Today was my very first workshop. The AIM team kindly had me come to the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden in Harvard, MA to give a 10 minute talk and a 30 minute yoga class. True to form, I went (slightly) over the 40 minutes. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I prepared a beginning yoga routine for athletes, but these women rocked and I had to up the ante a bit! Below is the text of the talk a gave, more or less. I used note cards with prompts rather than read this aloud, but this is what I prepared.
Yoga is the Journey of Transformation
Hi. My name is Deborah Santoro, and I’m here to show you how yoga can help you with your triathlon training. The journey of yoga is a lot like the journey that you’re on in your personal training program. It’s a journey of personal transformation and growth. Not one of you is here because you want to stay home and eat Pringles while watching reruns of your favorite show. You’re trying to do something magical with your life, or maybe you’re simply trying to save your life, and yoga can help you with that. In fact, that is what yoga is for.
I graduated from college at the age of 27, and at a high point around there I weighed 173 pounds. This is not a good weight for for someone who exaggerates slightly on her driver’s license to say that she is 5 feet and 3 inches tall. But it was a tough time in my life for a couple of reasons. Among them, my mother had breast cancer, and she had already had a mastectomy and reconstruction. The cancer came back during my senior year, and this time it metastasized to her bones. As terrible as the rounds of chemotherapy and radiation were, I am grateful for the time we had together. I went with her, and because she lived near me I could visit her often and help her with groceries and basic tasks. That time together is a precious memory to me now. She stuck it out until my wedding in September of 1998, and died a few days after Christmas that year.
At the time I practiced a gentle style of yoga called Svaroopa yoga. I remember crying during hip openers one day, and looking back it is clear that practicing yoga helped not to make the grieving easy, but helped it stay fluid and deep.
There came a day when I was at Filene’s trying on clothes for work, and I wore a size 14/16 at the time. On that day the size 16 pants were tight, and after that you’re into the plus sizes. I knew I didn’t want to go there and I was really scared. Then I saw a sign for one of the first Avon Breast Cancer 3 Day walks. And to me, it was a sign from the universe pointing the way, a way out of this personal hell. The goal was to walk 60 miles in 3 days while raising money for breast cancer. I walked all over the place that year. I bought running shoes and a fanny pack that held 2 bottles of water, and I walked. First 3 miles, then 5 miles. It gets exciting when you start doing the longer walks on the weekends, 10 miles, then 15, until right before the event I did the 20 mile walk for hunger in Boston as a training walk. Now, looking back as a mother of 3, I wonder that I had that kind of time. Hours and hours of just walking! But it helped, and I stayed out of the plus sizes and began a journey of slowly getting my weight down to a normal and healthy place. I’ll probably never be Twiggy thin and I don’t need to be, but exercise is now firmly rooted in my life.
So walking does take a long time, and I started jogging. I had my first daughter and exercise became the thing that kept me sane during the baby years. Then I found power yoga in a Baron Baptiste video, and it wasn’t long before I unrolled my mat in one of David Magone’s classes at On the Mat Yoga in Concord and began the journey of becoming a yoga teacher.
Meanwhile, however, it turns out that staying home to raise children isn’t all peace and light and making homemade baby food. There were days I closed the bathroom door and screamed and cried. The challenges of motherhood test you in every way possible, and babies honor no reasonable schedule. There came a day when I was trying to practice yoga at home, but our children kept finding me and interrupting me and I just desperately needed some time away. I remember vividly yelling at my husband and storming out of the house. I knew that something was off balance and I couldn’t fix it with yoga because except for one class a week, yoga was something I did at home. So I bought a mountain bike and started riding it in the woods with my dog. A few women from the circle of mothers I now knew were training for sprint distance triathlons and a little encouragement led me to believe that this was something that I could do. I signed up at a gym with childcare and started to swim. I ran with my dog and rode my bike alone and with friends. Eventually I completed 2 sprint distance triathlons, and someday I just might try for the Lobsterman up in Maine, which is an Olympic distance triathlon.
Yoga helped me every step of the way, through my mother’s illness, through raising three babies who are now young children, and through the physical rigors of training for a triathlon that you now face. Yoga can help you mentally, physically and even spiritually. I believe that it is the hidden fourth element of the triathlon, your secret weapon in your toolbox full of tricks.
Physically, yoga can help you stay limber and flexible, can help you prevent injuries. Yoga is one of the best treatments for low back pain because it lengthens the hamstrings and strengthens the muscles alongside your spine and all throughout your core. One of the things I’ll show you in just a moment is a basic sun salutation, surya namaskara A. Three of these is your new daily practice, when you first wake up in the morning- minimum daily practice. Three sun salutations and a few basic stretches will warm up your muscles before a run, and research now shows that it is just as important to stretch after your run, when your muscles are cooling down and beginning to tighten up, as it is to stretch before.
How many of you have seen the movie Finding Nemo? Nemo’s dad is searching for Nemo the entire movie. Nemo has a week fin so his swimming hasn’t always been the strongest. In the end he must swim down with the other fish, away from the net lifting him up toward a boat and away from his father. It is hard, nearly impossible, and he focuses his mind and his intent by repeating the phrase “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”
This is yoga, ladies. This is what I mean when I say that yoga can help you with the mental game of completing a triathlon. There may come a time after you’ve gotten off your bicyle and are asking your legs to run to the finish line, and they are already tired. In fact, they feel like concrete. This is when you find your version of “Just keep swimming.” Another word for this phrase is a mantra, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it. It does help quite a lot if you break this tool out of your toolbox during your training. Find a short phrase, and it could be as simple as “Breathe” or “Just Keep Running,” in fact the simpler the better, and use it when the training gets tough and you want to stop.
And yoga will help you with those tight muscles, oh yes it will. But you already know that. What you may not know is that yoga will keep your years from aging you by keeping you limber and improving your posture. We all have this Aunt Betty or Uncle Fred in our family. The one with the terrible posture and a big hump on their back. Perhaps you have noticed a similar posture in yourself on those days that you feel tired and low energy. The back bending practices of yoga specifically help to unkink the forward bending of your back. And believe me, good posture, more that any hair dye or face lift, will keep you looking healthy and vibrant, even as you grow wiser.
The thing about yoga is that it’s subtle. Changes are often slow and incremental. A lot of the changes in my life that happened, at the time I didn’t fully realize yoga had anything to do with it. Yoga helped me mourn for my mother. I think that without yoga I might still have seen the sign for the Avon Breast Cancer 3 Day walk, but I’m not sure I would have heeded the call. Who knows? Definitely yoga softened my rough edges, made me a better friend and listener. These are powerful changes. You move through your life and one day you realize that you’ve made changes, you’ve acted with courage, you’ve found that path with a heart that Carlos Castaneda wrote about.