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Mindful : June 2017
T he vernal equinox is still more than five weeks away, but on this mid-February morning there’s nev- ertheless a benign, early-spring-like coolness enveloping the woods where my run begins. I’ve pounded out thousands of miles on this lakeside footpath, and over those many years my haphazard approach has been as likely to leave me dreading my training as earn me age-group awards. But today I’m relying on some experts in running mindfully in hopes of making this routine more beneficial to both my mind and body. Unfortunately, there are some stumbles right out of the blocks. I have been encouraged, for example, to ditch my GPS watch and heart-rate monitor as a first step toward focusing on the process of running rather than on the outcome—a strategy to help me stay both relaxed throughout and grounded in the present moment. Impossible, I decide: Every New Year’s Day I reset my goal of logging a thousand miles, and because a knee injury already has me behind schedule, I’m loath to forgo the spoils of today’s effort. So I compro- mise by hiding my devices beneath a sleeve and vow to keep them covered—a pointless scheme, it turns out, since my watch announces both mile splits and heart-rate spikes with vibrations that sabotage my intentions. I have also been instructed to try inhaling and exhaling exclusively through my nose, since deep, controlled breathing into the lower lungs activates the parasympathetic nervous system and, in so doing, fosters relaxation. But I fool- ishly ignore the advice to ease into this advanced practice with a walking pace and then, if possi- ble, an easy jog, so by the half-mile mark I feel as if I’m struggling to inhale through a couple of pinched cocktail straws. At one point, in fact, I feel so oxygen-deprived I imagine my face has turned the color of my electric-blue Sauconys. I do have some success, however. I main- tain at least sporadic awareness of my adjusted form (back straight, core engaged), and I keep a purposefully slow and steady pace from start to finish, effectively squelching my usual tempta- tion to just let it rip. I stop briefly to chat with a friend not seen for months, whom I might have otherwise blown by with a shouted excuse about having to beat the clock. I abstain from my absurd habit of speeding up when runners approach from the opposite direction so I don’t appear to be slow-footing it. I make repeated → June 2017 mindful 47