Mindful Living

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes…The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wonderous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

Kira RunningI’m not the biggest fan of washing the dishes. But I do like to run. For me, running is meditation, mindfulness, strength, and miraculous. (It’s really tough too – I like being about to get through the tough stuff). When I’m running I am only running.  On this page I share a little about the non-academic side of my interests in mindful living:  mindful running (and all that comes with it). Of course, as a professor, these musings come in the form of  tips and philosophical reflections. Many of my ideas about running come from ChiRunning. It combines the posture and mindfulness of Tai Chi with running form. It helped me surmount shin splints and to run without injury and in peace.

If you are just getting started, or having problems with repeated injury, or just want to learn more about how to run in a more mindful way, here are my top 10 tips:

1. Be progressive and open to change. Start small – walk/jog (try a couch to 5k app if you are just starting – it’s a great way to work up to good 30 minute jog). But do something a little different every day to build your endurance, stamina, flexibility, or speed. Add a minute to your run or run in a new place. See what more you can do.

2. Be kind to and in touch with your body. To do this, you must do what Chi-Running guru Danny Dreyer calls “body-sensing.” While you run, do a body scan and ask, yourself “what is working here, and what feels out of place?” Make tiny adjustments as you run to re-align yourself and feel “just right” (those moments can be fleeting, but they are wonderful). You MUST have a strong understanding of proper form and stance in order to do this – how can you make adjustments if you don’t know how to adjust? I suggest picking up a good book on running form for this and trying out the techniques for yourself (I’ve listed a few below). There are a few different schools of thought – see what works for you.

3.Know that the human body is made to run. We are made to run. Our bipedalism, the separation between our diaphragm and our leg/arm movements, and our ability to sweat make it so that we can run incredible distances. In fact, a human in good shape could run a deer down until it literally runs out of air and falls over (this is primarily how hunting worked back in the day), because the deer’s breathing (and all four legged creatures)  is regulated by the push and pull of their leg movements. This great little factoid comes from one of my favorite books, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

4. Find a Mantra – because we are limited mainly by our inner thoughts and fears.  A recent article in the New York Times revealed the news of a scientific study showing that our bodies have much greater capacity to endure than our minds believe, AND, that when we encourage ourselves repeatedly, we can overcome these limitations. As you run, you will have many thoughts that will tell you will tell you that you are tired, you want a break, you had a bad morning, you are just going to walk today and do more tomorrow — but you have a choice – you don’t need to listen to those thoughts. You are in control of your thoughts, they do not control you. You can choose instead to focus on positive energy and motivating thoughts. I like repeating mantras like “strong,” “wow, those core muscles are workin’ it!” “this is easy – I could keep going like this” “flying, swiftly” and, one of my favorites, “chasing the deer!” One of the most mindful practices about running is in recognizing those choices that you can make, and then choosing the ones that are ultimately going to make you feel good about yourself. Keep going. You can do it.

5. Your foot and leg muscles are probably under-developed – strengthen them. We wear comfortable shoes. They are kind of like casts on our feet, keeping us safe and protected. But what happens when you take a cast off? The muscles are all atrophied and weak. This the the primary reason for foot and leg injury while running. We’re basically running with casts on, and not building up our leg muscles. So, how can you strengthen your feet and legs? First, gradually use shoes with less support. You don’t need to go barefoot, but look for shoes with minimal support. Also, do strength training on your legs- lunges are particularly good. Finally, stretch your legs after your run and do yoga or some form of exercise that will work on foot/leg flexibility. Running makes you stiff, so you need to balance that with flexibility training.

6. Find a beat – and go slow and steady. Our bodies are balanced by rhythm – our heart and our lungs pump and push through us every second of our day, and these rhythms give us something to focus on and let go of distracting negative thoughts. For some, just counting your steps or focusing on your breath is enough. For others, that is not solid enough. I use a metronome, set at about 180 beats per minute. I also have a collection of music that runs at about that beat that I usually play in the background. Here is a story of what pacing can do:

A few weeks ago I ran in a race. I put on my metronome and started running. A bunch of people sprinted by me. I smiled to myself. I thought “I’m just going to keep my pace, in a few miles, those folks will be tired out, but I will still have the same energy that I have now.” Sure enough, after a few miles, half the pack was behind me. As the race came into the final laps, I lengthened the distance between my legs and leaned forward but kept my pace. It only took a little extra energy, but I ran much faster. I passed others whose energy had been sucked dry, and whom had no regular pace to keep driving them forward. I didn’t win the race – that wasn’t my goal anyway – but I felt so incredible for being able to create balance across the span of the race, and finish with great time and feeling ready to run again the next day.

7. Get Social. While running may seem like a solo sport, it is actually quite social. There are so many ways to connect with others – joining running groups, connecting online, going for runs with friends. Connected technology makes it really easy to be a social runner. I enjoy using my Fitbit pedometer because it allows me to not only keep track of my walking and running, but be part of a network of runners and support each other with cheers and kind words.

8. Eat Mindfully –Running requires energy. Food is our source of energy. I’m a firm believer that it’s more important HOW you eat than what you eat. Just as Thich Nhat Hanh says we must “wash the dishes to wash the dishes,” we must eat in a mindful way in order to nourish ourselves. What does this look like?

First, eat slowly and pay attention to the tastes, smells, and textures of what you eat. A good rule of thumb is it should take at LEAST 25 minutes to eat a meal (it takes 20 minutes for your body to know its full). Time yourself – you may be surprised at how fast you wolf down food.

Second, eat when you are hungry. This sounds easier than it is. Hunger feels likes “I need to eat, NOW” not like “I could eat a bite…” Thirst is often confused with hunger. Drink a big glass of water first and see how hungry you are before you decide to eat. In fact, drink at least 6 big cups of water every day.

Third, use body-sensing to tell when you are full, and find a ritual way to end your meal (ex. drinking a cup of tea or saying to yourself “all done now”).

Finally, choose really delicious and good-for-you food to eat, so you feel really fulfilled after a meal.

All of these practices are important because your mind will try to convince you that you need to eat more and more and more since you had such a great run, and you need to be in tune with your body in order to truly tell what it needs. What you may find when you start to eat mindfully is that you become full before your plate is empty (that’s OK! Save it for later!), and that you don’t need to eat as often (that’s OK too!!). Eat when you need to eat, but make sure to notice whether you are truly hungry or if you are just listening to unhealthy thoughts.

9. Put it in your schedule, and stick to it. Running requires regular practice. Just like brushing your teeth or packing your bags, it has to be integrated as part of your regular routine. Add it to your calendar. If you run in the morning – put on your running clothes before you can change your mind otherwise. Find a gym so you can run even in inclement weather. Make this time sacred. You wouldn’t plan a meeting on top of an important event, so don’t plan anything during your running time unless you are immobile or someone you love is in danger.

10. Take on the identity: You ARE a runner.Whether you are walk/jogging for 20 minutes a few days a week or running 30 miles a week, if you have committed yourself to the practice, then you are a runner. Say “I am a runner” to someone or just out loud – the shift in the way you feel about yourself and the practice may surprise you.

Below are a few mantras and motivational quotes to keep you going when the negative thoughts begin to invade:

Here are some books on running and running form to check out:

Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

Running & Being: The Total Experience

Galloway’s Book on Running

The Ultimate Beginners Running Guide: The Key To Running Inspired


One thought on “Mindful Living

  1. Pingback: Running mind or mindful running? | Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.

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