Yoga Diary: Marathon Chanting

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When I trained for the New York City Marathon in 2002, I learned that running can be lonely. One day, on a particularly challenging run in the back hills of Central Park, I began to quietly chant Om Namah Shivaya
(I bow to the god within me). My many years of yoga had taught me the power of chanting, and I hoped this one might keep me company.

I quickly grew to love this chant when I used it on my runs. It inspired me and made me feel stronger and more capable. It also helped me regulate my breathing—precisely what a long-distance runner needs to do—because it was the exact length of my exhalation. With each exhalation, I would chant, then inhale, repeat the chant, and so on until it became rhythmic and second nature.

Still, when marathon day came, I was grateful that I had my friend Tara running beside me. We pulled each other along until, less than two miles from the finish line, we lost each other. One minute she was ahead of me, and then, in an instant, she was swallowed by the crowd. An overwhelming sense of fatigue washed over me; my legs were leaden and I couldn't feel my feet. I had only a mile or so to go, but all I wanted to do was to stop, grab a cab, and go home to bed. I became disconnected from myself and from everything around me.

Then suddenly, as I turned right onto Central Park South, another runner flashed me a smile of encouragement. I felt a little burst of energy, and my body felt lighter. Out of nowhere, it came back to me: Om Namah Shivaya. It was barely a whisper. Om Namah Shivaya. My feet kept moving. Om Namah Shivaya. My breath came back, my head lifted. Om Namah Shivaya. I ran strong and steady to the finish line, my chant carrying me along every step of the way.