, pound, pound--and envy those that seem to bound by, light on their feet and sleek as gazelles. So not only did I have to ignore those fleet-of-feet, but I also had to drown out the voices in my head encouraging me to just stop because it's too hard. I repeated to myself, over and over, the instructions I always give my students: just focus on your own body, breath into any tension, relax on the exhale, keep your mind clear and just allow the experience to unfold. A lot easier to tell than do.
But, still, it all helped. I think the discipline you build as you practice comes into play any time you are facing a challenging situation--whether it's one you choose or one that's thrust upon you. It's also why I think asana is key to learning how to focus and quiet negative voices, but it's only a tool for developing mental stamina, rather than the whole point.
How do you learn to clear the mind? I don't know. I'm still thinking about that. Maybe it just sneaks up you while you focus on asana; maybe you have to take time to practice meditation and pranayama; maybe you need to find yourself in a rough spot before you know you can do it (I'd definitely put labor and delivery of my two sons in that category). I don't really remember before and and after yoga, so maybe it's a long, slow process of accumulated experience.
Anyway, as I shop for my next race--Madison Quarter Marathon?--I'm mulling all of this. It's nice that the challenge I'm working on is one of my choosing (and you get a tee shirt when you finish), but I'd like to think I could pull these mental yoga skills out whenever I needed them. However, I'm not sure how I'd advise anyone to develop their own...thoughts?