Running As Meditation
For those of us in recovery, self-care takes a place of critical importance. I’ve begun to use running as a way to try to improve several portions of my life – weight management, healthy eating, regular sleep. Most of the time when I run, I’m worried about how fast I’m going, how I’m breathing, or how much my legs hurt. But every once in a while, I’ll use my run as a means to check-in with myself, a sort of meditation. Think of it as an expanded breathing meditation. And if running isn’t your thing, you could do the same thing with walking, hiking or biking.
Step out your door. How does your body feel? Are you rested, tense or achy? Anything is ok, it’s where you are in that moment.
Take in your surroundings. It’s springtime here. Today the sun felt warm on my cheeks. The breeze carried a cool dampness with it. My yard was spongey, still blotched with melting snow. Can you smell flowers blooming or maybe some freshly-cut grass? How does that feel in your nose? Observe your environment and how it interacts with your body.
Let your expectations go. Today’s exercise is about being who you are wherever you are. Whatever your body produces and experiences is going to be enough today. I walked down my driveway to the street, stepping over the trickle of run-off along the side of the street from the melting snow. It’s muddy there, dirt dancing into swirls and clouds when I dipped my toe in.
I stretched ever so slightly, just to release a little tension. Just a pull or two on each leg and a little bit on my back. It’s my way of readying my body for the workout to come. Overall, my muscles are relaxed and I started to run. And at first, I ran quickly. My legs, rested from taking yesterday off, were rolling. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, my feet slapped their cadence against the asphalt. After a short time, my breathing quickened, and I took notice of it. My in-breaths were sharp and I gasped more than exhaled. So I slowed down. I paid attention to each breath until I was able to slow my breathing down to a more relaxed level. As I felt the breaths slow, my speed slowed down. Give attention to how your body feels, make yourself comfortable in your exercise.
I watched an elderly couple stroll down the street towards me. I passed them, running easily in my first lap through my old middle-class neighborhood. As I turned a corner, my skin chilled as the breeze hit me head-on. I could feel the cooler air blow through my shirt. I saw the walking pair ahead of me again, and noticed they had only gone for a block as I went for four.
Passing them again, my calves felt heavier as I picked them up and put them back down. There was a slight burning pain beginning in both legs. How is your environment affecting you as you exercise? I’m still out of shape, so I hurt. Are your surroundings bringing you peace? Are you noticing your thoughts and feelings as they come and go?
Normally, I look straight ahead as I run. But today I looked over to the old woman as I passed the couple for a third time. She was watching me and smiled. I smiled back, wondering if she was as amused about the number of times I had passed them as I was. Her bright eyes told me at least that she was enjoying herself. Are you having an impact on your environment as you exercise or are you passing through it unnoticed? Be aware of yourself in whatever space you move through.
During my last lap through the development, I was more focused than I had been. My shoes scraped against the pavement. My calves were searing, beads of sweat rolling down my temples. My body was tiring and I slowed down again. I kept my concentration on my calves, painful as they were. I told myself to notice how my legs kept moving despite the pain. I reminded myself that as I was running though physical pain, I could also live through emotional pain and turmoil. As I paid attention to that burn in my lower legs, it slowly subsided. I slowed to a walk after I passed my house for the final time.
My shirt stuck coldly to my back as I walked. I considered what I liked about running. It’s such a metaphor for life. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard. There are ups and downs. Triumph and pain. You will find more success if you stay in the present moment. I could go on and on.
And whether you’re running down a path or just living your life, there’s only one thing of which you can always be certain: things are going to change. So take care of yourself, and be mindful, wherever you are.