From Distance Running to Heavy Meditating – My Decision to Leave Cross Country to become a Yoga Instructor

When I picked up the first of three text books that I received for my yoga teacher training, I was astonished. I already had plenty of doubt about my ability to become a yoga instructor after years of running cross country and track; but now, staring at this book, I was really questioning my decision to leave running and take up yoga. Not only was the book HUGE, but the title read The Art and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffman.

Stillness?! Ha. I rarely made time for sitting still, and most people knew that about me. If I wasn’t moving or actively doing something, then I might as well have been sleeping – or so I thought. At the time that I chose to pick up yoga, I felt the overwhelming need to constantly be doing something. Call me manic, but I needed to be moving, accomplishing, producing, anything… And that is why I ran.

I like to say that I ran all the time, and for so many different reasons. I ran to compete, I ran for my health, I ran to keep myself busy… and ultimately? I ran myself into the ground. I was exhausted. 18 and my life had turned into a game of trying to get by each day with just the right amount of energy. I had a busy workload in school, and I wasn’t prone to getting much sleep. I ran miles upon miles each day with my team, and I was hard-pressed to accept anything less than perfect. On top of all that, I was facing family struggles at home (that are worth an entire blog in and of itself)! Bottomline, I was burning the candle at every known end; and there came a point when I realized that if I didn’t change something, then the flames that fueled my life were bound to burn out themselves. So I enrolled in Shanti Yoga School.

Stillness though? Complete stillness?… I was good at plenty of things, but stillness was a concept that I was vastly unfamiliar with; and quite honestly a little afraid of. I’m sure many people can relate to this feeling, of being a little afraid of stillness. After all, our society is bombarded by near-constant stimulation. Bear with me though – stillness is one of the best things you could possibly bring into your life, and it is perhaps one of the most greatly misunderstood concepts. It took me a very long time to bring stillness into my own life and to appreciate it for what it truly is, but reading the first chapter of Erich Schiffman’s daunting wonderful book, this accomplishment became much easier. The first few lines of his book go something like this:

“Imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed.”

It wasn’t so hard to imagine bringing stillness into my life when it ultimately could lead me to moving faster, in one sense or another! When we become still, we learn to become more focused and in-tune with our actions. We invite more quality into our lives without necessarily sacrificing the quantity. I quickly found out through my practice and study of yoga that it doesn’t take hours of sitting in a silent room for the mind to become quiet and settled. Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths when you get flustered, or noticing what your breath is like when you wake up in the morning, are just as effective and certainly more accessible.

So here’s where I’ll choose to bring this train of thought to a close; when I first took on a yoga teacher training, I was a highly motivated individual leading a fairly frantic life. Who am I today, a year later? Well, I’m still a highly motivated individual, and I’m still living at a fast-pace; the only difference is that I’ve made room for stillness, and consequently greater mindfulness too. I still run, but I do so out of a love for the sport and a desire to connect with nature. I still have a busy workload, but I don’t let it replace the 8 hours of sleep I choose to get at night. I still get flustered and frustrated, but I’ve learned how to relax even when my mind is racing.

It took learning the art of stillness for me to transition from distance running to yoga and meditation; but I can say with confidence that I’ll never look back on my decision to enroll in Shanti Yoga School. Today I have newfound energy, and my actions are backed by greater intention. It turns out I don’t always have to be moving in order to be accomplishing something great! What’s best? I now get to share this gift with the people that I love in my community.