Running with Abhyasa and Vairagya: Finding Effort and Ease

“The beauty of yoga is learning to fly and soar through our life with the wings of Abhyasa and Vairagya and open our heart to the wonders and awe of our everyday experiences and embrace life fully, whatever happens.” ~ Ingela Abbott

I’ve started training for a long distance running relay called “Reach the Beach”. A dear friend is turning 60, and is organizing a team of runners, most being family, all younger than me. Joining the event, which my friend has accomplished multiple times, has been something I’ve wanted to do. But fear and uncertainty of the long distance, of running through the night, of sleeping in a van in between legs of running, of being too slow, etc…. always kept me from committing. Layer on an injury that has persisted for the past 9 months, and I had even more reasons to pass.

But my friend is turning 60 years old. She doesn’t want a big birthday party or a bucket list travel destination. She wants to do this 210 mile, probably 30 hour, relay race from Bretton Woods in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, to Hampton Beach with her kids, other family, friends, and even my daughter.

With a very deep breath, new running shoes, an insightful PT, and the encouragement of the team’s other runners, I decided to just go for it. The event’s web site has a clear training plan, it isn’t happening until the middle of September, and frankly I love the idea of returning to running. I enjoy running. My body just hasn’t been entirely cooperative or enthusiastic.

The lovely Carlton Bridge was bathed in setting sunlight as I was pushing through a beginning run, and nothing felt right. The new shoes caused pain, one of my knees started to ache, my lower back was protesting. Discouragement seeped into my enthusiasm, and I paused on the bridge to admire the light. Then something shifted. In the pausing, returning to breath, yogic thinking emerged from somewhere and I thought about abhyasa and vairagya as discussed in the Yoga Sutras: the suggestion that with steady effort combined with detachment and letting go, we become free to experience our lives with happiness, no matter what the endeavor.

Just the right yogic thought for the moment … relaxing the grip of expectation, shifting focus away from discomfort, and embracing this opportunity, knowing it will take steady and committed practice. Remembering, that without judgement I can be aware of discomfort, but not consumed by it. A shift in thinking, a moment of pause and reflection, then a return to running, across the bridge towards home. And feeling content with the decision to run in celebration of a special friend’s birthday.