Lesson #2: Your Body is Full of Wisdom You Can Trust
This is the second blog post in the series, Lessons Learned from Running, designed to help you increase your enjoyment of running and life. Each month, I’ll share one lesson that I’ve learned from running that applies to running and life.
Your body is always talking to you.
For most of my life, I practiced ignoring what mine had to say.
When I was in my early 20s, living in Seattle, WA and working at a fast paced PR firm, I struggled with nagging stomach problems and a good dose of insomnia.
I didn’t worry much about it. I went to a few doctor’s appointments, tried some acupuncture, and when the symptoms persisted, I figured it was just ‘normal’ for me.
Then a job opportunity in another industry took me to the Tri-Cities, WA where I discovered a smaller town with a slower pace of life.
My stomach problems dissipated almost immediately and I started sleeping like a baby.
Strange coincidence? I thought so.
I figured the whole thing was just a random fluke and soon forgot all about my prior health issues.
Then I moved back to Seattle and my physical symptoms started creeping back into my life.
Once I made the the Tri-Cities my permanent home, my sleep returned to normal.
My body clearly likes a slower pace of life and open space.
You would think this experience would have been enough to motivate me to pay attention to the clues the body provides.
But I’m stubborn.
Fortunately, the body is always talking, providing valuable wisdom, even if we’re not paying attention.
Just how good our bodies are at helping us find our natural rhythms was demonstrated in a fascinating study led by Max Donelan, a professor at Simon Fraser University. In this study researches found evidence that your body has an uncanny ability to automate your walking and running cadence for maximum efficiency & ease.
When left to it’s own devices, the body will naturally choose the pace & cadence that is most efficient for you and make necessary adjustments instantaneously, before your mind even has time to register what happens.
Yet throughout most of our daily lives, our bodies aren’t left to their own devices. They are heavily influenced by a whole host of other factors including our goals, our fears, and our peers.
These factors often cause us to tune out what the body is trying to tell us.
I’ve experienced it more than once. By the time I was in my early-30s I began feeling disconnected and generally unhappy.
Everything looked fine on paper: Great job, nice house, kind husband. But something was missing. I was out of sync with my deeper purpose and disconnected from my body.
I didn’t yet have the skills to tap into the wisdom of the body to help me get back on track. What I did have was running.
I was so eager to escape my overall unhappiness that I jumped back into running full bore, not accounting for the significant break I had taken from the sport.
I figured I would easily pick up where I left off and I started running as much and as fast as I could.
I hastily signed up for Bloomsday, one of the largest road races in North America based in my hometown of Spokane, WA.
The fact that the race was just over a month from when I started training didn’t phase me. I figured I’d power through it and all would be well.
During that run, I experienced my first ever running injury. And just like I had done so many times before, I tried to keep going without slowing down to assess the situation.
The pain started and I heard a pop with two miles left to go.
I kept running. As the pain intensified, so did my effort.
I was scared to stop. Scared I wouldn’t start again. Scared I’d end up stuck and unhappy for the rest of my life.
So the next day, I ran. The day after that, I ran again.
By day four, I could barely stand or walk without wincing. When I finally saw the doctor, the only thing I cared about was how long it would be until I could run again.
Turns out, it was much longer than I could have guessed. For nearly a year, I went to physical therapy, orthopedics, chiropractors. I stretched, had steroid injections, did targeted exercises and even rested.
Frustrated, I started looking for other answers.
I learned a lot about the powerful mind-body connection. And not just when it comes to running.
It would be easy to attempt to oversimplify this topic.
When your body is tired, rest.
When your body has energy, play, run and have a good time.
And I believe those things. But that’s just the beginning.
The body communicates in a language much richer and more nuanced than fatigue and energy alone.
The messages are often subtle.
Listening to them takes practice.
And the first messages you receive are just the beginning of the conversation.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s a language worth learning.
When you take the time to tap into the wisdom of your body, it can help lead you to your dreams and reconnect with yourself.
I started by noticing that when I was happy, the pain in my leg quieted.
When I was stressed and trying to run away from the problems in my life, the pain got louder.
I had a choice, I could keep trying to run or I could face what was really happening and get clear on what I really wanted.
So I started to go deeper.
I learned what it felt like to run toward myself. Toward my dreams, my hopes and my desires.
I learned to use tools to help me identify what those things were. And then I learned how to honor them, in spite of my fears.
I learned to love myself, and then my husband. And then I started running again. Running toward a life filled with love, joy and hope. But always listening to what my body has to say.
During your next run, practice listening to what your body tells you. Start by tuning into the physical sensations of the body. Get as specific as possible. How do your feet feel when they hit the ground? How does your breathing change when you adjust your pace? Where do you notice tightness? Where is your body loose?
Notice how you feel and share what you notice in the comments below.
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