Wherever you go, there you are! (running mindfully)
The title may confuse people, or the aim of this short article may seem unclear. However, the key point I want to get across is that many of us spend too much time on the "next thing" with too many distractions around us and not enough time focusing on the present, the now. The things that matter to us may be future-based, but you can do a lot of good by focusing your attention on the moment and letting go of the chattering monkeys in your head.
Clearly I must return to my home base of meditation, yoga and Buddhist thought to answer these concerns and why I think the simple act of running can help so much if approached from a different viewpoint. Before then, let us remind ourselves of the quantitative evidence about exercise, and specifically running and walking.
There is clear physiological evidence that exercise is mentally good for us, seratonin levels rise and our 'feel good' outlook increases. Exercise has lasting effects on us and is not isolated at the point of exercise so all this is a good thing. I would, though, like to ask what motivates us to run? Do we approach running and exercise as an escape from our daily lives which are uneasy in terms of balance, relationships and direction? Do we use running as a sort of shield that needs thickening up on a regular basis from the daily onslaught of work, tasks and simple survival. Is it possible for exercise and the act of running to develop clear thought and careful attention to detail in terms of work and relationships? Can running do this?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book "Coming To Our Senses," points to a requirement in society to come to terms with our dis-ease. In the book he clearly details the benefits of mindfulness and the practice of meditation in developing this laser light awareness of breath, self and of a deeper awareness of others. He suggests, I agree with him, that we are ill at ease with ourselves and the uneasiness is countered by busy-ness and distractions from the moment by moment issues that we all must face.
When you run are you dominated by thoughts of time, training and the next challenge? Do you need these challenges to motivate yourself to run? What if there were no challenges at all. No T shirt or medal would you still run? Are you running to lose weight and look better? I understand completely about the benefits of training, competition and challenges. You can use these to hone your skills, improve your performances and do some great work for charity. But as a yogi, there are no competitions or performances only you. The principles of yoga are based on alignment of the mind and body, yoking and tying the two together with the postures. It is not about who is the most bendy, supplest and who looks good. You focus on you and where you are at the moment. Postures come alive with that focus on energy, breath and alignment. What is interesting is that as you develop practice then this practice informs and changes your life. You become present and aware of self and your surroundings. You certainly become more in tune with people and resonate an awareness back.
So now we come to running and the development of this point in your running practice. This though is my first point. Your running practice, not competing, not completing ... just the process of running. Chi Running does focus on running form and the meaning of that in your running in terms of the biomechanics and efficiency however it also clearly stresses identifying clear signposts in your body to align and focus on. Hence it equates in my eyes as a yoga posture with clear benefits equal to yoga. Either way minimalist running insists that you must attend and be attentive to your running technique and feet. You are more in tune with the environment and as a result more mindful and thoughtful.
Approaching running as a practice I have found that I naturally run more. In running training terms, I have increased my volume for running but only as a natural consequence of form development and extending time spent running matched to aerobic improvement. This does parallel well with a yoga posture I know, and I have finally come to terms with it. "Dog with head down" is, in yoga terms, a resting posture. When I first met this I could hardly keep the form for a minute! It was so tiring and stressful. Now 15 years in, yes it is a resting posture, I understand the form and my body has conditioned itself to focus on the key elements that bring the posture together. So there is the parallel with focusing on your form as a runner. Fluency develops with time and provided you have the correct signposts at your disposal then your practice develops at the correct rate for you.
The best effect of form running is that this does influence you outside of your running time. As you become more aware of your body and it's responsiveness to different environments, you become more acutely aware of your inner you (breathing) and how you respond and engage with the outer you (improved relationships, becoming calmer, focused, steady, etc.)
A lot to take in and I suppose it again may challenge some. Finally if people were more mindful, compassionate and understanding would we be in this mess now? It is such a shame but I have not heard those words being used in the very senior debate that world leaders are having regarding the world and it's economy. Perhaps they should try running?
- running as a practice,