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Running to Connect With Mind, Body & Spirit

Jun 28, 2021 12:21PM ● By Ian Thomas

Many of us love running for the joy of running. There is more to consider about the sport than strictly training for competition. A reflective look at our approach to running can help us engage the senses, use the time as a meditative practice and cultivate gratitude. A consistent running practice helps us build self-discipline and motivation for living, as well as set intentions for achieving our aspirations and sorting through our emotions.

 

Engage the Senses

            During my morning run today, I made a conscious effort to pay attention to what I heard, saw, felt, smelled and touched as I ran—allowing myself to fully be with the experience, and open to explore the thoughts that passed through my mind.

I lightly jogged along a wide path encircling a lively marsh, up and down hills and alongside the water. Surrounded by trees gently rustling in the soft breeze, I rejoiced in the early morning mist hovering above the water. 

Gratitude
            I focused on things I was grateful for as I jogged. Making time for a daily gratitude journal is a popular practice these days. Creating a gratitude list, while I run, is a way for me to open my mind and heart and really breathe into the gratitude.

            One of the things I was grateful for today is being able to run with a pain-free back, having learned how to realign my posture and be mindful of my body knowing how to feel and adjust my lower back and how to engage my “inner corset” muscles to create length and space in my spine, protecting my disks. (This process is part of the Gokhale Method, which you can reference in the endnotes after this article.) I was also grateful for the rays of sunlight bursting through the clouds, illuminating the world around me. I smiled with gratitude as I appreciated the water birds standing elegantly and tall, hunting for fish among the marsh flowers.

 

Meditation Practice

As I ran, my feet landed softy, kissing the ground with each step—seeking to honor the intention of the revered monk, ThichNhat Hanh, who wrote “Peace Is Every Step”. The rhythm of my breath aligned with the rhythm of the light patter of my shoes on the path. I noticed my energy was sustained and even grew as I ran. Once again, gratitude arose as I thanked the trees for their beauty and oxygen.


My breathing through the nose in a gentle rhythmic pattern reminded me of what I learned from reading “Breath” by James Nestor, as I connected with the sensation of life force flowing within. I smiled yet again with gratitude for each person I passed, wishing them a wonderful day.

 

Neuroscience & Physiology

In “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, he conveys that our ancestors may have relied on mirror neurons in order to anticipate the movements of the prey they hunted during their long runs—and which now serve us as empathy. McDougall reflects that the pores on our skin allow humans to sweat and regulate body temperature, so that they are able to outlast and outrun animal prey over long distances without overheating, which is not possible for the animal. The consistent supply of food that was provided as a result, may have allowed primitive humans the luxury of growing a larger, more complex brain that allows us to read this article today. More gratitude comes my way as a deer walks by, prompting me to take a moment and thank the people in my life who have helped me get to where I am today, grateful for their support and wisdom.

 

Motivation

            Bruce Lee inspired me to get off the couch a few years ago. He ran a 10K every day so I decided to run a 5K myself. I signed up for the next race I was able to find, which was “Run Wild forWildwood”, motivated and eager to give it a try. Like many initial runners, my mind was focused on speed and competition to start, but I realized there really is nothing to prove. Bruce Lee’s lesson of “be like water” flowed in my mind as I trained and ran, building my form and endurance, all along noticing the gratitude I felt for things like the beauty of water lilies blooming and their faint scent wafting in the air.

 

            I recognize that I am only able to run, or live for that matter, because of the beautifully complex body I have the privilege of existing in. I honor it by listening deeply to how it feels, knowing that it will serve me best when I do. I notice the subtle sensations as I explore the inner landscape of my body and mind. These sensations, I have learned are connected to the deeper world of the subconscious. The more I am open to self-awareness and self-inquiry, the closer I move toward self-realization. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with our emotions and how we feel through movement and later deepen the insight with stillness and silence.           
           

            My daily jog comes to completion and I cool down walking to the grandmother tree along the water. I take the healing advice of Thich Nhat Hanh by hugging the tree as I breathe mindfully, sweat beading on my skin. I thank nature itself; and deepen the roots to my ancestors, myself and my community. Then I gently wrap my arms around my body and feel myself in a loving hug. I celebrate and savor the mindful intentions. My smile feels more natural on my face and I am physically tired, yet overflowing with energy.

 

Practice        

            I encourage you to start your own running practice and look beyond the metrics of training and racing. I’m hopeful that my experience and sharing will serve you well on your own path of using running to connect with your mind, body and spirit.

 

            I run often at Wildwood Park in Harrisburg. You can help preserve Wildwood Park and experience it yourself by signing up for a 5K or 10K at “Run Wild for Wildwood” this year on August 28th (in person) or Aug 22nd-28th (virtual).

                       

Ian Thomas and Rachel Benbow are practitioners at The Roots of Health, 3540 N. Progress Ave, Harrisburg, PA. 717-831-6936. They offer Craniosacral Therapy, emotional freedom technique (EFT Tapping), life coaching, reiki, Gokhale Method for Posture, massage therapy and more.


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