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Bringing Mindfulness to Exercise

When we think about mindfulness or meditation most of us consider a person sitting cross-legged, body at rest, peacefully clearing their mind of negative thoughts.  To be honest, I have always struggled with this personally. Sitting still for 20 minutes with a plan to clear my head has always been hard for me to do. My best way to clear my head is a good run, or hike, a long walk or bike ride.  But I never considered it as a mindful exercise, until recently.

My wonderful hairstylist sparked a conversation with me about the idea of mindful running.  It struck me that I had never considered this before and so I did a little digging…Here is what I found! 

There is quite a bit of attention surrounding the idea of exercise as a mindfulness activity.  A study published in 2016 found that combining meditation with running or walking decreased depression symptoms by 40%.  Many of the world’s largest athletic brands have begun to partner with researchers and app developers to introduce guided mindful runs or campaigns to honor the idea of the meditative effects of exercise.

There are many psychological factors that either benefit us when we exercise or hold us back.  It is important to get away from the idea that society has placed upon us, “what does a good runner look like?”  “how far do I have to run today” How fast should I be running?”  What is more important is to get back to your body and mind to determine what you need based on how you slept, how much you’ve eaten, how hydrated are you and where you are mentally.  To be connected with your breath and movement and not be distracted.  Distraction comes in many forms.

I also found a little info about weight lifting and the same idea.  With weightlifting you focus on the breath.  Breathe in. Breathe out. Lift. Hold and repeat.  This repetitive breath work is a staple in meditation.  Any activity can be mindful, particularly if you focus your awareness and intention.  Working to pay attention to your breath, when to inhale/exhale can be easily translated from exercise to daily stressors and how to recognize the muscle tension that often cones on with stress.  This is a key in any pain condition where muscle tension is a driver:  pelvic pain, tension headaches, chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, TMD…the list goes on.

So, here is how I have begun to use this in my exercise routine.  First, I stopped setting any goals for my runs on certain days.  I just throw on my shoes, grab the dog and go.  I’m not on any time frame, or particular distance or speed.  I just run.  And this is what happened:

I ran down streets in my neighborhood I had never seen before, because they were never part of my routes.  I had been running the same routes for years based on the distance I wanted to run.  I noticed landscaping and homes I had never paid any attention to.

I did not have the usual thought of, “Ugh, I still have ____ more miles to go, or ____ minutes left” which almost always made me feel like I wanted to stop.  Negative thoughts are powerful deterrents to exercise and endurance.  Not having any particular time or distance caused me to not really think about how much farther I had to run.  And so I ran longer than I expected!

If I’m being honest (and I suppose I should be), I often leak when I run more than 3 miles.  As a pelvic health PT this drives me crazy. The truth is I just don’t put any effort into fixing it. I am busy fixing other women who leak when they run, and I just don’t find the time to work on me.  So full disclosure: I am a terrible patient!  However, my runs in the past 3 weeks that have been free of expectations have also been free of leaking!!!!

Probably the most notable difference is this:  I truly did not have any pain.  My typical runs almost always bring on pain somewhere.  Some part of me hurts. Always.  My knee most often, my hip, my ankle all like to let me know they are there.  These pains often make me think, ”Dammit. I’m 43. Am I going to have to find another activity?” Followed by: “No way. This is what clears my head.  Forget it. Keep running.”  So I run, through the pain, toward my goal that day. All the while thinking about when I can stop. Negative energy + Negative thoughts = Pain.  My mindful running, running with no goals, no pressure, was absolutely PAINFREE.  I was amazed.

I am making no promises, but my experience this far has been very positive.  It took a great deal of stress out of my exercise and my beliefs about it.  It also erased my feeling pressured to meditate and stopped the negative feelings about being really crappy at meditation.  It created exercise that was more positive and more enjoyable. And my dog got to run farther and smell new yards and pee on new trees, so he’s benefiting too!  I would really encourage you to try it!  You can look for some of the apps that provide an audio to listen to. I haven’t tried it as I like to be alone with my thoughts, not with any direction. 

Give it a go and tag us on it! Let us know what you thought!  #pelvicchronicles #freeyourmind

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