Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Running Mind

The other day my brother Noah reported, in an email titled "like sister, like brother," that he had fallen and scraped himself up on a run. It's true, I've been known to incur some damage on runs. Once, in South Africa, on a run along a cobble-y stoned waterfront I managed to scrape not just my knee and palm, but also my chin, so that all our photos of the hike we started the next day (the amazing Otter Trail) feature my road rash soul patch. In one triathlon, I wiped out in the first three steps of the run, and gouged my palm, which set me up for a rather rugged look crossing the finish line with blood streaks on my leg, where I'd tried to wipe off my bleeding hand. Any of you who have been reading this blog for a while, or my book, will know about the time I sliced my knee open. Then there was the time...but really, you get the picture already.

Noah said he was going to be more careful about not letting his mind wander on runs.

It got me thinking about how nuanced that balance really is--the one between letting our minds roam free, while our feet carry us along, and being focused on our run. For many of us, running, especially, though not only, if we are alone, is a magnificent opportunity to air out the clutter in our brains. How often have you solved a problem on a run? All that psychic space can give our minds the freedom needed to find solutions, to see more clearly. Yet, we know, too, that if, instead of letting our minds float, we are perseverating over something instead--obsessing, rehashing, engaging in metaphorical scab-picking--then chances are we aren't focused enough on our run...oh, hello (crash), where did that tree root come from?

It's similar to the challenge of savasana (corpse pose), the final relaxation pose of virtually any yoga class. Yes, we are meant to relax, but mindfully, not so much as to fall asleep. Because to fall asleep is to lose the thin thread of focus we are meant to maintain to preserve the meditative quality of savasana.

So it is with running. After all, running can be a powerful moving meditation, too, but that requires our presence. We can't be fussing around inside our heads. Next time you find your mind agitating (as distinct from floating) on a run, stop the spin cycle and create an intention to be present for the rest of the run. How much clearer and cleaner you'll feel when you bend down to unlace those shoes at the end.

And on the topic of running and our minds, a friend forwarded me this fascinating RadioLab interview with Diane Van Deren, a top ultra runner, who got into running when she began having epileptic seizures, as a way to focus her energy away from an imminent attack. She would literally leave her running shoes right at the door, and when she felt the "aura" of an oncoming seizure, she would drop what she was doing and head out the door in her running shoes immediately, do not pass go. The strategy worked, for a while...I'll let you listen to the rest...