“Born to Run” Review

Love to run?  Often bothered by running injuries? Wonder how people can possible run distances of 50 or 100 miles over inhospitable terrain? This week I am reading “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never See” by Christopher McDougall.  The basic premise of the book is that most of what we think we know about running is wrong.  Sometimes less is more.  Are fancy, expensive shoes with custom orthotics the best for your feet?  According to the author and many in the book, the answer is no. 


The book does not have much to say about India.  The closest excerpt I’ve found thus far is

 Maybe the ancient Hindus were better crystal-ball-gazers than Hollywood when they predicted the world would end not with a bang, but with a big old yawn.  Shiva the Destroyer would snuff us out by doing…nothing.  Lazing out.  Withdrawing his hot-blooded force from our bodies.  Letting us become slugs.  (pg. 99)


Is that really how Hindus believe the world will end?  I don’t know.  I know Satya does believe that this time we live in is the “Kali Yug”, a time of more evil than good, but we don’t sit around waiting for the world to end around us.


I was also disappointed when the author was asking a training coach about how he can learn to run injury-free.  He asked about yoga.  The coach said something like “The runners I know that do yoga get injured.”  What do you think?  Unfortunately, the author skimmed over this observation and didn’t give reasons why the coach said that. 


The book also includes some more little bits of philosophy such as,” When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever.” (pg. 114) And,” You can’t hate the Beast (exhaustion, fatigue, pain) and expect to beat it; the only way to truly conquer something, as every great philosopher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it.”  (pg. 125)

The book ends with an account of a 50 mile race between some of the best ultra runners in North America and the Tarahumara Indians.  The Tarahumara call themselves the Running People and can run many miles on narrow, steep paths among desert canyons.  I will not say who won the race, but McDougall’s account is exciting and hard to put down.


I loved the eccentric, larger than life characters such as Barefoot Ted and Caballo.  I enjoyed learning about the Talahumara Indians of Mexico and some of their traditions (don’t just walk up to their door.  You have to sit a few meters off and look away and then wait for them to invite you inside.   If they don’t, then you leave quietly.)  The bits of science were intriguing too.  I never heard before that people were meant to run, and that running gave us an edge over the Neanderthals.  Another scientist believes that running and hunting gave human brains the push it needed to cross over from purely survival thinking into logic, humor, deduction, etc.  He lived with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and actually did run down an antelope with a group of hunters and actually did hunt by imagining the actions of animals.


So will you see me running miles upon miles barefoot?  Perhaps not, but this book did give some interesting and convincing arguments to rethink some common running beliefs I’ve had since high school such as “Always stretch before a run,” “Get running shoes with lots of support and replace them often”.  It also supported Satya’s belief that it is possible to live a healthy, strong life as a vegetarian and gave some reasons why he has seen so many bunions here in the U.S. and many fewer in India. 


Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and will recommend it to my sisters who love to run and to my aunt in Iowa who loves going barefoot.

For a link to a Time interview with McDougall click here.

In Search of a Great Yoga DVD

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor and was surprised to learn that I’ve gained over 10 lbs in the past year.  I would have expected that switching to a mostly vegetarian diet would have had an opposite effect, but I was wrong.  I guess it is true that after marriage the weight gain begins.  Or maybe it was all the white rice?  Satya heard someplace that we are supposed to eat what our grandparents ate.  White rice was definitely not on their plates.  So now, I’ve decided to become more physically active and to pay more attention to what I eat.  My current plan involves yoga and walking.  In college I took a semester long yoga class that I loved.  It gave me a great workout that I could also do on my own in my dorm room and that was easy on my knees and shins, unlike running.  With that in mind, last week I tried two yoga dvds.  They are very different, but both give a good workout. 


The first is Ease into Ashtanga.  Ashtanga yoga is very vigorous and is where Power Yoga came from.  I took a few classes at a yoga studio and one of its greatest positives and drawbacks is that it is always the same routine.  I liked that the dvd was divided into segments.  If you want to just do the routine, you can.  If you’d like the postures explained, they are.  The scenery is beautiful-Hawai’i with all the beaches and flowers you associate with Hawai’i.  They also explain basic modifications for beginners like me.  My quibbles are that I don’t think they hold the “down dog” position very long and that the insert says that one of the producer’s goals was to show a variety of different body types.  There is a large group of people doing the flow routine together, but I didn’t think they had a very wide range of bodytypes.  I think this dvd does a great job and I will continue to use it.



The second DVD is Yoga Weight Loss Workout for Dummies.  While this will get you sweating and keep your heat rate up, it is not “for dummies”.  She does not fully explain some of the poses.  For example, you must either know what “chair pose” is or pick it up from watching her.  Some poses I don’t think really exist-I’d never heard of “five point star” before.  The instructor is also fond of “pulses”.  In chair pose for example, you are supposed to raise your arms above your head and then “pulse” them forward and backward.  I liked that she included some balance poses-those have always been among my favorites.  She does not include another of my favorites, shavasana or corpse pose.  Don’t buy this one if you want yoga, but if you want a workout it is perfectly fine.  Overall, it is an enjoyable workout that will burn calories. 


A few years ago I bought a Shiva Rea yoga dvd so I’ll be trying that one next.  Also, Satya’s sister found a good one so I will have to ask her about it one of these days.  Yoga dvds are easy to find in Indian video stores and in the temple shop.  I’m eager to try some of those as well to see the similarities and differences. 


It is funny that some schools objected to yoga being taught in schools on religious grounds.  Both yoga dvds did not have anything religious in them-in fact that is one of Satya’s critiques of them-that they have taken all the spirituality out of them and turned yoga into a workout, nothing more.  He says of the dvds, “I miss the om.”  He also thinks that yoga should not include background music, but I don’t see Americans being very comfortable with that.  Myself, I don’t mind the background music.  The only sounds he thinks are appropriate are breathing, movement, and chanting. 


One thing that surprised me a little about his family is that they actually do yoga.  I thought that it was only a stereotype and not part of modern Indian life.  His dad has been doing it all his life.  Satya and his two cousins went to “yoga camp” for a few summers when they were teenagers and his sister and her husband still do it.  Satya’s mother gives him suggestions about which leaders she likes and which she thinks would be worthwhile for him to find on dvd.  They do place a lot of emphasis on breathing and on yoga to bring peace of mind and balance. 


Does anybody have any suggestions of yoga dvds?  Do you prefer the American style of yoga or the Indian style?