Liz Frost escapes rumination and discovers the joy of jogging
It’s 5.30am, it’s cold and dark, and I’m propelling myself down the street like my life depends on it. My chest burns and my legs ache. I’m not being chased, so why am I doing this? Let me explain, I’m a ruminator. For as long as I can remember, my brain has zoomed in on the tiniest of problems, pulling at the threads like a cat with a ball of wool, until they’re messy, frayed and overwhelmingly tangled. Over time, I have ruminated my way through career angst, cancer and infertility, but my coping mechanism is like a giant magnifying glass on an ant in the sun, leaving everything frazzled, including me. My tipping point wasn’t some dramatic breakdown, more a growing conviction that vigorously moving my body might help. So, here I am, in a pair of baggy-kneed leggings, trying to outrun my brain. This is what I’ve learnt so far…
Never has the phrase ‘walk before you can run’ been more apt than my first attempt. By 5.33am I’m back indoors completely exhausted, wondering what the hell happened there. I’m not alone – most absolute beginners can run for just 60 seconds without stopping. I’m not exhilarated, just exhausted, but physical exhaustion feels far more tolerable than mental. “Exercising positively impacts your body’s physiology and delivers nutrients and oxygen to your tissues,” explains high performance psychologist and author of A Mindful Year, Dr Aria. As I lay face down in a pillow, my brain isn’t thinking about anything except how it can get more air into my lungs. (By the next time I run, I have sensibly downloaded the Couch to 5K app and got myself some proper running kit – see right for our recommendations).
I have always preferred the type of exercise that involves lying down (Pilates, yoga). “Running is great because you use the whole body,” says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, physiologist and sleep therapist (drnerina.com). “You also exercise the ‘muscles’ of the mind giving them a chance to wander and create.” You’ve probably heard of ‘runner’s high,’ a release of ‘feel-good hormones’ in the body, but the latest science suggests that the sensations of euphoria that accompany running may also be linked to the body producing more endocannabinoids, a different type of chemical messenger. “After running, these chemicals can travel from the blood to the brain, creating feelings of bliss, reducing anxiety and lowering the ability to sense pain,” adds Dr Aria, “This system may be our body’s natural way of encouraging us to stay fit and active!”
It’s not quite spring, the mornings are still dark and I’ve been pounding the same stretch of well-lit pavement for three weeks, making repetitive circuits. I’ve downloaded all my favourite songs and I start to look forward to them, smiling to myself in the darkness. I feel connected to the pavement beneath my feet, the dusky sky above my head. I see a shape in the distance that turns out to be a fox hunting for scraps. After that, I see him in the same place every day, scurrying across the road, afraid of me – the dark shape puffing past. Then one day he stops to watch me, no longer scared. I have become a part of the morning; I belong.
As the days grow lighter, I feel braver. Instead of turning my usual left, left, left, I veer right towards the park and find my way onto a muddied footpath. It feels different beneath my feet and I notice how the sounds and smells change. According to running coach for Vivobarefoot Ben Le Vesconte, the connection our feet have with the ground is really important, “Proprioception, the sixth sense, is our body’s awareness of its position in space, important for balance and agility,” he explains. “Proprioceptors are mechanosensory neurons located within muscles, tendons and joints of which there are a high concentration in our feet. Wearing thin-soled footwear, like Vivobarefoot helps us to feel and move with heightened senses.”
I’m five weeks in when my earbud falls out. I’m ‘in the zone’, so I don’t want to stop and readjust myself. All of a sudden I’m plunged into silence, except it isn’t silence, it’s the sound of the breath in my lungs and my feet on the ground. It’s the start of the dawn chorus and a distant barking dog. Instead of popping the earbud back in, I take the other one out. It’s like being a part of the orchestra, rather than watching from the audience.
I used to be the sort of person who would cancel plans because it was raining (or at the very least, get a taxi) cut to me, drenched in rain, gleefully pounding my way across a muddy field. I say gleefully because, yes, there are days when I feel like the weather is against me as I get whipped in the face with a biting wind, or battle against a rain-sodden footpath, but there are also days where I feel the wind in my back, pushing me forwards or the sun caressing my face. I’m still a ruminator, but now I have an escape hatch.
1. Switch off your digital (including the headphones)
2. Take deep breaths, smell and taste the air, notice the abundance of colour all around you, listen to the trees.
3. Stand tall, look at the horizon and start to walk with conscious connected compassion for yourself and all of nature.
4. Take a few slow steps feeling the weight move through your feet and their connection to the earth through the soles of your shoes. Walk for five minutes with short steps, roughly two steps per second, focus on heel stroke, rather than heel strike.
5. Maintaining an upright posture, with torso and hips forward, start to run picking up your heels behind you with short, quick steps. As you are running feel the contact with the ground, feel how every step is different, feel the weight move through your feet, feel the wind and the elements.
Provided by Ben Le Vesconte, running coach for vivobarefoot.com
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