To state the obvious, for most of us our lives have been completely turned upside down during the current COVID crisis.
With everything closed and big limitations on our movements, our routines have been thrown out the window. This is leaving many of us feeling quite unsettled and looking for new ways to cope with this uneasiness.
For many, if we’re still fortunate to be able to go outside, getting out for exercise like a walk or a run is a way to escape and get some mental space. During my regular runs I have noticed a lot of new faces and a lot more people using the local trails.
It makes me very happy to see so many new people getting out and starting to exercise more, whether it be walking, running, bike riding, roller skating, cross-country skiing, or anything that gets the endorphins flowing. I’ve always been a passionate advocate for running and exercise in general, given the benefits I’ve experienced for my own mind and body.
I would like to share three things with you that have helped me gain increased enjoyment and stress-relief from my running.
Firstly, I start paying attention to my thoughts. Not in the usual way where you ride along in your head, following thoughts wherever they go, but as a casual observer. My goal is to detach my emotions from my thoughts, and when a thought comes to my mind, I just notice it and let it go.
I have a lot of fun doing this as it helps me notice my thought pattern and from there I can influence them, rather than letting them take over and create unwanted emotions such as stress, worry or frustration.
Next, I pay attention to my body. As a running technique coach, one of the biggest things I try to help people with is gaining better proprioception or awareness of their body in space. Through learning to notice how we use our body when we run, we can start to make subtle changes that will help us become more resilient, efficient, and less-injury prone.
I find it helpful to occasionally slow down to an easy jog and notice how I am carrying myself. Do I feel tight or sore anywhere? I find it useful to shake it out, loosen up, then lift my head up high, broaden my chest and take a nice deep breath through my nose to really fill up my lungs by using my diaphragm.
I’ve found that if you take the time in each session to start slowly and scan your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head and assess how it feels, perhaps making subtle adjustments, you will build awareness in your body that, with regular practice, will last for your lifetime.
Finally, I pay attention to my surroundings and engage with each of my senses. What sounds can I hear? I really try listening for things I wouldn’t normally notice. Where am I? I notice my surroundings. I find that it’s surprising how we can become blind to things when we take regular routes, our minds go to autopilot and stop noticing things.
What can I smell? Are there any particular fragrances or odors in the air that I hadn’t noticed before? Can I taste the air? Is it fresh, or dusty, or something else? I’ve noticed that here in California the air has changed noticeably since the shutdown, with less traffic on the roads, and there is more bird-life to hear. It’s something I can really appreciate as a positive in this turbulent time.
I’ve realised that there are many more aspects to mindfulness that can be applied to your daily routines. As a runner, a book that I found very useful was ‘Mindful Running’ by Mackenzie L Havey. For ways to learn more about your body as it pertains to running, and many other resources, I’ve compiled a list.
These are tough times, but I’ve found that exercise and mindful awareness and meditation can be great tools to help us cope and even become stronger through it.
Co-Event Director at Byxbee parkrun
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