Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mindfulness Intervention Paper: A Guide to Mindful Trail Running

Mindfulness Intervention Paper: A Guide to Mindful Trail Running 
Ray A. Nypaver 
Naropa University 
My mindfulness intervention practice involves the movement, the expression, the art of trail running.  While the practice is somewhat more complicated by putting both nature and running together, I find this could be more meaningful for some people as trail running allows one to feel not only the movement of her body but also how the movement, or expression of freedom, is connected with the movement and vibration that is inhabited by all of nature.   
The first step of the practice is to start getting a sense of how the body is feeling by tuning inward.  I suggest a quick body scan, possibly accompanied by a stretch, as well as literally talking to the body or specific parts, like previously injured areas, and asking how it is doing today.  A good question to ask the body is "how can I do what is best for you today?"  This attunement with the body will help guide the act of running, giving the runner insight on how easy or hard to run that day.  In addition, as trail running can be a dance over the rocks and tree roots of the trail, this will help one gracefully make the rights steps rather than stumble. 
Part two is still a preparation phase.  It involves stepping outside the door of one's house, or out of the car at the trailhead, and simply bearing witness to the artistry of the landscape.  I recommend taking a few seconds to feed the senses, letting the runner recognize the scents of the pine trees, flowers, or morning dew.  This brief pause should also include feeling the quality of the air on one's skin, or the gentle touch of the wind one one's face.   
After taking a few moments to complete parts one and two, we can begin putting them together for the final step, the integration of body and nature.  While it is difficult for me to combine the two in written words, the practice I will describe will mostly occur simultaneously.  The runner should start slow, even at a walk if that is what the body is asking for that day.  From there, the runner can start noticing the sensation of the her foot making contact with the dirt, the movement of her arm in the breath of Mother Nature.  Or, how her heart begins to beat faster on a hill and the depth of her breath and shinhales the rich air cleansed by the trees. 
In relation to the six qualities of mindfulness, the practice of mindful trail running discerns itself from a concentration practice is in fact that it entails being aware of one's movement in the presence of nature, rather than focusing specifically on a body part, the breath, or a tree up ahead.  While this practice can be somewhat tricky as it incorporates both body and nature, the objective is let attention gently rest on the sensation of movement and life within oneself and of the surround wilderness, with a sense of acceptance for whatever arises whether it is a sore limb or rain falling from the sky.   
As in any mediation practice, it is extremely easy for the mind to go off and wander.  Morning runners will often start planning the rest of their day, and evening runners may use the run to rehash what happened in the previous hours.  When this happens, I would tell the runner that those thoughts are normal, a inherent function of our minds.  The runner should respond with celebration that one noticed her thoughts running off (pun intended) and can now return her attention to the sensation of her feet hitting and pushing off of the ground below her. Another, slightly more progressive step would be to drop the current thought into the cloud, or thwind, and leaving it behind in the protection of the earth, knowing that if the thought is needed, it will be returned to her at the finish of the run.  
I also can't help but note the trail's specific way of letting the runner know when thoughts have started to take over and the runner is no longer in one's body to make the correct dance steps over the rocks and roots.  One often stumbles and sometimes falls.  This is quite the awakening, possibly a bit much for a mindfulness practice.  However, this is still a good time to practice acceptance and non-judgement.  It is just another acknowledgment that as humans we fall, get a bit dirty, and then get back up again, hopefully with a bit more awareness this next time around.  It is also a good reminder that the earth is always underneath us for support. 
The other main obstacle in trail running are the negative voices that creep up on people when they run.  Usually, the voices say things like "you're slow" and "this hill stinks, you should turn back."  This is okay.  I recommend that the runner just acknowledges these thoughts and turns back to her dance, which is enhanced by the stage of nature, whether it be mountains, trees, or sun-streaked sky.   
Personally, I have had many experiences with these obstacles.  My body has scars to remind of the times where my thoughts have gotten the best of me and I have lost both focus and footing on the ground ahead.  Most notably, I have a large scar down my forearm from falling downhill on one or Boulder's rocky paths last spring.  My first thought was to be angry at myself for my clumsiness, but the sight of my dog looking at me with the question "why are you horizontal?" helped me find forgiveness for myself.  With that, the negative voices that often accompanied on my runs in the past were more painful.  Now I have found strength in taking the time to slow down a bit, to tune in with myself and nature rather than let my thoughts take over.  The best way I have found to quell the negative voices on a run is to simply look up and take in my surrounding.  When I do this, I am not only able to better appreciate the natural beauty around me, but I am also able to recognize my place within it all and feel my part in that beauty. 
It is probably quite obvious that this mindfulness practice will not be useful, accessible, or doable for all counseling clients.  Some people hate running and others are physically unable.  On the other hand, I must note that running can easily be replaced with walking or another outdoor activity and the trail does not have to be remote.  A city park will do, though trail a bit farther away from the sounds of traffic is preferable.   The clients who will be more automatically drawn to this are the ones who have a hard time sitting still and already have a strong passion for the outdoors.  For these clients, I see the practice as being a useful homework assignment to practice in between therapy sessions.  In addition, I believe this practice could be useful for non-counseling patients, particularly seasoned runners who have gotten accustomed to running as being part of their daily routine rather than a practice of expression and enjoyment.

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