By: Sheri Matthews
Imagine the one thing you loathe doing the most. Laundry. Mondays. The dentist. Ask a runner or a cyclist to go to a yoga class… and it’s the same idea. To runners and cyclists, yoga is a four-letter word, almost as ridiculous as those Twister-like, contortionist positions you can hardly even pronounce, let alone actually execute. Catterunga? Chadderunga? Chata-what? Give me a break, right?
Well, maybe not so fast. What many runners are starting to learn is that there are real benefits to yoga. After all, runners and cyclists, they train hard, many of them pushing themselves to their absolute limits. So think about it like this: if you pushed your car that hard, driving it at top speed for countless miles, without once giving it a tune-up, without once changing the oil or rotating the tires, that car would eventually give out on you. You don’t want your body to give out on you, do you? You want it to perform at the highest level possible for as long as possible, right? Well, yoga is like your body’s tune-up, keeping it fresh and limber, ensuring more miles ahead. What is does for you mentally is just an added bonus.
With that in mind, meet Alice Toyonaga. She’s from Ontario, Canada, and she just celebrated her ninth anniversary of the day she was told by her doctor that if she didn’t change her ways, she would “have a stroke by the age 30.” That day was Oct. 24, 2004, and since that time Alice, a one-time overweight smoker with an out-of-control diet, has combined running — completed 43 races ranging from 5ks to 30ks, including seven full marathons, 13 half-marathons and three triathlons – with yoga to completely change her life.
“After that (doctor’s appointment nine years ago), I got off the subway at a different stop, walked into an old, no-frills, all women’s gym, and signed up. I got on the scale and for the first time saw the number. It was 223 pounds. I cried the whole way home on the bus. I was disappointed in my choices, but felt relieved that my doctor told me I could change.”
She committed to a couple days a week at the gym. She says it was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, and she was doing it alone. But she kept at it. She changed her diet, stopped binge eating, and by the end of 2006 she had lost nearly 100 pounds. Problem was, her weight was starting to become an obsession. She was counting every calorie, charting every ingredient, to the point that it was becoming unhealthy in a different, but equally destructive way.
“It was taking over my life,” she says.
What she needed was a step back. Some perspective. She needed to continue finding her way on a healthy, sustainable, fulfilling journey, and for that, on her 2008 anniversary, after kicking her smoking habit, she reached out to “the running room” in Toronto for a 16-week training program for her first half-marathon. She wound up finishing two halves that year, but more importantly, she realized the impact of having a support system full of positive people. And then she found yoga, and everything changed.
After a 2009 surgery temporarily eliminated running as an exercise, Alice needed something else to keep the weight off. That’s how it started. Like many runners, she thought hot yoga was merely a way to sweat but she quickly learned to appreciate gentle restorative exercise and better nutrition that seems to naturally come with it, and in doing so, she found that she was more at peace and healthier than she’d felt after just an intense running workout or gym session. Alice was so inspired by yoga that as she got back into running, she delved deeper, completing her yoga teacher training in 2011.
She was no longer on this journey just to be thin. Suddenly she saw the bigger picture, the long-term goal of an active lifestyle, and yoga seemed to bring this all together. While training for her first full marathon, she wanted to be the support for someone like herself that she found in the running and yoga community.
She knew the wear and tear a runner’s body endures, and though she was also aware of runners’ egos and their seemingly inherent disdain for yoga, she also knew what it had done for her. So she started Chatter-run-girl, a yoga group for runners, to help athletes stay in their sports for years to come. Realizing how a support group with fitness goals can be so important, she travels all over the United States offering her passion for yoga to endurance athletes. She personally crushes the stereotype that yogis don’t run and runners don’t do yoga.
She recently completed the Toronto STW Marathon, leading a yoga workshop the following weekend. Then she completed the New York City Marathon, only to turn around and lead a yoga workshop for the runners. Daily, weekly, monthly, Alice shares her experience and gratitude on the mat, coupling yoga with her dedication to running to bridge the gap for those who train so hard, so they can keep training hard. She currently has over 800 hours in teacher trainings in Moksha, Yin, and Vinyasa yoga.
Oct. 24, 2014, will mark the 10th anniversary of the day Alice was told she could either live or die by the age of 30. It was her choice. With a huge heart and a smile as warm as Arizona in July, you can see that she chose to live. Together, yoga and running didn’t just change her life. It saved it.