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“Surrender your heart, be present on your mat, find your edge…” I was bombarded by unfamiliar, incomprehensible, yet oddly comforting jargon when I stumbled into my first few yoga classes as a summer cancer research intern at the University of Colorado campus on the outskirts of Denver. My early exposure to simple studios with dauntingly soothing mountain views stood in stark contrast to my usual routine of intensity.
As a Division I college track and cross country athlete and pre-medical student, my life was dictated by interval times, memorized formulas, self-imposed restrictions, and application or assignment guidelines that flooded my over-booked planner. My average week in college included up to 70-miles of mile repeats, fartleks, tempo long runs, and double run “easy days” when my head wasn’t forcefully buried in my Organic Chemistry, Physics, or Calculus textbooks (subjects so dry that they made my throat hurt and my voice lost) or hidden in my part-time bench lab work. My mind ran on autopilot from task to task in order to avoid the potential birth of doubt there were any way to survive other than expending every one of my carefully counted vegan calories to muscle through daily life. I couldn’t grasp what it meant to “find your edge” when my expectation of myself was to constantly push beyond my own limits. Despite my lack of understanding, something about the peace of mind and physical awareness that my silent dance through Vinyasa sequences had me quickly craving more of yoga. Though my conscious mind didn’t recognize what was happening to me at the time, my instinctive reaction to yoga was really my body’s own subconscious reaction to preventing me from hitting a giant wall.
Six months after my initial exposure to the phrase, I found myself on the starting line of the conference indoor 5K, knowing full well that I was stale in my training, experiencing diminishing marginal returns despite my dedication. To compound the physical self-loathing from this awareness, I secretly realized I had cold – no, Antarctica numb-feet – as I reached the finish line of preparing for medical school applications. I felt myself on the brink of committing to an arranged marriage with a practical yet challenging career that I should pursue as a straight-A, health-oriented girl. But what about what I wanted? When the gun at that conference race shot off, I hesitated. Soon I was lapped out without truly giving myself a chance. That night, I slept very little, cried a fair amount, and blamed myself in abundance for unproductively moping. Yet somehow, I realized in the incoherent, snowed-in, sleepless blur of the following days that by pushing through my limits, I was running myself into a brick wall. I couldn’t keep blindly living beyond my edge without first consulting my heart.
That was when I asked myself, perhaps for the first time since I started out on this demanding track, what was it that I wanted, but was afraid to admit? I should have continued to believe that I was an all-capable robot, but I wanted to be human, complete with raw emotions and real mistakes. I should have kept devoting myself tirelessly to shedding a second off of my respectable 5K time, but I wanted to try running a marathon for the simple thrill of it. I should have stayed below my “ideal training weight” of 92 lbs., but I wanted to devour an oven full of warm, rich, non-vegan brownies and to look like a woman again in my forgotten dresses. I should have spent the remainder of the semester buried in my MCAT books, but I wanted to feast on literature on wine culture and 50 Shades of Grey. I should have spent that summer perfecting my Western blot in the lab while continuing a stable running schedule, but I wanted to travel, studying public health on the beaches of South of France, exploring yoga and fine Indian cuisine in London, and riding old school bikes through the countryside of Ireland. Ultimately, I should have gone to medical school to learn to save a life, but I wanted to explore this romantic notion of global health on the off chance that I could instead save the world.
These thoughts raced through my head at the crack of dawn one morning when I should have been putting in a few fast miles on the cold, hard pavement, but instead, I wanted to melt onto my yoga mat with the same curious passion as my first time in the mountains of Colorado. But that morning, I wasn’t in my past in Colorado or in the future in my applications. I was fully present in my quaint, Southern Illinoisan apartment amidst warming rays of the rising sun. Even then, I should have pushed myself into an Instagram-worthy arm balance, but instead, I wanted so desperately to lie blissfully in savasana, surrounded by heaps of scattered dresses soon to be rebirthed after a long retirement. In that moment of fully-present, satisfied delirium, my epiphany came to light like the beams of the brightening early-spring sun. I realized that if I failed in the uncertain chase of my passions rather than pushing beyond to who I should become, I would always be able to experience the memory of this simple, unattached satisfaction on the mat. In that eternal instant, this was my edge.
About The Author: Lacey Gibson continues to run for the thrill of it and practice yoga with passion. After finishing her current 200-hour yoga teacher training program with the New School of Yogic Arts, she aspires to reduce global social inequalities through yoga and academia.
A Masters student in Global Health and Population and Food Literacy Project Fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She spent the past summer as a Participatory Research Intern in Marseille, France, where she collected data for her current Masters Thesis on perceived barriers to health and human rights among Roma women in France. She graduated in 2015 with a B.A./B.S. in French and Physiology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she wrote her honors thesis on differences in wine drinking attitudes in Nice, France and London, England.
She is a former NCAA Division I track and cross country runner, and since then has run the Revel Rockies Marathon at 10,000 feet in Colorado and the Boston Marathon. She is loving the journey to her career dreams as a vegan-baking foodie, traveling yogi, and (most importantly) genuine human being. Follow her on Instagram @laceyg92.