One of the great things about the expansion of our WOOT group is that our league of diversely talented women continues to grow. With such a vast collective wealth of knowledge and experience in different areas and skills, I look forward to tapping into our "inhouse" pool of resources and asking some of you to share with the rest of us your expertise on topics that you're not only familiar with, but which also relate in some way to our love of running.

On that note, I am so excited to introduce to you to Stephanie Ermel and leave you in her hands as she describes how yoga became an integral part of her life and how she believes it can assist us as runners, as well as enhance our overall health and well-being; take it away Stephanie:

I am a kindergarten teacher and a yogi who’s also beginning to venture into the world of running. My first yoga teacher used to start every class by saying, "Set your intention for your practice today: Is it physical? Mental? Emotional? Spiritual? Or maybe all of these things." Kathleen and I often discuss how running and yoga offer life lessons and if you can relate to that at all, then you’ll understand all of my mumbo-jumbo below.

Physical:
Yoga stretches your entire body and most importantly for runners: the hamstrings, calf muscles, and quads, that tend to get overused. However yoga can really benefit anyone, regardless of age, athleticism, flexibility, etc. For myself and many others, the hips tend to be very tight; so “hip-openers” are especially painful and wonderful (in a good way, like a massage). It’s also been said that we store our emotional baggage/past in our hips and that’s why they’re often so uncomfortable to release - and being the hippy that I am, I love that.
Stretching and increasing flexibility helps reduce the risk of injury; if your body learns to go with the flow, it won’t fight as hard against new challenges - a great metaphor for life.

Yoga is a moving-meditation during which every movement matches breath: if your breathing is off, then that’s an indication that something is out of sync (usually your ego) and you need to focus on getting it on track again, otherwise risk injury. It’s easy to find yourself holding your breath when a pose is difficult even though that’s the most important time to become aware of your tight spots and breathing. (Again, life lesson.) You must imagine sending your breath to the area that needs it most, that is being challenged. I’ve learned that breath is also key in running, so WOOT has provided me with another opportunity to practice this skill.
Lastly, yoga makes you STRONG all over. Running does not necessarily push your upper body to the limit in quite the same way that arm balances and other yoga poses might.

Mental:
I used to dislike running because my internal dialogue was horrible: “You’re tired… this is boring… how much further? Just walk, you‘re going to have to turn around at some point anyway… you’re not a runner…” and so on and so on. I was very hard on myself about everything and that didn’t leave a lot of room for improvement. About 5 years ago I got tired of listening to that garbage when I stumbled upon great books, amazing people, yoga, and all of these other wonderful things that helped me to recognize that this voice was not my own and that I had the power to change the tape that was playing in my head. I always close my yoga practice by thanking my body; that’s helped me to have daily gratitude for the fact that I can move my limbs, that I’m strong: I can breathe on my own and that I’m alive.

As a former gymnast, yoga was like coming home and just for me until I joined a studio that had some crazy-talented yogis in it. Then I allowed those negative thoughts to creep in again but it gave me the chance to apply “yogattitude” and one of my mantras for everything in life: don’t worry about everyone else, just focus on you. I cannot tell you how many times a day I say this to both my kindergarten class, and myself. You have to realize in yoga (and in life) that there are certain things that you can’t do - not now and maybe never but you have to honor your body and accept these things about yourself because otherwise, only you will suffer.

Emotional/Spiritual:
I mentioned my profession at the beginning of this piece not only because I love being a teacher but because in teaching, I’m constantly reminded of how important it is for each one of us to accept ourselves and others. We dedicate so much love and nurturing to children that we forget that people around us (ourselves included) are just kids who deserve it as well. All day long I root for little people, lift them up and make every accomplishment of theirs seem like the only thing that matters; so how come I don’t always do the same for myself? I think no matter what your “thing” is, it’s important to celebrate where you’re at - do I feel silly celebrating my first 5K, 10K, with WOOT women who do Ultras? Uhh, yeah… but again, running reminds me that I’m only competing against myself, so I might as well be nice about it! There’s no fighting negative thoughts, the only way to do that is to replace them with positive ones. Now when I’m running I’ll say, “I can’t believe you’re doing this, I never thought you could but here you are!”a little crazy, but true.
I still ask myself: when will I run a ½ marathon? A full? Maybe even an Ultra? Yikes, maybe when I get my diet in check - when will beer and cheese not be so appealing to me? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I’m not going to waste today worrying about them - one breath, pose, step, and day at a time, right?

From Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth:
Body awareness not only anchors you in the present moment, it is a doorway out of the prison that is the ego. It also strengthens the immune system and the body’s ability to heal itself.

From Fred Roger’s The World According to Mister Rogers:
When we love a person, we accept him/her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed with the fa├žade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.
Stephanie in one of her yoga poses - both impressive and inspiring!

Thanks for the great post Stephanie!