I've just got back from a wonderful 'Introduction to Mindfulness' workshop lead by my good wife Becky, a trained mindfulness teacher. So I'm fresh and full of ideas for how mindfulness and Chi Running overlap (if indeed they differ at all.) In this series of three short articles on 'The Mindful Runner' I have already explored how "mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way On Purpose and In the Present Moment." (Jon Kabat Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living.) This final article focusses on being 'Non Judgemental'.
Unhelpful thoughts dominate our minds, if we let them. Our thoughts and words create our reality in a very real way, and we are only just discovering in the West the power of the mind and the difference it can make to the body.
I asked Becky to explain how important this principle can be, and what power these unhelpful judgements can have over us. Here is what she said:
In our fast paced world, we have a tendency to label and categorise everything. Some things are good, some things are bad. Judgements dominate our minds. This can lead to automatic reactions. This puts us in a reactive state where we feel we have no control or personal choice. By taking a step back and not judging, we not only free ourselves but also give ourselves space to choose how we respond.
"Mindfulness is cultivated by assuming the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience." (Jon Kabat Zinn, in Full Catastrophe Living)
In the Chi Running book, this is referred to as 'observing' yourself. Nonidentification is also discussed. I'm suggesting that the non judgemental element of this skill is absolutely fundamental.
Hopefully now we are aware of the power these unsuccessful thoughts can have on our running. What kind of thought is it that 'gets you down' when you run? When I ran a 40 mile race last year various ones of physical and mental 'chatter' crept in as the race went on.
Learn to accept these thoughts non judgementally and then allow them to be released as you focus instead on breathing and what you are doing with your body. Making a positive physical choice or change can be a great way to allow the thoughts to 'be' while gently turning your focus to a more helpful place. Lifting from the crown of your head, lengthening the spine and checking in with your dantien whilst you are running are very powerful physical triggers to help engage your mind and body and focus on more successful types of thinking.
Another great focus, of course, is breathing. Bring your mind to a focus on your breathing, allow yourself to breathe however feels comfortable for you at that point in your running. Try widening your focus a little. Does it feel like you are breathing with your whole lungs or indeed your whole body?
Just as many of us Chi Runners learn to do a body scan whilst running (the app is great for this,) try scanning your thoughts and observing the thoughts that come along whilst you are running. When you do, come back to one of the Chi Running focusses - they all stem from the principles of alignment and relaxation. Bring your mind to this focus for just one minute. Choose a focus that will help you up that hill or keep your chosen pace going. If the thoughts creep back in (and then will), simply notice them, allow them to be, and return your mind to the intended focus.
This concludes this series on The Mindful Runner. I'd really appreciate any comments on this, especially in whether the practical tips were of use to you. If you are interested in developing a more mindful approach to your running then I strongly suggest attending one of my Mindful Fitness Weekends or booking a course with Becky.