Athlete Chris McClung is Afraid of Yoga

I have the privilege of being an instructor/presenter for the Wanderlust Festival in Austin this year. I am…

I have the privilege of being an instructor/presenter for the Wanderlust Festival in Austin this year. I am pumped to do it, but I have a confession to make.

I have a case of yoga-phobia, and it’s bad. Really bad.

To be honest, I am scared out of my mind to attend the festival for fear the yogis in the group will sense it in the midst of early meditations and escort me out, likely as they “walk” beside me on their hands dragging me by the ear with their toes.

Now, don’t worry, I am not there to teach yoga. Running is my gig, and I’ll be leading sessions outdoors where we actually walk and run on our feet instead of hands. Yep, I said “run.” Now I might have you scared. This highlights this funny little conundrum of yogis vs. runners and the fear pervasive between the two groups.

Where does it come from and what can we do about it?

As for me, I am an athlete and a generally fearless one. In college, my hobby was intramural sports, all of them. Literally. I played the usual suspects of flag football, soccer, softball, basketball, and volleyball as well as badminton, billiards, ping pong, and chess, just to name a few.

If there was a sport or game to play, I played it, regardless of my skill level. I remember when my overconfidence was embarrassingly dashed during my first badminton game. I learned that you can actually spike a shuttlecock and that it hurts badly when it hits you in the face. But, it was fun and I enjoyed testing myself in uncharted athletic waters. After college, running became my thing, and the desire to experiment faded as I focused exclusively on running faster and longer in a never-ending race against myself.

When I signed up for my first yoga class – Yoga for Runners – I thought nothing of it. I knew I was inflexible and that yoga could help me, so I approached that first class without fear. After all, I made the “safe” choice, assuming that I would be protected from shame, surrounded by other stiff and rigid runners like myself. Before the class even started, I knew I was wrong. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

As I entered the room a little early, the instructor prompted us to prepare ourselves for the start of class in the variation of Burmese or Lotus positions in which we were most comfortable. Say what? I looked around and saw others sitting essentially cross-legged with their legs resting gently and parallel to the floor. A few had 1-2 folded blankets beneath their butts and I wasn’t sure why.

Not intimidated yet, I took my brand new mat and staked claim to a section of floor, putting on my best I-know-what-I-doing-face. Everything was going smoothly until I tried to fold my legs together. Creak. Pop. Stop. Suddenly my feet were together in front of me, but my knees were pointing nearly straight up into the air as my back hunched over awkwardly. I tried to push the knees down to match the others in the room, but they weren’t budging. At least, not in any way that would keep my muscles and pride intact.

The instructor saw me struggling, grabbed a few blankets from the shelf and came over to help me. She would need 3 more trips to the shelf and a stack of blankets as high as a chair before my body achieved the right positioning. What followed was a yoga class divided, with one set of instructions for the group and another set for me, while the poor instructor spent most of the time trying to coax my body into poses that were, to use her inspiring words, “close enough.”

I left the class humiliated and haven’t fully recovered yet. I do find a tiny bit of comfort knowing that I am not alone. Although not universally true, I would hypothesize that more runners fear yoga and yogis fear running than any other pair of athlete-groups. Yogis are experts at breathing and love to sweat Bikram-style, but get intimidated by a brisk jog on a hot summer day? Runners will suffer for hours to slog 13 or 26 miles, but are afraid to sit through an hour of mediation, stretching and relaxation? Wait…. What?

The irony thickens further when you realize that keys to both running and yoga are a consistent commitment to the craft and learning to relax within movement to unlock a deeper potential. Can’t we all just be friends? I hope to find out in November in Austin. Yogis don’t bite, right?!?

McClung headshot-2Chris is one of the co-owners of Rogue Running, an Austin-based running store, training center, and community that is committed to changing people’s lives through running. Rogue trains over 3,000 runners per year to complete races from 5K to marathon. He believes in the power of running to change lives as the perfect crucible for self-discovery through sweat, discipline, and pain. When not running, coaching, or working at Rogue, Chris can be found at home chasing his two sons and daughter. Visit him at his website, on Facebook and on Twitter.