The first occurred after I had just picked up running, that hot Fall after I had my third baby. I had been a running “dabbler” before, but it wasn’t something I ever considered as a full-time hobby. Until, pregnant with my firstborn in 2003, I watched my friend cross the finish line of the PF Chang’s half marathon. I felt inspiration shoot through me like a current as I mouthed the words “I’m going to do that someday.” No one heard me. But my mind took note.
“Someday” came years later after three kids, four hospital visits, an autism diagnosis. Insomnia had me up late one night and I found myself browsing the internet mindlessly, in a finally quiet house. My eyes focused on a website and a spreadsheet title: “Sixteen Week Beginning Half Marathon Training Schedule.” My mind, apparently, remembered that moment, standing at a finish line. Suddenly wide awake, I hit Print and marched the sheet over to the fridge, affixing it to a magnet with panache. “I can do this,” I said to the crickets outside. Aedan was five months old and it was a 100 degree September night.
I thought I would die when I started Week 1, Run 1, the next day. Wearing creaky new shoes, resolve quickly sweated itself away after the first 100 yards. 1.5 miles. I thought my heart would explode, my lungs burst out of my chest. I crossed day one off, stepping back shakily to stare at it with satisfaction.
Two days on, one walk day. Another shorter run. Rest and then a long run to slowly build up distance to 13.1 miles. I set my mind to my goal, until the day of my first 3 miler. When I heaved into the house afterwards, crying and suffocating, I stamped my foot after moments of laying in a comatose state on the tile floor. “I can’t do this. I’m done.” Once I made up my mind, my body responded with a cramp in my calf, to illustrate the point.
But the next morning, I walked past the fridge to make coffee, baby on hip. I cringed, remembering last night’s assertion. I was no quitter. If the past four years of care-taking and stress had taught me anything, it proved that my mind was strong but my spirit had become stronger. That night, I laced up, stretched, and ran. 3 miles again, but they were easier. More fluid. One foot in front of the next, I kept saying, like a mantra; one day crossed off the calendar. And then the next.
I finished my first half marathon in January 2008, 15 pounds lighter and 25 times stronger, in every sense of the word. I bawled as I reached for the medal, hardly able to believe that my mind had willed my body to run, without stopping, for 2 hours 9 minutes, to only give out with fatigue once I reached my goal.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2014, discussing resolutions with my husband like we always do. I thought of all the things I hoped to achieve in 2015, and the number one billboard in my mind was overcoming fear. Fear, in the form of yoga inversions and arm balances. I had grown deeply in my practice that year and felt ready to dive into meditation and new poses that I previously, for whatever reason, had told myself I “couldn’t do.” I had just started blogging and re-finding my voice, recovering from a year-long injury. Achilles tendonosis, from running. A full circle moment.
After the resolution to “Smile more often,” I wrote: “Do a headstand.”
The next week in class, everyone around me seemed to pop up from prasarita padottanasana (wide legged forward fold pose) into a tripod headstand and down again. No sweat. I set my mind on my goal, “you are strong enough,” and pushed into my palms, lifted my foot, knee balanced on my elbow. And then the other foot. I hovered, holding my breath a little, until I let a bit of fear go. Fear based on 30 years of back and neck pain. I balanced, the thought “push your legs up” at the forefront of my thoughts. But I didn’t.
The next week, however, I did. At home, in my living room, after a yin class. I felt expansive, peaceful. I said to myself, “you are strong enough.” I settled into plank then walked my legs up. Brought my knees in, engaged my core, and slowly pushed my feet up. My mind momentarily freaked and my body responded with wobbly panic, but I settled my thoughts. “You can do this.” And I stayed there for what felt a victorious eternity. In reality, more like 10 seconds.
Our minds can harness all of our fears, spiritual yearning, intellectual pursuits, hopes and dreams. Our bodies and psyches respond to how we direct our minds, with results ranging from anxiety and sickness to amazing pursuits and achievements. In yoga we learn that our minds constantly move and shift, but that doesn’t mean these thoughts rule our actions or, more importantly, our spirits.
My mind has both held me in a vise of anxiety as well as released me to experience great moments of empowerment and strength. As Buddha says, “Rule your mind, or it will rule you.” Our thoughts can set us free or hold us from our potential. I hope every day to have courage to free my mind towards deeper understanding and a limitless joy.