Move Mindfully: How Exercise is Mindfulness Practice
Every Sunday, I head out for a long run to prepare for Ironman Boulder 2016. Last week, my training partner and I decided to head out on a trail called the Bridle Path. It’s a flat, wide trail that creates a border between a residential neighborhood and the Salt River Indian community. It is always blissfully bustling with smiling neighbors and panting happy dogs, making it one of my favorite running locations.
When I mention that I am training for an Ironman, I get many different responses. Commonly, people respond with “Wow, good for you!” Equally common though folks ask, “Why?” or comment, “I couldn’t do that,” “I don’t have the time,” or “I’m not a morning person.” I have even been asked, “What are you running from?”
Now, I am not suggesting that everyone sign up for an Ironman. In fact, I concur that the training commitment required to complete an Ironman can be tremendously challenging while trying to maintain a balanced life. What I do believe in is choosing a fitness goal that will induce suffering. For some, that may be signing up for a 5K, doing yoga, swimming a 100 meters, or walking your dog around the block. Let your fitness level be the determining factor.
When we intentionally induce suffering we get to learn our patterns of thought, feelings, and behaviors that are either barriers to completion or enablers of success. We get to practice suffering in a contained environment and become familiar with the sensations, thoughts, and behavior patterns that arise under duress. We can then apply what we learn to our life as inevitable chaos emerges and unplanned duress occurs.
Most people assume I am a morning person because I wake before the sun is up. I can assure you that I am not. I battle with my snooze button and self-defeating thoughts of “I can’t do this anymore. I’m aching and tired”, every morning. On occasion, I’ve given into the thoughts and stayed in bed. I’ve learned over the years the pattern of thought and subsequent behavior of staying in bed, leaves me feeling more tired by the end of the day than overriding them, getting out of bed and lacing up.
People also assume that I love running. It’s a partial truth. I love what I learn about myself as I run. Running doesn’t feel good. I run with aches and pains, daily. I practice tuning into the subtleties and discerning pains of fatigue versus pains of injury. I practice balancing pressing through the pain or compassionately allowing myself to stop and rest.
Induced suffering allows me the opportunity to connect to every part of the body; what thoughts, feelings, and sensations change my heart rate, pace, and motivation to finish. It is an avenue for deep exploration of my patterns that enable, handicap, or prohibit me from completing a workout. Those same patterns show up in every aspect of my life and running, biking, swimming, and yoga allow me to practice getting curious about them and create coping mechanisms that work towards success in every aspect of my life.
As I headed out to the Bridle Path, my legs ached in weariness as I pushed start on my Garmin. Immediately, I began counting down the minutes to completion of the two hour assigned run. We began our ritual of girly chit chat and settled into our stride. About ten minutes into our run, we looked up saw a herd of sorrel, gray, and appaloosa colored mustangs about 50 yards away. Without a word, both of us stopped dead in our tracks in sheer wonder of their beauty and magnificence and the pain in our legs melted away. In a moment, my mentality shifted from counting down the remaining time, to one of anticipation and thrill for what we might see ahead.
In moments like these I realize the question is not, “What are you running from?” but rather, “What are you running towards?”