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Mindful June 2017

Catch Your Breath 3

Catch Your Breath 3 popular breathing methods to use while running. Try each one and pick your favorite. 1 2 NASAL BREATHING If you’ve done yoga, you’ve likely done diaphragmatic nasal breathing, where the diaphragm is engaged while breathing deeply and slowly only through your nose. The technique is used to focus the mind and trigger the relaxation response. The same thing happens when you breathe through your nose while running slowly, as in mindful running. Plus, nasal breathing warms and filters the air before it travels into your lungs, which is a boon for running in cold, lowhumidity climates. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to maintain nasal breathing as you increase your speed and your body requires greater levels of oxygen than your nose can handle. MOUTH BREATHING This is the most efficient way of getting the large amounts of oxygen needed under exertion. Runners usually naturally adopt a rhythmic breathing pattern focused on exhalation through the mouth. 3 ALTERNATING BREATHING Whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth, alternating your exhaleto-footstrike pattern can wake you from the hypnosis of a repeated rhythm and according to one study, may help prevent running injury. Instead of a 2:2 pattern, where you inhale for two footstrikes and exhale for two, try a 3:2 pattern, inhaling for three strikes and exhaling for two. (If you’re naturally fast, you may want to adjust this to a 2:1 pattern.) PHOTOGRAPH BY PLAINPICTURE/LANCASTER

mind–body co-embrace of running and spirituality. “Now I want to do what will feed my soul,” she says. Sara Hunter, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, DC, had an entirely different motivation for starting her Monday Morning Mindfulness Running Group (RunDCTherapy. com). In her local-government work with highrisk adolescents ensnared by the juvenile justice system, she found that many who were unwilling to say much in a traditional therapy setting opened up when she took them outside for a walk or to shoot hoops (Hunter played college basketball and is a dedicated runner with one marathon to her credit). That was the inspiration for a less formal approach to therapy, which gives clients the opportunity to ease into their sessions with a walk or run. The positive feedback that novel arrangement generated—both from those clients and from colleagues—in turn propelled forward her long-simmering idea to launch the mindful running group, which she always envisioned as a community activity rather than a purely therapeutic experience. “Our culture has differentiated our minds and bodies, when they’re so interconnected,” she says. “I want this to be a way to create community around a common interest. It’s another component of what I value: It’s a gateway to exploring wellness.” Since my maiden attempt at running mindfully, my follow-up sessions—all done without a watch, headphones, or other electronic devices—posed their own challenges and offered their own rewards. Nasal breathing remained the heaviest sledding, so I began sessions with a quarter-mile walk, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Then I stepped it up to an easy jog, and when my body and brain finally adjusted to this routine, I tried redirecting exhales back through my nose. When/if that felt comfortable (it never did on hills or trails), I amped up the pace a bit in hopes of attuning my breath to something that felt like real running. At the same time, I managed to stay in touch with my emotions and maintain good form. I dismissed the idea of matching the efforts of other runners, and instead tried measuring my success only in terms of having done something of value for my body and brain. I remained aware of tuning out negative thoughts and staying in the present moment. I took repeated note of my surroundings and maintained an easy pace. But where BOOKS I went wrong was to ignore advice about tuning in to my bodily sensations. As a result, my intermittent knee pain escalated along with my eagerness to keep testing this new approach to running, until I finally decided that I was teetering on serious injury. So for a few days I ran with a flotation belt in a tiny indoor pool, using these same mindful techniques as a way to throttle the usual boredom and monotony of this slug’s-pace running. And to my surprise, it made a real difference. Whereas this seemingly endless back-and-forth exercise always had me eyeballing the clock, this time around I managed to appreciate the sensation of being suspended in the soothing water; I marveled at my ability to effortlessly whirl like a top an inch from the wall; I focused on my breath, just as I would have if running my familiar lakeside path; I gawked at the ducks and the geese and the final, slow fade of sunlight through the windows at the far side of the pool. And when my attention faded and boredom sneaked up, I reminded myself that this repetitive activity had a useful purpose: Because I was clearly pushing my heart rate to a moderate training zone, I was maintaining some of the aerobic excellence (the “base”) I’d been developing on the treadmill and, more recently, on my outdoor winter runs. In short, although this exercise hardly measured up to the experience of an outdoor run, I knew that paying attention to my body this way would likely insure that I wouldn’t be sidelined for long. What’s more, there’s no question that even this sort of running pays physical, cognitive, and emotional dividends, all of which are enhanced by my doing it mindfully. In fact, Sakyong Mipham, a veteran marathoner and author of Running with the Mind of Meditation, says there’s such a natural, supportive relationship between running and meditation that it’s not a matter of choosing between them. “The practice of running with the mind of meditation is about synchronizing the mind and body,” he told me. “While the practice of mindfulness can help anyone in any walk of life, it can also provide a gateway to the mind of meditation, which has the potential to go much deeper. Synchronizing the power of the mind with the physicality of running can unlock this depth in a holistic and grounded way. That is to say, we will begin to see benefit in every aspect of our life.” ● The Experts Say “I have a saying with my runners: 'Kind, gentle, easy, good.' I advise them to be more present, to listen to their breath, to be kind to themselves and not beat themselves up. I tell them to forget about pace and just start running.” MICHAEL SANDLER “Our culture has differentiated our minds and bodies, when they’re so interconnected,” she says. “I want this to be a way to create community around a common interest. It’s another component of what I value: It’s a gateway to exploring wellness.” SARA HUNTER Find more mindful running resources at mindful.org/ mindfulrun June 2017 mindful 51

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