Sunday, February 17, 2008


Running is not viewed by most people as an artistic form of expression, like ballet or figure skating. But I contend that running is a graceful form of movement, and when you see it in this new light, running can be experienced very differently.

This is something that I have been thinking about lately. Once more, I am influenced by my yoga teacher. She tells us to practice with gracefulness, not with "power." We are so used to "powering" through things in our life, using "brute force" to get it done (whatever "it" is). But when we concentrate on gracefulness, when we focus on executing a task as beautifully as we can, we live in the moment, and we usually perform much better.

I know this sounds very abstract, but let me give you an example. I used to approach my yoga practice in the same way I used to approach my running. With a watch on my wrist, and with the intention of getting a good workout. I would lift my leg as high as I could, I would force my body to do the splits, and my arms would tremble when doing sun salutations.

I noticed that I was one of two or three people who were sweating profusely in the room (this is not hot-yoga by the way). I could not understand why the more experienced practitioners (who are hard-core yogis) looked so fresh and calm. My teacher kept telling me to be graceful, and to not force it.

Little by little I started understanding what she meant. I started focusing on the movements of my hands and my fingers as we flowed from one position to the next. Instead of lifting my leg with a fast and powerful jerk, I would take my time, almost in slow motion, to get my leg high behind me. And I took off my watch.

I stopped sweating, and, I got much better. I started getting into positions I never thought I would be able to get into. And the best part of this new approach was that my focus of attention shifted to another place inside myself. Sometimes I feel like I am in that room by myself, time does not exist anymore, and my mind quiets down. I have never practiced meditation, but this sure feels like it.

So I thought of applying this new approach to my running. I started thinking of how my limbs moved with respect to one another, how straight my spine was, how relaxed my shoulders and neck were, how effortlessly I stepped. I tried to "float." I tried to quiet my mind, and feel how my body in movement integrated to my surroundings.

All I have to say is that it takes practice, but sometimes, some very precious times, early in the morning, I look at the salmon colored sky, I can see my own breath, and I listen to the birds' chirp, and I know this is how life is meant to be lived. Gracefully.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

May your DNA stay nice and long...

In the month of January there were several studies published linking exercise to slower aging.

The BBC (link to story), reports a study that shows that physically active people can be 10 years 'biologically' younger than their sedentary counterparts. How did they know?

One of the reasons why we age is that our DNA gets shorter at the ends. Each cell in our body has a copy of our DNA (which contains our genes). You can think of your DNA as a long, long, long book with letters in it. This book determines to a large extent your appearance, health, and even personality traits. As time goes by, some letters at the beginning and the end of the book drop, so we age.

Well, inactive people seem to drop more letters than active people. This has been actually measured, and it therefore provides hard-evidence of what up to now has been mostly anecdotal evidence (active people do look younger!).

A second story, also reported by the BBC (link to story), talks about a second study that shows that small changes in your lifestyle can add several high quality years to your life. These changes need not be extreme. Simple things like walking half an hour every day, eating fruits and vegetables, drinking with moderation, and not smoking make a difference.

And lastly, the New York Times has an article about aging and performance (link to story). It turns out that as we age, if we stay active, we don't slow down as much as it is commonly believed. More over, even if you start being active later in life, you can make huge leaps. The article gives examples of people who started running in their 60s, and then ran their first marathon. An interesting idea proposed in this report is that one of the reasons why we slow down as we age is lower motivation, not physical decline. Again, that mind-body connection plays a role, something that I deeply believe in (which I am sure you have gathered after reading a few of my blogs).

One of my dreams is to one day be a running granny, with bright yellow shoes, plenty of DNA in my body, and cheering grandkids at the finish line. Maybe I'll be able to beat Eric then (we have a bet going).

Sunday run report: Soo-Hui is redeemed on Super Bowl Sunday

For the record: Soo-Hui ran with the group today, he ran the hill twice, and he finished his omelet :-)
If you are confused, refer to my previous blog.

We had 11 runners on Super Bowl Sunday. We ran about 11 miles, with a one mile hill repeat in the middle (we did it twice). I am very proud of how far some of the runners have come! Some of you could only run 2-3 miles when you started, and now you are easily running half marathons, and you are asking for more. I have to admit that we have created monsters...