“Easy, light, and smooth” has been the mantra floating through my mind in the recent weeks.
Strangely enough, I came across this phrase not through surfing or yoga, but through devouring Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run. This amazing book chronicles Chris’s epic journey to find American ex-pat Caballo Blanco (aka Micah True), who ran with the Tarahumara tribe in the deadly Copper Canyons of Mexico. All of this because Chris’s foot hurt whenever he ran, and doctors told him to stop doing it. Chris loved running too much to give up, and he wanted to find out a better way to run. What made the Tarahumara truly unique was that they could run ultra distances — like 100+ miles — in flimsy sandals and not tire or get injured. After an arduous process of trying to find Caballo and then winning his trust, the feral ex-pat finally reveals his running secret to Chris:
“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that for so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smoooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.” (McDougall, 2009, p.111.)
I took these words to heart, and this past Monday, on my tempo run, I forgot about my mile split times and focused on just Easy and Light. If there was too much effort, then I’m working too hard. I monitored my breath and made sure that it, too, was easy and even. Incidentally, I wound up with one of my best times for a 5k distance. Some of you may think that I’m already crazy enough to go full on with Ashtanga yoga and surfing. Now running?! I’ve had people ask me in disbelief, “So, what made you pick up running? It’s not like you have don’t have enough to do!”
Let me explain. There’s an old history between me and running. Long before surfing and way longer before ashtanga yoga, there was running. I started running track and field in high school when I was 15 years old, in my sophomore year. I didn’t do it because I was good at running. I wanted to do it because all my friends at the time were running, and I wanted (like any other teen) to join in! Plus, our track team at Plymouth-Whitemarsh (PW) High was so notoriously bad that they accepted anyone who wanted to run. Even someone like me.
PW had the worst track team for all the years that I ran. While other girls skimmed through the track and finished 1600 meters in 5:15 minutes, I slogged through and barely finished in 7:04. We were so awful that I was actually the fastest distance runner out of our team. I always dreamed about breaking a 7 minute mile and never could (until I was 26 and ran a mile in 6:35). But at 15 years old, I stared in envy of all those girls (not PW runners!) who could run a 6 minute mile with such apparent ease. Welcome to mediocrity! Still, as bad as a runner I was, I somehow fell in love with it. I loved that heady feeling after a good hard run, and how everything just seemed better in the world. I loved moving and being physical, and in my mind, I could be the best runner I could be! I loved the friends I made in the track team, and certainly the need to stay healthy and strong kept me out of drugs and other trouble during those tumultuous years.
Decades later, I found that “Easy, Light, and Smooth” can translate to other things, like surfing and yoga. Breath seems integral with this. I think of those big days when I’m paddling out anxiously, anticipating those sneaker sets to bomb through and crush us all on the inside. But…as soon as I get to a regular rhythm of breathing and paddling, I somehow manage enough speed to make it over that last set wave. Certainly, with yoga, the breath is just as important, if not more. As I struggle in Third Series (trying to manage Koundinyasana B), Andrew told me that breath was key. “If you make your breathing even and smooth,” he said, “it will translate into your practice, and your body will become even and smooth. The postures will be easier. So watch your breath!”
In life, too, “Easy, Light, and Smooth” has significance. I’m in the midst of some big transitions right now…namely, having initiated the first steps to exit an unhealthy marriage. Trying to preserve equanimity and harmony requires a certain amount of ability to maintain ease and balance…again, oftentimes I remind myself to take deep, slow, even breaths to bring my mind back to an easier space.
For some reason, running seems to offer the most solace right now. It is something I did as a kid, 15 years old then and still running 32 years later. It’s something that I can do just outside my doorstep…I don’t have to load a board in the car or drive to the yoga studio. It is simple. We are born to do it, as Chris McDougall says in his book. I can just put on my shoes, and run like hell. For as long as I want, as hard as I want. It is something I can easily do with my children. It’s something I can do for myself, alone, in the wild, and not have a care in the world. Yoga and surfing take me to that place too…but running seems to get me there faster.
Hence, I run. At its best, I feel easy, light, and smooth. No matter what.