Did you catch that last part? Everything was becoming blurry… what one may liken to a traffic report that warns of reduced visibility behind the wheel in deteriorating weather. But I was not outside on a foggy day. Not that long ago, I literally was deteriorating and suffering reduced visibility when my vision started to go out of focus.
It was the noon hour. I was running rapidly on a treadmill at an interval training class that I routinely attend. I don’t remember what song was playing, but it might as well have been Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.” Quite suddenly, my sight became cloudy. I started to feel about as balanced as a drunkard on an ice skating rink. So, what was happening? Essentially, I was all dried up. As it turned out, I needed a microscope to see the miniscule amount of hydration sense that I had that day. My pre-workout sustenance that morning had been two cups of black, sugarless coffee and a small square of dark chocolate. Absolutely ideal for someone with a family history of hypertension and who’s passed out from dehydration before, right? I suppose we’re all entitled to occasional lapses in common sense, but for reasons unknown to this usually well hydrated fitness fanatic, my common sense in this instance had plunged deeper than the Marianas Trench. The only thing I did do right up to this point in the day was immediately get off the treadmill when my sinking spell started. I managed to plop down on an aerobics step platform, hang my head between my legs and just breathe. I imagine I looked like a boxer who had just lost a bout in the ring. I’m lucky to have avoided my own technical knockout. I was able to stand up again after about fifteen minutes, at which point I hauled myself to a juice bar down the street. Liquefied celery never tasted so good.
There’s no doubt that self-drought was what nearly took me down that hour, but it was a Carcassonnian fortress of positive affirmation that proved stronger. It was my “sankalpa,” a Sanskrit word roughly translated as a commitment toward positive change… in essence, a motivational phrase. Examples include “I choose to be happy” and “My challenges are my opportunities for success.” The one I had on my brain that day and that I had been proposing to participants in my yoga classes around that time was this: “I listen to my body and respond compassionately.” I came across it during my Yoga Tune Up® studies. Words truly can be powerful when all else is failing you.
It may sound ludicrous to associate compassion with sprinting on a treadmill. Most of my fitness-related acts of self-compassion in recent times had been opting for a few lazy hamstring stretches on my back over attending an advanced yoga class. But I think the parameters of compassion’s context are open to interpretation. If you’re on the brink of keeling over but can will yourself to sustain consciousness long enough to sit down and rest, I’d call that compassion. This is when interval training entered the realm of mind-body wellness. I’d say running on a treadmill is largely a brainless activity. There’s often a disconnect between what’s happening above and below the shoulders. You may be busy thinking about your grocery list and what time you’re picking up junior from school, but paying no attention to your stride or to that odd pain in your lower back. Sure, we’re human and distractions creep their way into our minds all the time. But, you owe it to yourself – and your health – to truly give heed to everything that’s happening in the moment.
I’m fortunate that the concept of sankalpa already had been so well instilled in me. If you say something to yourself long enough, it eventually leaves an impression. Even though I’ve been a yoga practitioner for over a decade, I find I still struggle with the mind-body connection. This is why I devote time to practicing with my students while I teach because I find my body often thinks of poses and exercises that my mind doesn’t. It could be that sankalpa is the neglected ambassador ready and willing to create the handshake between brains and brawn. It’s comparable to what I’ve heard sports commentators call “the intangibles.” You may have Roger Federer’s grace of movement and Serena Williams’s steely determination, but, in isolation, neither will guarantee success in your endeavors. Taking a page from the American football handbook, sankalpa is the ultimate “twelfth man” ready to cheer you on and remind you of all the physical and mental good (and common sense) of which you’re capable.
You’ll probably need to experiment with which sankalpa works best for you. It depends on what you want to change in your life. Once you have it, say it to yourself and say it often. The yoga mat is a great starting point, but so is your bed. Before you even lift your head from your pillow, with your green thumb of mind-body horticulture, make that commitment to yourself. You may have several sankalpas to accommodate your needs. Whatever you go with, trust your gut and make sure your inner voice of reason speaks with a megaphone instead of a whisper.