There are similarities to look for and learn from in watching a yogi and an endurance athlete.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I just returned from attending the 2019 Ironman on Kona, Big Island, Hawaii and, it was epic. The Ironman race is a multi-event sporting contest demanding stamina, in particular in a consecutive triathlon of swimming 2.4-mile (3.86km), cycling 112-mile (180.25km), and running a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20km).

I am familiar with this environment. Before I was a Hatha Yoga teacher, I did many years of pre and post-race massage at Norba Mountain Bike Race events in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. I have also attended many Xterra off-road triathlons and trail running races and, Tough Mudders. I am not the competitive sports women type how but, I enjoy attending these events and gain an incredible amount of knowledge about the human body, training, and recovery. When I first arrive at an endurance sporting event. I feel as though my head might spin off while trying to observe all of this human anatomy in real life. I study these athletes while racing like I approach my YogAlign classes. There are many similarities to look for and learn from in watching a yogi and an endurance athlete.

  • The first point – I observe at an endurance race at the starting line what does the athlete’s body language tell me? What is the expression on their face? At the start of the race, I see if their body reacts with ease to the initial movement? or is it clunky and out of sync? Much like I observe a new or longtime YogAlign student. At first, sight, do they look open and receptive or nervous and guarded, maybe tired from a long day at work or inspired and ready to rumble. When a new student or longtime student begins their YogAlign practice, I notice. Are they moving with ease? or do they appear to be stiff and sticky? Unlike the endurance athlete during a race, I cannot shift anything to create favorable conditions for them. But, in a YogAlign class, I can and will do just that. In keeping my YogAlign class size small and non-competitive, I can see what each student is doing and needing to create favorable conditions and results.
Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (9)
She is moving with ease, aligned and her feet are light and ready to go.
  • The second point I observe regarding the endurance athlete and yogi or yogini is the transition between events/ postures. Has this transition been thought out? Is there ease about it and, are they showing any signs of pain/ fatigue in the physical body or facial expression? How is their breathing quality? I can tell when the student or athlete is becoming fatigued. Resistant, bored/ given up, or experiencing discomfort when the gaze of their eyes begins to lower. Their Chin starts tucking to the chest (frontline collapsing), shoulders slump, and or roll forward and, feet/ legs look like heavy blocks pounding at the ground. I cannot support the endurance athlete but only cheer them on and shout out, keep going. Keep breathing! You got this! But a YogAlign student, I will immediately attend to realigning the body posture, breath, and hopefully the enthusiasm or bring them out of the posture altogether. If I can see no positive benefits are happening.
Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (8)
He is ready to transition to the run with his shoes already off.
  • The third point I observe and know the crucial part is the halfway mark. When seeing the athlete/ yogi, I ask myself are they doing more damage than good at this point? Meaning have they sustained an injury or woke up an old one? That is creating a limp or undo pain. Are they pushing beyond the body’s ability to keep their pace or posture? And when is it time to call it? When more negative impacts are wreaking havoc (widespread destruction) on the body and quick recovery will not be enough. For the YogAlign student with observation and possible communication with the student. If I feel the negative is creeping in. I ask the student to stop or come out of a posture. And possibly to not practice said posture at all. For example – if a YogAlign student is practicing full-body recalibration (supported splits,) and I see, hear or feel they are in any pain. They need to come out immediately, but if they are feeling a small discomfort (2 on a scale of 1-10). I can give them a yoga block for more support que engage the core with the SIP breath. And we will both know if the posture has been practice/ supported correctly. Then when the student comes out and up to standing (the discomfort will not linger). Yes, they may feel some sensation (created space or re-setting of the tension) in the groin, thigh, or glutes but not pain. Remember, you never get comfortable by being uncomfortable yoga is not supposed to hurt! When regarding an endurance athlete, that’s their judgment, personal trainer, or a beloved’s call to stop.
Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (19)
He has lost his stride foot steps close together (fatigue?) and facial expression (pain?)
  • Forth point and last point I observe (regarding this blog) are about 15 minutes before the end of class or the end of the race. That is when the body language and facial expression say it is good or not. This point encapsulates the first, second, and third points. But I do understand an endurance athlete is going to drag themselves over the finish line. When they’re so close to finishing the race? The YogAlign student will be ready for the final resting posture and relaxation in savasana. Or beaming with that feels good face/ body and does not want the class to end by savoring space and time a little longer. I can personally relate to both the endurance athlete and the yogi’s desire for accomplishment and peace.

I consider it an honor to be sharing the last moments of a race or a YogAlign practice with an athlete or student as they have both equally committed their time and energy to this event/ class. I feel as though I also get to share in the joy, pride, and gratitude they feel for themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally after putting themselves out there and being vulnerable (some call that being brave).

Are you are like me and enjoy anatomy in real life, being inspired, and connecting energetically on a heart level with others? I highly recommend these types of events and yoga classes. “once you stop learning, you start dying” -Albert Einstein.

Aloha

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