I have started to appreciate the ritual involved in my training schedule.
In the last two weeks, I have logged about 40 miles (including two long runs of 7.5 and 8 miles). Practiced yoga 5 times (including two amazing outdoor experiences). The race is 36 days away.
I have been running and practicing yoga for about 12 years, and I am not sure I have ever considered ritual when I have thought about training until recently. Ritual was always something reserved for church.
I have not read a lot about the idea of ritual when looking at exercise magazines and blogs. Mainly, I read about maintaining a healthy diet (which is usually connected to weight loss). Or, the importance of using the right equipment. Or, how to prevent injury. Or, the psychological benefits of exercise in terms of stimulating endorphins and the reduction of the “stress hormone” cortisol. The closest thing I see to ritual within the training information is the discussion of the importance of establishing a schedule or routine – the idea that exercise needs to be a habit. That does not seem to actually be ritual to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I agree, for the most part, with all of the standard benefits/tips and tricks/conventional wisdom of training messages, but I tend to think about training more deeply.
For me, training is about ritual. Training is about becoming awake to and aware of the world within me and around me. It is about noticing. It is about celebration and comfort and inspiration. It is about awe. It is about being fed. It is about exploring the spiritual edge that lives right where the body and mind meet. Ritual makes me put my shoes on and run when it is snot freezing cold outside. Ritual brings me to my yoga mat when I have had too much wine the night before. Ritual silences the voices in my head that question my commitment to my body and mind. It is about knowing that I can be better tomorrow than today if I simply show up. It is about resilience. Finding ritual within my training has made all the difference.
Running along the Ohio River is ritual to me. I have written quite a bit about my love of the Ohio. I grew up on the Ohio. I have learned what an important part that love has played in my dedication to my training. It is not an overstatement to say my running routes along the Ohio are sacred to me. I have the trees that mark distances along the way. I have memorized the seasons through the story told by their branches. I have the rose bed at mile 4. I have the Purple People Bridge at sunrise and sunset. I have the water station at Sawyer Point. I have the smell of the ribs at Montgomery Inn Boathouse. I have the barges that keep a steady pace. I have Pandora set to shuffle through my favorite channels. John Prine sings Paradise. I have RunKeeper marking my time and distance. Things are in place.
My yoga practice is also built on ritual. Setting an intention. The sequencing of the postures. Learning to breath. Feeling the progress that happens as strength builds. This summer, my yoga ritual has involved an outdoor practice in a public park. Once a week, I have practiced amidst church bells and children’s laughter. I have learned about the beauty of place and the importance of community in yoga. I have tried to find balance in tree pose on rough ground. I have felt the peace that comes from poetry under the leaves of old trees. That whole thing is ritual to me. This Tuesday was the last outdoor practice. I will take the lessons of summer with me to my yoga practice from now on.
So often, the spiritual side of health is lost in the pursuit of a fitness goal. I don’t think they exist separately. Our physical selves are our spiritual selves. I learned this first hand by participating in a marathon. There is something profound that happens as the last part of the race approaches. It is about knowing there is something bigger than the limitations of the body. That is where the lessons of ritual, the mental and physical strength built through practice kick in. There is a moment when you are doing what you have done throughout training and you feel powerful. There is a moment where there is no option but to finish strong. In fact, there is a moment when you pick up speed and smile. I think that smile comes from remembering the quiet rituals the brought you to that place. Ritual has prepared you for the questions that emerge when the muscles are tired and the head spins with noise. That is when ritual matters.