I was recently having acupuncture (with the wonderful Verity Allen) and we got chatting about phycology of running, for many. She explained that it wasn’t running she had an issue with, but people’s relationship with running. I said that for many people running is like mediation, it relaxes them. She agreed but said, “well what happens, for example, when you have children and you can’t go running so much, or you have an injury and can’t run at all? Where does your off switch come from then? People should learn how to relax in more genuine meditative ways”.
"People should learn how to relax in more genuine mediative ways"
I guess for us all we develop strategies for how we cope with the ups, downs and general stresses of everyday life. But we’re told cardio is good for us. It burns off stress – right? Well actually this isn’t so much the case when you delve a little deeper and look at what’s going on inside us at a bio-chemical level.
According to Dr Libby Weaver, in her fabulous book Rushing Women’s Syndrome, when we’re stressed we produce adrenaline. We all pretty much know that. What I don’t think people appreciate is that when we produce adrenaline on a continuous basis, and for most of us this is what happens, our bodies then start producing cortisol. Traditionally cortisol was only produced in times of war or famine when we were genuinely under threat. But now it’s an everyday occurrence across a huge population of stressed out, long-hours working people and it’s causing health issues such as adrenal burnout, fertility issues and IBS.
So what do we do to manage our stress levels? We go spinning, running, or kettle-belling – all of which do what? Raise your heartbeat and produce more adrenaline into an already stressed, maxed out, cortisol producing, system. So maybe running isn’t such a good form of mind clearing, relax inducing, mediation?
Dispute knowing all this, I recently started running a tad more seriously. It went from running when I fancied, when I felt like it, at a distance that felt comfortable that day (a healthy approach in Verity’s book) to getting an app, booking myself into an organised run (for motivation) and scheduling training days. I can tell you now, I won’t be doing it again. What I realised was I started massively competing with myself: fastest mile, average pace, distance covered. I go running with my gorgeous Beagle Charlie (who is a much better runner than me) and if he stopped for a sniff or a poo I would get annoyed that it was ruining my average times – completely forgetting that we were both supposed to be getting some benefit. Suddenly this need to compete with myself became all consuming. Being out in the fresh air, pumping oxygen round my body and enjoying the outside world simply wasn’t enough. I was running when I felt tired, running through pain because my app said I still hadn’t completed my allotted distance for the day and feeling joyous at the calories I’d been told I had burned.
This experience left me feeling pretty rubbish about myself, and at first I wasn’t sure what was making me feel that way. It was only when I started thinking about how I was talking with myself and the language I was using, I realised that I really wasn’t being very kind to myself – and you know what? My body started being not so kind in return.
I realised I was also thinking differently about food. For a very long time I had decided to never count calories, never weigh myself and only eat what felt good. My goal was to manage my severe digestive issues and if I did that I was happy. And for me this approach worked. I felt super and had dropped nearly 2 dress sizes without thinking over the past 2 years. Then I started enjoying some clean eating recipes which at first I loved but then I wondered if even the phrase, “Clean Eating” makes you feel like normal, even healthy, eating is “dirty” perhaps. Those of you who may talk about “cheat days” does that imply that you only have good and bad days. Cheating as a word never has positive connotations does it? And why do we get angry when we eat something which we enjoy but maybe isn’t a kale leaf? And then we wonder why we have digestive issues like IBS when we get angry at ourselves every time we eat? Why can’t we enjoy balance and not label things as good or bad?
“Nic you’re a Pilates teacher, why the long winded discussion on running?”
I talk to a lot of my clients about pain – it’s the nature of what I now do for a living having previously worked 90-100 hour weeks in Marketing. I’m often asked what exercises should be done at home to undo pain and ease discomfort. Now whilst I often give my clients homework, I can often see that pain is the body alerting a person to their state of mind, body and soul.
Yesterday I said to a client, “I can give you some neck exercises if you want, but tell me, is life a little crazy right now?” I could see that tears weren’t far away and she told me that “yes you could put it like that”. I said her homework was to find at least 5 minutes a day, which were just hers. To meditate in some way, be it in the bath, just before bed or while walking. I don’t believe that mediation has to be this forced thing where you sit for 20 minutes and breathe (although if you can do this then great!), for most people right now, I understand this isn’t so easy.
What she, and many of my clients (and I), don’t need is another “should” added onto a big pile of “shoulds” – most of them our own making. “I should do my exercises”, "I should go the the gym", “I should have got up earlier and cleaned the house this morning” (that was me this morning…), “I should have worked through lunch to get that tender doc completed”, “I should go out tonight but I’m really tired”, “I should have gone to bed earlier”, “I should be a better friend”…you get the point.
So over the Christmas break look to be a little kinder on yourself, seek ways to find time for yourself, allow yourself some time off AND some time out.
If this kind of thing interests you, read Dr Libby’s book which is available on Kindle on Amazon – it really is fascinating and goes into detail on fertility, IBS and weight loss as well as adrenal burnout. And you’ll be amazed at how doing less will give you a lot more!
Or check out her TEDx Talk on YouTube.