There are a few moments in my life that truly define who I am: A car accident, the birth of my child, divorce, and running a 50k ultra-marathon—thanks to yoga, that is.
On May 4, 1999, I woke up and went for my standard quick 8-mile run through Charlottesville, Virginia, and then hopped in my car to drive to DC for a job interview, but I never made it. Instead the next thing I knew I was having my jeans cut off by the paramedics and taken to a hospital where I stayed for a week. I had gotten into a car accident and broke every bone in my right leg except for my femur and hip. I had an external fixator put in, and it was pretty nasty to look at. That summer I had three surgeries, read a ton of books, watched a lot of movies, and slept most of the days away.
For years I held on to the thought that I was broken. To this day, my doctor tells me it was the worst talus fracture he has ever seen. Afraid to cause more damage, I left my passion for running behind. I tried physical therapy to get me back in shape but it wasn't enough. Heeding my doctor's advice, I decided to try yoga.
Admittedly, I was apprehensive. Coming from a running background, I sought competitive exercise that made me sweat and burn. What would yoga do for me?
In my first yoga class, I looked around the room and realized how little I knew. I thought I would never be able to create the shapes of those around me. Like when running, I was stuck comparing and competing. However, it was the continuous flow of my vinyasa practice that began to quiet my mind. My comparisons lessened, and I became a little more comfortable with where I was at the moment. I was healing. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually.
My practice developed over the past 13 years. Beginning with a scattered yoga schedule, I soon advanced to practicing two to four times per week. I now practice almost everyday, sometimes merely doing Sun Salutations, other times venturing through a full practice.
During this time I got married, had a baby, and got divorced. Yoga was my one constant. I practiced mostly vinyasa, with some Ashtanga, Anusara, and restorative thrown in the mix. But I still craved my first passion: running. Although I was healing through yoga, I was afraid to run. I didn't want to be broken again.
Through continued yoga practice I began to find a steadiness and assertion in myself—a sense of trust in my body and mind. Soon my yoga practice blossomed from a sometimes-yogi to a devoted student and then to a teacher. The asanas were there to ground and greet me, but it was the self-discovery, the uncovering of layers, that were potent. I was shape shifting physically and mentally.
Through yoga, I gained the realization that no body is "perfect" and in some ways we all have our breaks and cracks. With this understanding, I knew it was time to return to running. In 2009, I began again. I started running two times a week with my goal set on completing a 50k ulta-marathon. In 2012, I reached the starting line and began a run that would challenge me physically and mentally.
At mile 20, fears spun in my head: "You haven't prepared enough," "You're too weak," "You can't do this." But as one foot continued to reach in front of the next, I realized how far I had come not just on this run, but also in life. Like a mantra moving me forward, I began to repeat: "You can do this. You can do this." With this steady and meditative encouragement—step by step, breath by breath—I made it to the finish line.
I will always deal with the long-term effects from my accident. I have osteoarthritis and my right ankle will always be bigger than my left. But the truth is, I am grateful for the impact the accident had on my life. I realized that whether it be suffering from a broken leg or a broken heart, in some ways we are all broken. I am not the most flexible or the strongest, or the most dedicated yogi. I am still learning from my students, my teachers, and myself. Running—like yoga—is meditative and brings me to a clearer state. I thought I had room for only one in my life, but together they ground me.