Tapas in Trainers (Or 'How Trying to Run 13 Miles has Messed with my Mind')

In 4 sleeps I have to run the furthest I have ever run in my whole life.

It’s (only) a half marathon; and I say ‘only’ because I know there are people doing incomprehensibly physically and mentally challenging things every day. And to be honest I wish they’d stop because I shouldn’t feel like I need to call my challenge ‘only’ 13 miles. Pack it in, you lot; you’re making the rest of us look bad.

Anyway. Despite the fact I’m quite bendy, and can get through a fairly challenging 2 hour yoga practice with only a small amount of whimpering and a bit of swearing, it turns out that does not make one immediately able to run for the same length of time.

Who knew?!

Me. I know now.

Training has not been fun. I’m feeling woefully underprepared. (But I do now own some new running socks, a new running belt/water bottle combo, and have ordered some fake sunflowers to attach to my running attire, all of which totally makes up for missing those few training runs.)

What I have found particularly interesting (although not really surprising) is that it’s my mind that gives me trouble way before my body does. I’ve barely left the house and the voice in my head is telling me how tight my calves are, how much my knees hurt, that the burning in my lungs is really bad, and that soiling myself/rupturing an artery/annihilating a hamstring is inevitable, so I should probably stop now.

In the world of yoga we have a term which is ‘tapas’. Sadly, in this case, it does not refer to delicious small plates of Spanish delicacies. Tapas literally means heat, fire or discipline. It relates to the transformative nature of an experience that pushes you through your comfort zone and brings your mind up against its own perceived limits. It is the metaphorical fire that burns off all the stuff which has held you back, so that you can evolve into an even better version of yourself.

Spoiler alert – when you’re incorporating tapas into your life it probably isn’t going to be the most fun time. But if you can get through it then you’ll emerge, like a phoenix from the flames, transformed, stronger….and possibly a bit sweatier.

So when I’ve been pounding the pavements over the last few months, and particularly when I’ve had to up the mileage and deal with an even louder voice in my head, I’ve been trying to channel the tapas. When stuff gets uncomfortable, instead of trying to ignore it and shut it down (because it just gets louder) I’ve been trying to embrace it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some sort of masochist but if I can realise that every minute or mile that I push on through, I’m burning off more of the crap that has been weighing me down and holding me back – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Some days it has been all about the fear of setting up my own business, whilst other days I’m fighting through the pain of missing my Dad and coming to terms with his death. Then there are the other times when it’s a mixture of being unkind to my body for the last 23 years, facing up to the fact that I probably won’t have kids, re-playing every dysfunctional relationship I’ve ever had, remembering every time I feel like I’ve failed at something, and getting my head around the fact that I’m 40 this year.

I did warn you that tampering with tapas isn’t fun. It’s a cornucopia of unpleasant surprises as something ‘new’ comes up to bite you in the Gluteus Maximus. But with every sweaty, angry, sore, really-feckin-annoying step I take, and every time I decide to keep going instead of stopping, I burn a little bit more of one of them off.

I’m still not filled with delight at the thought of 13 miles on Sunday; it’s something I never thought I’d do and am still not sure if I can. It’s still going to be the longest distance I’ve run with my body, but more than that – it might just be the furthest I’ve come in my head. And I’m on fire, baby!

I’m running the London Parks Half Marathon in aid of The Macular Society - Macular Degeneration didn't kill my Dad (a dodgy ticker did that) but it stripped away so much of the person he was, that it stole his life away in cruel, brutal, increments. The more sight he lost, the smaller his life became. I don't want anyone to die like that. So please, if you can donate a bit of dosh to make every painful sweary step a bit more bearable I'd be ever so grateful.... www.justgiving.com/fundraising/13milesforthewoo


Down Dogs at your Desk: Working nava to pancha.*

(*'Nava' is sanskrit for 9 and 'pancha' is sanskrit for 5. So this headline is 'Working 9 to 5' but in sanskrit. Sort of. And I know a headline you have to explain is a rubbish headline - but I was proud of it. So there.)

Just because we've all had to finally put on some real clothes, stop eating Ferrero Rocher for breakfast, and desperately try to remember what the new password for our office PC was, there's still some reasons to be happy….And whilst you try to remember what they are, how about doing some breathing and bending at your desk?

Remember to do these moves gently – you won’t be warmed up so focus on your breathing, with balanced inhales and exhales. Stop if you feel pain or extreme discomfort. Also, if you’re using a chair which has wheels, ensure it’s not going to unexpectedly roll across the floor. This may end in much hilarity for your colleagues (depending on how nice they are), but an awkward trip to A&E for you. 

Folding not filing

Put your bum on the edge of the chair and place feet flat on the floor, wider than hip width apart. Inhale – lift and lengthen your spine. On an exhale, fold from your hips and take your hands to the floor in between your feet. Inhale once more to get even more length in your spine, then fold down between your knees. If your hands won’t reach to the floor, you can place them on some books, or rest them on your shins. To juice it up a bit and throw in a shoulder release too, interlace your hands behind you with straight arms, and take the hands up and behind your head. Stay here for as many breaths as feel good. Come up slowly on an inhale. If anyone is giving you a strange look, smile sweetly at them before going down again, just to confuse them.

Happy Hips

Bring your bum to the edge of your chair. With your right foot flat on the floor, bend your left knee and lift it up towards your chest. Flex your left foot, and carefully place the knobbly bit of your left ankle on the top of your right knee. Keep your hand on the left knee to support it. Inhale, and sit up as tall as you can. On an exhale see if you can allow the left knee to drop down towards the floor. If it’s comfortable to sit here, and if your shin is parallel to the floor you can take a gentle forward fold to add a bit more ‘ooomph’ to the release. Stay here for as many breaths as feel good, and don’t forget to do the other side.

Getting Twisted

Place your left foot up on your seat, with the knee up against the back of the chair. Rest your left hand on your left hip and your right hand on the back of the chair. Inhale, lift and lengthen your spine – a golden thread is lifting you up through the top of your head. On an exhale imagine that you have a light shining from your belly button. Begin to twist your torso, shining this imaginary light as far round to the left as possible. You can use your hand on the back of the chair as gentle encouragement to take the twist a bit deeper. With each inhale lift and lengthen a bit more, and see if you can twist deeper with each exhale. Feel all your organs getting a lovely squeeze, and your spine waking up, before doing it all over again on the other side.

Stretch it Out

A simple one but a delicious one! Stand up, and cross your left leg over your right. Stand equally on both feet. (If this makes you wobble, you can also leave your legs uncrossed.) Inhale and lift your left palm up to the ceiling, keeping the left shoulder down and away from your ear. Hold your left wrist with your right hand. Inhale –get lovely and long, then exhale and arch to the right. Try not to collapse down through the right side – imagine both sides of your torso keeping lovely and long. Ground down evenly through both feet. Stay here, breathing evenly, for as long as you like. Now do the other side so that you’re not all wonky.

Armed not Dangerous

A great one to freak out your co-workers as it looks like you’ve put your arms on the wrong way round. Stand in front of your desk. Put both hands flat on the desk, shoulder width apart, with the fingers spread. Now gently turn both hands so that the fingers on your right hand turn clockwise, and the fingers on your left hand turn anti-clockwise. Turn them both around as far as you comfortably can, without losing connection to the desk. Once you’ve turned so that the middle fingers of both hands are now pointing towards you, very gently lean away, keeping the heal of each hand in contact with the desk, to make the stretch down your forearms a little more intense. Don’t forget to breathe.

Thigh and mighty

If you’re a bit wobbly when on one leg, you can rest a hand on the desk so that you don’t end up face down in the recycling bin. Simply shift your weight into your left foot, bend your right knee and take hold of your right foot with your right hand, gently drawing the heel towards your right bum cheek. Keep your tail bone gently tucked under to encourage a feeling of releasing through the front of your right hip and thigh. If holding your foot with your hand is going to be so intense you let out a little yelp, don’t do it. Loop a scarf around your foot and hold that instead. Again, stay here for as many breaths as feel good then do the other side.

Desk Downward Dog

Ok – so this does involve a little bit of sticking your bum in the air, but if you can get away with it, I highly recommend it. Put both hands on your desk, shoulder width apart, fingers wide. Feel the base of each finger gently pushing down into the desk. Slowly walk your feet back until your torso is parallel to the floor. Feet should be hip width apart. Roll your shoulders down away from your ears and feel your shoulder blades spread wide. Draw your belly button up towards your spine, and feel long from the backs of your heels all the way up to the tips of your fingertips. Let your gaze rest on the floor, or to the space between your knees if that’s comfortable. Breathe, smile, and pay no attention to the awkward throat-clearing noises of your colleagues.

 Chaturanga Desk-asana

If you’ve had the courage to bust out a Desk Downward Dog, you might as well go for it and get your whole body working with this chaturanga variation. From your Desk Downward Dog, lift your torso up away from the floor. For extra grip I suggest you move your hands so you’re gripping the edge of the desk. Take an inhale. On an exhale, slowly lower your torso as one flat plank, bending your elbows at 90 degrees. Keep the belly button drawn up and keep breathing. To generate maximum commotion in the office, you can keep moving between your Down Dog and Chaturanga. Or not. Depending on when your next appraisal is. 

Sofa - so good.

If you’ve read any of my other blogs (and if you haven’t – why the flippity flip not?) you’ll have probably worked out that whilst I think yoga is all-kinds-of-amazing, and has very real life-changing potential, I am not the ‘you must spend 90 minutes on a mat every day or you’re a rubbish yogi’ kinda’ girl.

Of course, in an ideal world we’d all spend some quality time with our favourite flat friend every day. And if you want your practice (and your self) to significantly develop then the more you can do the better.

But we ain’t in an ideal world. If the only opportunity you can find to bend and stretch is whilst indulging in your favourite televised guilty pleasure, then I think you should take it. And here are some ideas how…

Before you start, remember that your body won’ t be warmed up so move carefully. Use your breath. Maybe turn the volume down (in the ad break, obviously!) so that you can have a little more focus on what you’re doing.

Cow Face on the Couch

Tuck your right heel up towards your left bum cheek. Take your left heel to the outside your right bum cheek. See if you can allow the two knees to stack on top of each other. Sometimes you might need to wiggle a little bit so that you can get your heels equally aligned on both sides. Allow the knees to nestle together, and rest your hands on the top of your feet. Lift up through the spine and sit as tall as you can. Don’t forget to do it on the other side.

Hips at home

Sit with your back supported by the cushions on the sofa. Bring the soles of your feet together, heels as close to your pubic bone as you comfortably can. Be very aware of any strain in the knees. If you feel any tension there, support the stretch by placing a cushion under each knee. Keep thinking of sitting up tall with each inhale, and perhaps taking your torso forwards with each exhale. Breathe and smile. If you can only do one of these things, breathe!

Lounging Locust

Lie along the sofa on your belly, with your upper chest resting on the arm of the sofa. Use a big cushion wedged up against it to help support your torso. Without clenching your bum cheeks, and keeping a feeling of being long through your lower back, gently lift your gaze up to the ceiling. Reach your arms up and forwards, keeping the shoulder blades wide and with a feeling of them sliding down your back. If reaching the arms forwards is too much, you can gently prop yourself on your elbows by resting them on the arm of the sofa. Breathe and remain there for as long as is comfortable.

Pyjama Paschimottanasana

Leave the cushion next to the arm of the chair, and sit so that your heels are resting up on the arm of the chair and the sofa is supporting the backs of your legs. Ensure you’re not locking the knee joints – think of keeping a very tiny bend in both joints. Inhale to life and lengthen the spine, and exhale reach for your toes. If you can’t reach your toes, let the hands rest on the legs instead. Allow each exhale to take your torso a little closer to the legs, without rounding the back. Are you breathing? Good!

Get down, Dog!

Drape yourself face down over the arm of the sofa, feeling it across the front of your hips. Reach for the floor. (If you can’t comfortably get your hands flat on the floor, use some blocks or make some secure stacks with books.) Place your hands shoulder width apart, ensuring you push down at the base of the thumb and first finger. Walk your hands away from the sofa so that you make a diagonal line from wrist, through elbow, all the way through your torso and up to your sitting bones. Activate the legs, pushing back through the heels. Let the head drop, and get long from the tip of your tail-bone up to the top of your head. Don’t forget to breathe.

Upside (not) down

One to make you feel like you’re 6 again. (Creating a Blanket Fort to follow in future editions!) Sit sideways on the sofa so the outside of your bum cheek is up against the back cushion. Turn and swing your legs up so that your feet are either hanging over the back of the sofa, or resting on a wall, with the back of both thighs resting on the cushion. As long as it’s comfortable for your neck, let your head hang off the front of the sofa. Either let your hands rest on your chest, or for an extra opening let your hands reach behind you towards the floor. Stay there for as long as you feel comfortable, and slide yourself back up on to the sofa once you’re done. Move slowly as you may feel a bit wobbly!