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Mindful : June 2017
Wellness, leads women’s trail-running expedi- tions around the globe, puts it this way: “Mind- ful running is the practice of fully immersing yourself in the present-moment experience of running and its immediate effects on your mind and body, free from judgment, self-conscious- ness, or self-doubt.” Fish, an accomplished distance runner who now instructs everyone from back-of-the-pack novices to ultra-distance warhorses, says that intense competition was what motivated her early in life, but the stress that came with the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, and a painful autoimmune disease took such profound physical and psychological tolls that mindful running became a necessity. “I can only run if I listen to my body,” she says, “and running mindfully is the method by which I tune in to my body’s signals and run my best given how I feel any given day.” Although Fish also practiced meditation, it took a back seat to running until she suffered a bout of extreme exhaustion. Even then, how- ever, she found sitting on the cushion to be challenging. “But then I discovered how running actually creates the ideal circumstances in which to practice meditation,” she says. “Synching move- ment with breath, focusing the mind on a single point (such as the trail ahead), and aligning the spine to allow flow of energy are just some of the ways running creates the coherence in the body that supports present-moment awareness. “Making this my practice dramatically reduced my stress and made running sus- tainable given my health challenges, so I’m extremely thankful. I do now have a seated meditation practice, too, but this was easier to adopt after only doing mindful running for a while first.” Other runners, she adds, have told her that running mindfully has also been their “gateway drug” to seated meditation. Conversely, veteran meditators are particularly open to mindful run- ning, as they find it easier to focus on the expe- rience of running than on the quest for faster times, awards, recognition, and the like. But like meditation, learning to run mindfully can prove frustrating for some. Michael San- dler, who coaches people in both, suggests that beginners start with mindful walking, taking gentle, easy breaths as they go. “If it does turn into a jog,” he says, “ there should be no judg- ment or competition. Just move and have fun.” “I have a saying with my runners: 'Kind, gentle, easy, good,'” he adds. “ I advise them to be Alan Green is a veteran investigative reporter in Washington, DC, whose books include Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species. He ran his first marathon in 1987. The Experts Say “Mindful running is the practice of fully immersing yourself in the present-moment experience of running and its immediate effects on your mind and body, free from judgment, self- consciousness, or self-doubt.” ELINOR FISH mental notes to check in on how my body and brain are feeling. And as I pass the halfway point of the 6.5 -mile run, I finally manage to breathe nasally for a stretch and, perhaps as a result, relax into the flow. But following my cool-down I bump into my training partner, who blindsides me with a suggestion that we run an early-spring half-marathon, six weeks before our usual first long race. I fear I won’t be prepared, given my knee problems, but the idea of not being able to keep up with him is so unsettling I all but agree. And because he’ll see my just-completed workout when I post it online, I sheepishly make excuses for my absurdly slow time. Later that day, I begin to feel foolish for having offered apologies for my performance. But I have been instructed, just as in meditation classes, to be kind to myself and to not judge my results. So I let those feelings go and remind myself that a thousand miles begins with a sin- gle step, or even with a misstep. In addition to keeping the body relaxed and tall (imagine your head being pulled gently aloft by a sky-high rope), and letting deep, controlled nasal breaths dictate the pace, the mechanics of mindful running are largely indistinguishable from running as we know it. What’s different is that this approach to navigating the trails and the tracks is done in a way that both approxi- mates and complements seated meditation. Mindful running educator Elinor Fish, whose Colorado-based company, Run Wild Retreats + 48 mindful June 2017 mind–body