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Mindful : June 2017
BOOKS But where I went wrong was to ignore advice about tuning in to my bodily sensations. As a result, my intermittent knee pain escalated along with my eagerness to keep testing this new approach to running, until I finally decided that I was teetering on serious injury. So for a few days I ran with a flotation belt in a tiny indoor pool, using these same mindful tech- niques as a way to throttle the usual boredom and monotony of this slug ’s-pace running. And to my surprise, it made a real difference. Whereas this seemingly endless back-and-forth exercise always had me eyeballing the clock, this time around I managed to appreciate the sensation of being suspended in the soothing water; I marveled at my ability to effortlessly whirl like a top an inch from the wall; I focused on my breath, just as I would have if running my familiar lakeside path; I gawked at the ducks and the geese and the final, slow fade of sunlight through the windows at the far side of the pool. And when my attention faded and boredom sneaked up, I reminded myself that this repet- itive activity had a useful purpose: Because I was clearly pushing my heart rate to a moderate training zone, I was maintaining some of the aerobic excellence (the “base”) I’d been develop- ing on the treadmill and, more recently, on my outdoor winter runs. In short, although this exercise hardly mea- sured up to the experience of an outdoor run, I knew that paying attention to my body this way would likely insure that I wouldn’t be sidelined for long. What’s more, there’s no question that even this sort of running pays physical, cogni- tive, and emotional dividends, all of which are enhanced by my doing it mindfully. In fact, Sakyong Mipham, a veteran mara- thoner and author of Running with the Mind of Meditation, says there’s such a natural, supportive relationship between running and meditation that it’s not a matter of choosing between them. “The practice of running with the mind of meditation is about synchronizing the mind and body,” he told me. “ While the practice of mindfulness can help anyone in any walk of life, it can also provide a gateway to the mind of meditation, which has the potential to go much deeper. Synchro- nizing the power of the mind with the physicality of running can unlock this depth in a holistic and grounded way. That is to say, we will begin to see benefit in every aspect of our life.” ● co-embrace of running and spirituality. “ Now I want to do what will feed my soul,” she says. Sara Hunter, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, DC, had an entirely different motivation for starting her Monday Morning Mindfulness Running Group (RunDCTherapy. com). In her local-government work with high- risk adolescents ensnared by the juvenile justice system, she found that many who were unwill- ing to say much in a traditional therapy setting opened up when she took them outside for a walk or to shoot hoops (Hunter played college basketball and is a dedicated runner with one marathon to her credit). That was the inspiration for a less formal approach to therapy, which gives clients the opportunity to ease into their sessions with a walk or run. The positive feedback that novel arrangement generated—both from those clients and from colleagues—in turn propelled forward her long-simmering idea to launch the mindful running group, which she always envisioned as a community activity rather than a purely thera- peutic experience. “Our culture has differentiated our minds and bodies, when they’re so interconnected,” she says. “I want this to be a way to create com- munity around a common interest. It’s another component of what I value: It’s a gateway to exploring wellness.” Since my maiden attempt at running mind- fully, my follow-up sessions—all done with- out a watch, headphones, or other electronic devices—posed their own challenges and offered their own rewards. Nasal breathing remained the heaviest sledding, so I began sessions with a quarter-mile walk, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Then I stepped it up to an easy jog, and when my body and brain finally adjusted to this rou- tine, I tried redirecting exhales back through my nose. When/if that felt comfortable (it never did on hills or trails), I amped up the pace a bit in hopes of attuning my breath to something that felt like real running. At the same time, I managed to stay in touch with my emotions and maintain good form. I dismissed the idea of matching the efforts of other runners, and instead tried measuring my success only in terms of having done something of value for my body and brain. I remained aware of tuning out negative thoughts and staying in the present moment. I took repeated note of my surroundings and maintained an easy pace. Find more mindful running resources at mindful.org/ mindfulrun “I have a saying with my runners: 'Kind, gentle, easy, good.' I advise them to be more present, to listen to their breath, to be kind to themselves and not beat themselves up. I tell them to forget about pace and just star t running.” MICHAEL SANDLER “Our culture has differentiated our minds and bodies, when they’re so interconnected,” she says. “I want thistobeawayto create community around a com- mon interest. It’s another com- ponent of what I value: It’s a gate- way to exploring wellness.” SARA HUNTER The Experts Say June 2017 mindful 51 mind–body