Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Running as a spiritual practice: Mind, body, spirit, and heart

 At a young age I learned how to disassociate my mind from my body … a coping mechanism that fortunately ended up serving me well in some aspects of my life. I found swimming as a way to escape the emotional pain. I threw everything I had into competitive swimming and had the focus and determination many of my friends envied. I set my eye and my focus on a goal, and nothing, absolutely nothing would get in the way. At a young age I also learned from my coach that a real winner is the one who when she doesn’t win the gold, she gets back up and tries again, and again, and again.  I also learned to use my mind, to visualize diving off the starting block, hearing the sound of the gun, and rehearsing over and over in my head my strokes, my breathing, the flip turn and accepting that a split second could make the difference between a gold or a silver medal, and the difference between qualifying or not qualifying for the Olympics.

As a an adult I have completed the Twin Cities marathon twice. Both times I sustained injuries – the first marathon, in mile 14, I started to feel a shooting pain down my spine radiating to my right leg.  I refused to quit and my mind took over, as it has done for most of my life, and I ran and walked the remaining 12.2 miles, often times in excruciating pain and to collapse after I crossed the finish line. The second time I ran the marathon, it wasn’t till mile 18 when pain shot through my body. And I swore up and down I would never ever run a marathon again.

But here I am at 46 years of age, and I have signed up for the San Francisco half marathon in November, and I am planning to train for Grandma’s marathon in June, 2011. So why would I do such a crazy thing again?  Why challenge myself again to push my body so such an extreme? The answer is simple: to integrate mind, body, spirit and heart.  I want to train differently this time around and I want to run the actual marathon differently. This time I want to listen to each and every part of my being: my heart, my body, my spirit and my mind. I don’t want to disassociate. I want to integrate. I want to push and stretch myself.

This past year and a half has been filled with health challenges for me. With weight loss and fatigue that was debilitating there were times I felt like I couldn’t go on. I was frustrated that my body was failing me. I couldn’t run; I couldn’t workout like I used to; I couldn’t go to yoga. Since returning from Bimini at the end of July where I had the magical experience of swimming with wild dolphins, I have felt alive again and energized. I continue having health challenges with my pancreas. With all my medical procedures last week and the worry and stress, my pancreas probably worked overtime, getting pushed over the edge and I had a minor setback over the weekend. I kept telling myself “I have to stay strong and to take care of myself so that I can keep running.”  A lot of times I run listening to Speaking of Faith podcasts, or Gregg Braden audio books, or interviews and readings of the poet and mystic Rumi. They inspire me and they remind me of how the act of running and steady rhythm of my pace, is healing for my spirit.  I love my long run days … an easy pace and a chance to feel myself enter into a groove, a rhythm. I love noticing how my body, my legs, my heart gets stronger. Running is not about winning for me. For me, it is a form of active meditation.

I feel alive when I run now … this time around it will be different.  

When I put my running shoes on I tell myself that this is about living ... this is about integrating all aspects of my life and being. This is about training my mind and my body, and listening and creating room and space for my spirit and heart to soar. 

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