“I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” ~ Jesse Owens
Like Jesse Owens, I have always loved running.
I started when I was a kid.
I raced and ran and I too love running by myself. Now I run in the mountains around my home, seeking out the sights, fighting the Wyoming wind. In the mountains I can run in any direction I seek, and the direction I have been running to these days is the one my childhood idol, Steve Prefontaine, speaks about—to the place of “guts,” to The City of Jewels, the Manipura chakra.
“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” ~ Steve Prefontaine
The direction I take today on my 10-mile mountain run leads me to a steep hill known to the local runners and mountain bikers as Death Crotch. This roughly two-mile stretch uphill takes a runner through forest and vistas that open to the brilliant blue sky of Wyoming.
After four miles of running over rolling terrain and past beaver ponds, I find myself at the base of Death Crotch. I lift my feet and legs up and over the rocks and roots that are scattered on the dusty trail and I bring my awareness of breathing into my lower belly, to my guts, that place of intestinal fortitude, as Prefontaine would say. As the trail winds up the hill, I lengthen through my back body, let my chest open up and draw my belly button to my spine as I feel myself letting go of thinking and dropping into the Manipura chakra.
As the trail turns steeper and the shade of the trees hides the heat of the sun, I notice myself become more at ease with the effort to climb. Today is a good day. I feel inspired to run far and, encouraged by past practice, to let my attention ride the wave of deep belly breathing, of letting go of the fear of not being able to run up this long, steep hill.
One of the transformational qualities of accessing the power of the Manipura chakra is its ability to transform fear into being grounded, powerful and fearless. Today I am feeling this fearlessness in my belly, the powerfulness in my legs and the sense of being grounded in my body.
The Manipura chakra is the third chakra. This chakra is also called the solar-plexus chakra. In yogic text, chakras are known as transformational energy centers. The centers are subtle in nature and are often activated though visualization. In many yogic texts, seven major chakra centers are described. These seven centers of subtle energy can be explored through yoga asana, meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), or mantra (chanting). For the spiritual athlete, the chakras can become a way to go deeper into our chosen field of movement and to tap into an ancient system of releasing patterns and habits of mind that block the path to achieving courage, freedom and joy.
I have run this hill many times over the years. This section of the trail is on the far end of a long run that many use to train and to race. In the fall, this trail is used to hold a race that commemorates the death of eight Wyoming cross-country runners. I have run, walked and even sat on this section of the trail. In the summer, flowers and deer populate the steep, wooded hillside. Runners, mountain bikers and the occasional hiker can be seen going up and down this trail. I have found this portion of the trail to be a nemesis at times, yet I have come to see this hill as a part of my spiritual journey. Here on Death Crotch, I have found a “studio” to practice the yoga of running.
My practice today is to drop into the Manipura chakra in order to transform the personal fears I have about success and failure, into ease and release of outcomes. Today my practice is to see if I have the guts, the fortitude and the courage to continue running all the way up this steep hill.
When I was a young kid, no more then 12 or 13, I ran and raced a lot. But one race in particular has always haunted me. On the hot summer’s day back in the mid ’70s, I so vividly recall not being able to go forward—the heat was so much, the pressure to succeed was so great and the goal of being a winner was so overwhelming that when I stopped to cool off I felt completely defeated and depressed. I was, in a word, fearful: fearful of success and fearful of failure. I was afraid of not being good enough, tough enough and fast enough. Here I was, a young teen comparing myself to college boys and grown men.
The fluid energy of fear raced though my body so much that all I could think about was sitting down and quitting. As Steve Prefontaine might say, I didn’t have the guts that day. As I have gotten older, this race has become more of an example of the influence of how the third chakra can become blocked.
It is written that the Manipura chakra’s energies influence the development of identity during puberty. When this chakra’s energies are out of balance, low self-esteem, lack of confidence and excessive concerns with vanity can arise. That race was a turning point in how I viewed myself years later as I ran the hot summer trails around my town. I feared the heat, the sense of not being able to finish, the inner sense of being a “loser.” I put on the face of pain and the mask of fear, whenever I felt that I couldn’t go on.
For a number of years now I have been in deep study about this experience, and as I have come to look upon my child self through the eyes of an adult I see how I lost my courage, my self-esteem, on that stifling race day. The Manipura chakra is the center of personal power. This chakra is said to help process identity, purpose and our relationship to the world. This chakra is associated with fire and it is represented as a bright yellow jewel, or as I see it, the sun beating down on me as I run my way up the long hillside. It is through the work of returning over and over to the trails, to the roads and most importantly, to the “City of Jewels,” the Manipura chakra, that I have come to regain my ability to take risks, become empowered and allow myself to joyfully experience the success of running for myself.
As I crest the long, steep hill and descend through the aspens, I discover inside of me that little child, the younger runner I was, on the side of the road—hot, tired and scared. I pick him up and hold him in my heart and say that everything is going to be ok. I’m here and I’ve got you. That long hot race, that time of fear, is gone. It’s time to cross the finish line and put that race behind. The work of the spiritual journey and the running journey for me is to peel away the layers of fear. Today was one of those boundless run days, when past and present meet on the trail of chakra awareness and allow fear to arise, be integrated and let go.
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” ~ Edmund Hillary
How my Hate for Running changed into Love.
Author: Joe Bundy
Image: David Marcu, Unsplash
Apprentice Editor: Thayne Ulschmid; Editor: Emily Bartran
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