I’m here to tell you that one of the many reasons why I love yoga is the incredible blissed out (yoga high) feeling I get when I finish up a practice. The muscles in my body are tingling, the oxygen-rich blood from all that pranayama breathing is pumping through my body, endorphins are pinging around in my brain, and best of all, my mind is clear and focused so I’m ready to take on the day.

I used to be a runner, so I also know how euphoric a runner’s high can make a person feel. If you’re not familiar with this sublime experience, let me share my new friend Liz Ferro’s take on the runner’s high:

“For most of my life, lacing up for a run has been as much a part of my day as taking a shower…The sweat seems to wash away all the heaviness in my heart and on my mind and replaces it with a joyful and light-hearted feeling, which I can’t wait to feel again after it fades. Maybe this is why people get hooked on heroin? I will never know because the empowerment that I receive from running and crossing the finish line is the best high in the world to me. It keeps me coming back for more so I can feel it again and again…No matter what you need from your run, it will grant it.”

In essence, Liz has just nailed how I feel about my own addiction to yoga. I crave that blissful feeling and can’t wait to get back to my yoga mat time and time again. Somehow, my yoga mat always knows what I need, and if I truly listen to my body and breath and allow my mind to clear, I get exactly what I came for – peace of mind, peace in my heart, and that joyful blissed out state. Yoga: it’s the natural, healthy, legal, inexpensive, and oh so highly beneficial high.

Liz has skillfully used the power of this high to carry her throughout her life, and let me tell you, she has had a pretty tough life. Passed around in foster care and finally adopted at age 2, she was the victim of childhood sexual abuse from a neighbor, suffered from bulimia and low self-esteem issues, and endured abusive romantic relationships. She chronicles her life in the book Finish Line Feeling, where she tells the compelling story of how she overcame these obstacles to found the nationally recognized running organization Girls With Sole.

I just recently finished reading Finish Line Feeling, and I have to admit, some of the story was tough to read. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the victim of sexual abuse, and at one point, I didn’t know if I could finish reading. But Liz’s brutal honesty and sense of humor throughout the book drew me in, and I ended up reading almost the entire book in one day. It is filled with inspirational quotes and stories about how Liz overcame obstacles to ultimately build a beautiful life and family for herself.

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” – Lou Holtz

Liz could have stayed negative and bitter about what had happened to her, but instead she let go of her past, got on with her life by participating in sixteen marathons and a few Iron-distance triathlons, and used all of her life experiences to bring goodness into the world with the development of her non-profit organization.

The mission of Girls With Sole is to use free fitness and wellness programs to empower the minds, bodies, and souls of girls ages 9 to 18 who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind. The programs include traditional team sports, running programs, YOGA, dance, and self-esteem building exercises. The programs encourage girls to make healthy choices in every part of their lives and to build a positive self-image. Right now, the organization is based in Cleveland, Ohio, but Liz has received requests to set up Girls With Sole in other parts of the country. Her dream is to keep working with the girls here in Cleveland while also working across the country to set up new Girls With Sole chapters in order to change the lives of girls in need nationwide.

I was incredibly lucky this year to be introduced to Liz and Girls With Sole and have become one of their volunteer coaches who teach yoga to the girls. I can’t even begin to tell you how much joy this has brought to my life, so instead, I’ll let Liz tell you how it feels, as she captured my feelings completely.

“I don’t judge people when they don’t ‘get’ what it is that Girls With Sole actually does for the kids. The only thing that matters to me is the happiness I see in the girls as a result of the programs and the way they embrace and respond to the programs in such a positive manner…The girls bring me so much joy and fulfillment, and I often think they give more to me than I could ever give to them.”

Liz was able to find that mind/body/soul connection at an early age through running and swimming. But, for the most part, at-risk communities and kids in the foster or juvenile justice systems have very little to no access to any types of recreational fitness. Girls With Sole gives them that much-needed connection. It shows them that there is a way out of the darkness and that they can find this light without drugs, alcohol, or self-harm. These girls need someone to introduce them to the mind/body/soul connection, and I can’t think of a better way to help them than through the practice of running and yoga. To quote Liz, “Once they ‘get it’ they won’t ever let it go. But someone needs to show them the way to get there.”

“The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.”

 – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dali Lama

The primary message of Finish Line Feeling is that we all have the inner strength and tenacity to persevere. One of the teachings of yoga is finding acceptance and peace in your life and loving yourself exactly as you are, and Liz’s story could be used as a perfect illustration for this and so many of the yamas and niyamas: practicing ahimsa (non-violence and compassion for ourselves and all beings), santosha (letting go of the past and finding contentment in your life), and ishvar pranidhana (believing in yourself, asking for guidance, relaxing into your life, and surrendering to the needs of your body).

Plus, Liz provides the perfect example of seva, the act of selfless service and the desire to uplift and assist people, giving help and compassion to others with no thought of what is to gain or what is to be lost by doing so.

One of the most inspirational things about the book (which most people who read it will never know) is that Liz wrote it in four months. She then went out on the quest to get it published, would not take no for an answer, and within another few short months found a publisher and got the book out on the market. For someone who has thought a long time about writing a book, this has to be one of the biggest, most motivational kicks in the ass I could have ever received! Thanks, Liz – if you can do it, so can I, and every time you see me, I want you to please remind and maybe even egg me on a bit! (Yep, I’m putting that intention out there in the universe.)

Liz ends the book with this thought, “There is a confidence and a positive light that radiates from an athletic person. It is easily recognized by others and attracts them to you like a moth to a porch light on a summer’s night.”

If you are lucky enough to meet Liz, you will experience this light; it radiates from her smile and her enthusiasm, and I guarantee it will fill you up with joy.

Want to support Liz and Girls with Sole? Here are just a few of the ways you can get involved:

  • Get inspired and read Finish Line Feeling, available to purchase on Amazon
  • Celebrate the fact that Liz is now a published author by coming to The Rock & Sole book launch being held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday, June 15th. The price of $50 per couple gets you into this private party at the Rock Hall, appetizers, drinks, dancing with a live band, and a copy of Finish Line Feeling.
  • Contact Girls with Sole through the website for volunteer and donation opportunities.