Monday, August 26, 2013

April Resolutions + A Beginner's Exercise to Mindful Running

April Resolutions 

If I had to give myself a grade, I’d probably go with a B…maybe a B+.  But, this is not about grades or perfection, this is simply about self-improvement!

For a refresher, my April resolutions were to: Mediate for 5 Minutes Every Day and Study PT 3x A Week (for at least 20 minutes).
As predicted, meditation could be a bit of a tough commitment…even if it is only 5 minutes.  But, having it as a goal really did help. 
My first step actually was to learn a bit more about “how” to meditate, so I got a few books for some help.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read them all, but I picked up some key tid-bits.  Mainly, I learned that while, yes, you want to relax and focus on your breath, if you stray off and find yourself thinking about something else, it’s not a big deal.  Just let go of the thought and bring your attention back inward. Hakuna Matata (no worries!).  Simply by giving your mind this quick break to relax, it will naturally reset and balance itself..
With that, I learned that mediation is really more about mindfulness, and that’s something you can practice anytime, anywhere.  Mindfulness also gives you control, or power, over your thoughts.  As someone who still struggles at times with irrational and negative thoughts, this really is the key for me.  I can only speak for myself, but my own depression as child had little to do with outlying factors and everything to do with how I processed my inner thoughts, which often went astray.  I basically refused help.  I’m not saying this was a good thing---I was probably too stubborn (not speaking to my therapist, flushing pills down the drain, etc,), but even at a young age I knew that only I could solve my problems.  It may have taken quite a few years, but ultimately, I did change things around for myself, always keeping in mind the quote “life is what YOU make of it”.
Anyway, with the combination of meditation and added doses of sunshine, my mood did seem to improve in the month of April.
(I am taking this as a sign that I need put this link in my blog…as I was typing this, Huffington Post popped up with an article in my news feed about mediation.  Good timing, huh?
Of course, as a runner I also wanted to tie in meditation with running for some additional benefits there too.  Running and meditating (as in really letting go of my thoughts) is still challenging for me.  But I did come up with an exercise to help me out which you can read below this post.  The easier part was when I meditated after a run and laid down with my legs propped up against a wall.  I was very proud of myself as I managed to do 3 things at once: meditate, stretch my hamstrings, and boost recovery by improving blood flow.  Pretty good, right?
(Another sign…Sandi just sent me this post form irunfar:  It has a lot to do with mindfulness, relating running stress with life stress in a way that I never looked at before. )
Study Personal Training 3x a Week (for at least 20 minutes):
Check, check, and check!  Usually I even went over the 20 minutes!
Admittedly, I did give myself a bit of a break on this one with the “at least” 20 minutes part.   Remember though, I already committed to giving up 5 minutes daily to meditate. 
I actually really enjoyed going over the ACSM book and taking notes, especially the chapters on coaching and behavior (hence why my degree is in social science).  My problem is that I never like going back to review my old notes.  I especially don’t like re-reading my notes on kinesiology and parts of the body.  It doesn’t help that I took a kinesiology class (which I loved because my professors made it practical and we used lots of movement) and an athletic trainer class (that I didn’t not enjoy as much- I still can’t tape an ankle) and memorized all this a few years ago.  That information is either gone or still lost somewhere in my brain.
 I still have some reading and a lot of reviewing to go, plus and increasingly busy schedule, so I will probably be a little bit behind schedule in taking the Personal Trainer exam this month.  Still, I am enjoying learning new information!
And now for May…
My resolutions for this month are going to be a little bit different from  previous months.  The main theme, inspired after listening to Suze Orman’s Women & Money Audio CD is “Taking Care of Business” under which several items I need/really should get done will be listed.  A few items will be to: find a new doctor (that will not tell me to stop running so much), go to the dentist, review my finances and actually see how much I'm bringing in and spending during the month, review my bank's policies and possibly open a new savings/checking account at another bank, have my left leg looked at (the one that keeps me from running roads), and review my diet, looking at calories in and out, making adjustments where needed, etc.

  The second resolution ties into this as well and will require me to work on something for a recent opportunity I’ve come upon.  It is to work on my “Steps to Adventure” (listed at the top of this page).
These resolutions will entail a bit of a different set up, so no box I can check off every day.  Instead, I am going to have to give myself one or two items to work on each week, more of a deadline approach.  For example, next week will be to 1) Find a new doctor and 2) work on Adventure Step 1 “Choosing to Live Life as an Adventure” (sound familiar?) by finding examples and tools that will enable other to understand and utilize the concept.
These goals are bit daunting as they are less passive than the previous ones, but they will truly be actions with immediate and noticeable impacts I can measure.  Time to get to work and write down my plan!

A Beginner’s Exercise to Mindful Running
If you read my Resolution Blog for the month of March, you know that my key resolution is to meditate every day.  While for the purpose of my resolution, this specifically mean to take 5 minutes of quiet time lying down (possibly with my legs up to simultaneously aid recovery), I also want the benefits to lead into running.  Regardless whether you are lying stationary or moving over rocks and roots, the main objective for either is to be mindful. Though I have practiced several other types of meditations/mindful runs in training and races, which I will write about at another time, I’m going to focus on the basics here.  The goal is simply to give your mind a break and find your center, while also taking in all the benefits nature has to give.

Here we go: Step 1: Breath
Begin by simply becoming aware of your breath.  Let it come naturally, and begin to focus on each inhalation filling up your lungs, and each exhalation out through your mouth/ nose (if you can run and breathe through your nose, great.  I, however, am not that talented).   Focus on how each breath feels as it exit and enter your body, and the sound it creates.  (If you want to take it a step further, it may help to realize that as you breathe in, you are breathing in the same air that has traveled through the trees, plants, and streams around you.  You are sharing the same breath as Mother Nature, creating a unity between the two of you.)

If, you are like most people, you will begin to think about other things.  That is OKAY!  Don’t worry about it; you are doing this for you, so why get upset? Just gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

Do this for a few minutes, whatever feels right to you. 
Step 2: Become Aware of Your Body
Bring your focus to your heart beat. Is it going fast or slow, is it loud or quiet?  For some, it may be a little hard to take stock of this while running, but its good practice, especially for races.  As an example, if I can feel my heart beating at the beginning of a 50k, or at any time during a 100 mile race, I am going too fast and if I don’t slow down I am surely going to crash.

Next, do an assessment of your body, starting with your toes.  Are they relaxed in your shoes, or can you feel them hitting the front of your shoe (also meaning your shoes are too small)?  How about that Achilles tendon…is it still tight?  Do this all the way up your body, focusing on each part for a few seconds.  If something feels tight, mentally try to release the tension (and take note to stretch later).  This is also great for running form and posture.  Is your foot hitting the ground right underneath the body or is it too far out in front?  Is your pelvis in an anterior tilt (butt sticking out) or are you running tall?

Step 3:  Connect with Your Surroundings
This is what trail running is all about: to connect with nature, to become one with it, to let it heal you.

For me, this was a lot easier when I first started out.  Every sight and trail was new, and I had to pay special attention not to get lost.  Now, I know the trails so well where it is easy to just go through the motions and run a familiar trail without really seeing all the beauty around me.  But, the beauty is always there and always changing! 

To get back to this unifying state with the plant and animal life surrounding you, pick something to focus on.  I’m going to let you choose here, but the key is to use as many senses as possible.  Can smell the fresh, sweet air of spring approaching?  Can you hear the chirping of the robins, the creak of the trees? Do you feel the rocks and roots under your feet?  Are you taking in the view of the hills and sky before you?  (Taste is hard, but can be done, like when the air is particularly moist.) 
If you can, get more specific.  Start picking out trees to focus on.  Feel the strength of the old one, with its roots deep in the ground.  See the young thin one, with its leaves just beginning to bud.  Feel its life and energy.
(Knowing the names/species of specific plants and animals isn’t necessary, but might be fun and helpful to deepen the focus for some.)

Do this for a long or as little time as you want.  You will know what is right for you.  Also, don’t get frustrated if you find yourself often distracted with other thoughts.  One, this is just a “practice”, and two, just being aware of your thoughts and bringing yourself back to focus is helpful.

Hopefully this little exercise in mindfulness will help you get your mind back on track…or the trail :)

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