A short reflection on running and mindfulness today.
My first love is and always has been running – I’ve run consistently since I was a teenager and it’s been a kind of up-and-down relationship. Running when I’m angry, running on good days and holidays. I found my way to the yoga mat in a period when I “broke up” with running for a bit, frustrated with a hairline foot fracture. I feel like this is the beginning of a story we’ve heard many times: person has an injury, yoga saves their life. That is difference from my experience; I keep looking for ways to create balance between yoga and running. These nine-plus weeks in yoga teacher training (YTT) has given me a lot of time to reflect on my relationship with running and how my practice can complement it. In the last weeks, we’ve moved through many asana and the phrase that I keep coming back to, is “sthira sukham asanam” – that asana should be steady, stable and motionless, bringing comfort to the mind without swings or pain, pleasure or suffering. Is it possible to apply this to the act of running? To simply, naturally, be in the motion with no discomfort?
On the last few runs, I tried to bring my focusing to my breath and being present (and also not crashing into cyclists or lamposts!). It’s quite different from switching off from being numb or bored after long distances. It’s almost liberating, to find seconds and minutes of centred-ness in motion. Like mindfulness practice, I count the inhalations and exhalations while running, working to get my strides aligned with my breath. Cycles of 20. I’m currently working my way through a book “Still Running” by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, a mindfulness practitioner and ultra-runner. Her book is helpful and enriching in many ways, but this section was particularly memorable. In “Abdominal Breathing” she writes:
“Begin by establishing a running pace that you can maintain for the duration of your run… Using the hara as ground or ‘seat’ of your awareness, focus all your attention on your breath as you run. Notice how your abdomen naturally expands as your inhale, then contracts as you exhale. Breathe easily and evenly, placing slightly more attention on the exhale as you let your body inhale by itself…. Anchor your mind in it. Let every cell in your body, every thought in your mind, be nothing but breath.When you become distracted, see the thought, set it aside and come back. Keep running until you feel you are well grounded in the breath.”
Here I’m thinking – that’s it! Mindfulness as applied to running. Metre to kilometre, seeing the thought and setting it aside. Focus on the breath. I’m going to do this with my runs and see where this takes me, internally.
Ever felt this way? Or do you perpetually feel this way? Well, you have a Vata body type.
Just like me, my first few lessons was greeted with comments such as “hey, you look like you’re dancing in a field of Dandelions” or “you have a very air/space body type”. What a weird first impression to give I thought. But hey, what a weird course to join in the first place! (I mean, who signs up and pays for mental and physical yogic torture!)
I later decided to pursue this point of intrigue and find out more about my yogic body type. It was like discovering a new horoscope system and taking all those horoscope indicator tests again.
Vata is a concept unique to Ayurveda and is one of the 3 doshas. Doshas are principles that govern the physio-chemical and physiological activities. Most of us have 1 or 2 doshas, which are most dominant in our nature, with the remaining one(s) less expressed.
The 3 doshas are known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. In this article, I have compiled various sources and will elaborate on how you can determine your individual constutition, what food constitutes to your dosha element and how to go about finding a balance. Vata, Pitta and Kapha Vata is also known as space and air body type. People who are more “vata” have a “light” quality that may manifest itself in a lanky physique. Excess lightness may manifest as being underweight, having muscle wasting, light bones, insomnia or feeling “spacey” or insecure. The “dry” and “rough qualities may manifest itself as having dry or brittle skin, lips, hair, nails or bones. Or develop poor digestion with lots of bloating and constipation. The “subtle” quality of air may express itself as being introverted and creative, while the “mobile” quality can represent a healthy ability to multi-task. If in excess, this may result in scattered attention, fidgety tendency, tremors and nervousness. Pitta is also known as the fire and water body type. Pitta individuals are typically of medium build. Physically, they have good muscle tone; have a tendency to always feel warm; have premature graying hair or balding; have reddish complexions; enjoy high energy levels; and have really strong digestion – they can eat almost anything. Mentally, they are extremely intelligent, focused, ambitious people. Emotionally, they are passionate about life, have a tendency to be perfectionists, and can become easily irritated.
Out of balance, Pitta types can experience excessive anger, suffer from inflammatory conditions (such as headaches and rashes), encounter digestive problems (such as acid reflux, diarrhea and ulcers), and become over-stressed, workaholics. Kapha is also known as the earth and water body type and typically the largest of the body types. Physically, they have wide hips/shoulders; thick wavy hair; good physical stamina. Mentally, Kapha types tend to me slow to learn, but they have great memories. Emotionally, they tend to be very loyal, stable, and reliable – they are often referred to as the “rocks” in a relationship.
Out of balance, Kapha individuals have a tendency towards sinus congestion, poor circulation, and sluggish digestion that can easily lead to obesity.
To find out what dosha you are, take a dosha quiz here. Vata, Pitta and Kapha foods
Even foods have their own Ayurvedic qualities. Try identifying some of these foods and you’ll see that the type of food you take in daily may actually correspond with your Ayurvedic body type. Vata Food: Dry/crunchy foods, carbonated beverages, and cold/raw vegetables Pitta Food: Hot spices, alcohol, coffee, vinegar, and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes Kapha Food: Deep fried, sweet or heavy foods. Too many cold foods or drinks can also lead to an increase as well. In general, fatty and oily food. Eating for your Ayurvedic body type
Balance is the key to life. Now that you know what is your dosha. Find out how what type of diet works best for you. Vata Body Type
Following a vata diet helps rid your body of the imbalance responsible for your insomnia and anxiety, restoring your creativity. Fatty acids, such as avocados, almonds, flaxseeds and freshwater fish, are the answer for your anxiety and depression. Oils such as canola, coconut, corn, olive and sesame help relieve the dryness you experience. John Douillard, DC, Ph.D, author of “The Yoga Body Diet,” explains no oils are off-limits for the vata diet. He recommends choosing high-protein foods like nuts, chicken, turkey and fish. Increase oils for cooking and choose warm food over cold or dry food. Examples of vegetables include Brussels sprouts, garlic, winter squash and tomatoes. Fruits include dates, figs, grapefruits, grapes, lemons, limes, mangoes and oranges. Choose spices such as anise, black pepper, basil, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger, saffron and turmeric. Enjoy butter or buttermilk, cottage cheese, rice or soy milk and yogurt. Brown rice, wheat and oats top the list for grains. Sweeteners such as raw honey, molasses, rice syrup and raw sugar can be used in moderation.
To find out more balancing your Vata Body Type, take a look at this video:
Pitta Body Type
In terms of a balancing diet, those who have a predominantly Pitta dosha need to be cooled down. Hospodar’s article in the “Yoga Journal” states that Pittas need a reduced amount of fats, oils and salt. Pitta-pacifying foods include ripe fruits and vegetables, except garlic, tomatoes, radishes and chilies. Coriander and mint have a cooling effect, and pomegranates, coconuts, grilled vegetable salads and rice pudding help to reduce Pitta if it is unbalanced.
To find out more balancing your Pitta Body Type, take a look at this video:
Kapha Body Type
To combat the congestion, Kapha types can add garlic to their diet or take garlic supplements. Hospodar’s article in the “Yoga Journal” states that light, dry, warm foods will help to stimulate and warm-up someone with predominately Kapha in their make-up. Grains such as barley, buckwheat and rye are good for the Kapha type, as are apples, cranberries and other light, dry fruits. Kaphas can also eat spices, herbs, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, but should avoid salt.
Exercise is also critical to keep Kapha people in balance; if you have a Kapha body type, you have to get up and move!
To find out more balancing your Kapha Body Type, take a look at this video: