I am a runner. It took me about 2 years to own those words. I started running in my mid-thirties in an attempt to get back in shape after having two kids. As a younger person, I definitely scoffed at running…why do it unless someone is chasing you? Then, I got hooked, I mean really HOOKED. Now, I am training for the 2017 NYC Marathon after being sidelined from last year’s race due to an IT band injury. This blog will, in part, share my running adventures and my very first running post will address the why of running.
I call this blog Mindful Striver because I feel that it capsulates the sometimes opposing, often complementary parts of my psyche– a duality to which I think a lot of people can relate. On the one hand, I am a striver. I’ve worn the label ambitious as a badge of honor, knowing full well the the contempt it ascribes when given to a woman. I went to school part-time for an advanced degree and take my job very seriously. At home, I’m always casting about for what needs to be done. Even when I’m left to my own devices entirely, I’ll make a list of things to do and get going. If you have ever put “take a bath,” “take a nap,” or “paint nails” on an actual to-do list, then we are spirit animals. This aspect of who I am serves me very well much of the time, but it can also get in my way. I find it very difficult to slow down and quiet my busy mind. And that, my friends, is where running is so perfect for a Mindful Striver. Running is the very definition of doing something. It scratches all of my itches for goal achievement, measurable success, demonstrative improvement etc. But, it is also a meditation in and of itself. I know, I know, it’s not Oooomfindacomfortableseatandcomeintoyourbreath meditation, but it is definitely a meditation. Consider this:
Running Clears Your Mind
There is nothing like a hard run to drown out everything but your feet hitting the pavement. The first mile or two of a run I’m pretty focused on the discomfort in my body or calculating how long I’ll be out. But, after about 1-2 miles, I calm down and just run. Sometimes I’ll start out a run feeling especially worried or stressed about something and after a few miles it all just seems so much clearer. And, it turns out, there is good science behind this head-clearing feeling. Your brain functioning really does improve markedly from aerobic exercise, with benefits ranging from improved memory to actual brain growth.
Running Focuses Your Breath
So much of meditation is about focusing on your breath and letting everything else slip away. Running gives you this in spades. The breath is a runner’s touchstone. If I can breath comfortably, I know that I’m in the right zone to go the distance. Sometimes, I’ll take out the headphones and just listen to my own breath and my feet hitting the ground. It’s rhythmic, hypnotic even. And the great thing is that endurance training improves your lung capacity and helps your body create a more robust circulatory system. Who doesn’t want more Prana in their system?
Running Binds You to Nature
Meditation helps me to feel connected to the earth and all living things. So does running, in a very tangible way. I live in a very pretty area with stately old trees, beautiful gardens, and wooded areas teeming with wildlife. Running brings me up close and personal. Early morning runs have put me face to face with all manner of creatures, including deer, raccoons (creepy, but alluring), skunks (they look just like they do on TV!), and hedgehogs (those guys are big). I once took a run through a nearby nature preserve and felt like Snow White with all the birds singing and squirrels running around. It is more than just taking in the scenery, my runs remind me that I am part of an delicate and vibrant ecosystem. I finish my runs feeling truly connected to, and more responsible for, my local environment.
Runner’s high. Endorphins. Prana. Connectedness. No matter what words I use, it comes back to the same thing. I feel the same way after a run that I do after a meditation session. Because running is meditation. That’s not to say that I don’t get something qualitatively different and important from sitting quietly and breathing. It’s just a reminder that really anything you do with total focus and devotion is a meditation.
Mindfulness is not narrowly defined. It’s a way of thinking. Of being present and unattached. Running is just one way that I get there. How do you get there?