Editor’s note: This is a blog post that I wrote a few years ago for my Health & Healing blog that no longer exists. I dug it out of my blog archives and wanted to share it since yesterday I went for a run again after having had a break from it due to back injuries last year.
For me, this post reminds me of how much I love running and why it’s good for me…I have such an active mind, running is a great way for me to dial down thoughts racing through my head to create some space to be in the moment. I find it helps me to be more creative, too.
I love running. Really, I do.
I used to think I had to run fast, beat my time, set a personal best, or win a race. It was hard for my body to train that way, and I often gave up.
These days, running means something different to me. It’s about clearing my head, getting into a rhythm, taking in my surroundings, moving my body, and, at a deeper level, there is something spiritual about it. One of my favourite routes is through the woods opposite my parents’ house, which I have done a few times since I moved back.
Research has shown that when we go into a trance, for instance when we run, our brain switches into a solution-focused mode. Trance is like a state of concentration, a day-dreaming state, where our conscious mind comes together with our subconscious. The answer to a problem that was troubling us may suddenly pop into our heads when we run/do the dishes/have a bath. Scientists now say we go into trance many times a day (every time our thoughts drift off somewhere else).
What’s more, in a state of trance our mind processes the pile of negativity that we have accumulated during the day. Any negative thought we have about the past, present or future is added to the pile. Trance is a replication of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM (the dreaming stage of sleep), the brain deals with the emotional attachment of our thoughts and memories so that we can think rationally about them. It’s a natural way to discharge negative energies because it isn’t always appropriate to have an angry outburst, so we bottle it up instead. We know that’s not healthy, and we need an outlet. For me, running and exercise are perfect outlets for any negative energies. When I come back from a run or even a quick ten-minute walk around the block, my head feels clearer, I feel less anxious and more energised.
Running around these woods near my parents’ place in The Netherlands is wonderful!
Running helps me to be in the moment. I am focused on my breathing, on my pace, on listening to my body and if there are any aches or pains I notice them, and I feel whether they are ‘good’ pains or bad. A serious knee injury in 2007 taught me to listen to my body, and to be patient. I was forced to build up my running from scratch. In the beginning, I could run for one minute, then I had to walk. That was it. Slowly, I’ve been able to increase the running part bit by bit. I am grateful I can run again, because at one point I didn’t think I would be able to; even walking was painful. I kept at it. I was determined to run and play hockey again. It took me a year.
I love the feeling I get the moment I finish my run. I feel a release. My mind is clear and quiet. My body feels good. I feel good. I have a sense of achievement, because often I’ve had to talk myself into going for a run (yes, I am still human and have moments when it really is the last thing I want to do!), and then once I’ve done it I am chuffed.
For me, running is a metaphor that I can apply to life. I build my running up step by step, I go at my pace, I overcome obstacles and I get natural rewards – the rush of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin – for my achievements, which make me feel fantastic and motivate me to continue. In that way, a run can make a huge difference to my day.
What one small thing can you do today that will make a big difference to you?