Posts Tagged ‘running’

“To Be or Not To Be”

At some point, perhaps years before the night of my book party, alcohol and drinking began to occupy an increasing amount of my mental real estate. During the workday I eagerly anticipated cocktail hour. Or I perseverated over where to purchase a bottle of wine on my way home from work. Among my shopping criteria were selection, price range, and distance from my condo. But most importantly, how frequently or recently I had purchased from a certain place. I feared becoming recognized as a “regular” so I rotated my patronage accordingly.

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The following is what is becoming my annual post about seasonal affective disorder, written from my new platform at Eat to Love. Previous posts on the topic can be found here, here, and here. I’ll be following up with a recipe for my favorite anti-depressant stew and some more thoughts on nutrition for depression.


Feeling S.A.D.? You’re Not Alone. Here Are 6 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Feel Better

The holidays are upon us, there’s an invigorating chill in the air, celebrations to enjoy, but you’re feeling anything but festive? Does your body feel heavy and leaden, your mind sluggish and unclear? When you wake up in the morning, do you look forward to the moment you can get back into bed? I know I do.

If this sounds familiar, you might have seasonal affective disorder. S.A.D. is a type of depression that hits about the same time each year. The exact cause of S.A.D. is not 100% clear but it is likely a combination of seasonal changes in your circadian rhythm and your body’s levels of melatonin and serotonin. Women, people who suffer from depression, and those who have a family history of S.A.D. and/or depression are at the greatest risk for S.A.D.

I have struggled with S.A.D. since I was a child, yet every November I’m surprised by it. I feel like the tin man on my yoga mat, my eyes sit at half-mast, and if I open an email from the Humane Society, I am reduced to a sobbing puddle for 20 minutes. After the initial shock and indignation wears off (it usually takes me about 3 days to say “It’s happening again…”), I put on my big girl panties and deal with it. The following is a list of the things I have found most helpful in managing S.A.D. [Continue reading]

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Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort. ~Peter McWilliams

For my 37th birthday last December, I took myself to my first Physique 57 class. For those not familiar with Physique, it is a type of ballet barre method with studios in New York City, LA, and the Hamptons. Physique also produces DVDs with hundreds of thousands of devotees. The class moves rapidly from arms, shoulders, and back to thighs, seat, and abdominals so that after 57 minutes, not only have you worked out your entire body, but you’re not quite sure what just hit you.

The Physique formula is efficient and effective – fatigue each set of muscles and then stretch them. And when I say fatigue, I mean FATIGUE. The instructors uniformly encourage you to “go toward the burn,” a concept that initially brought some complex emotions for me.

I don’t know about you, but I have a little voice in my head that steers me toward comfortable experiences and away from uncomfortable ones. For example, Ben and Jerry’s while watching Sex and the City reruns – comfortable, good, yes; running – uncomfortable, bad, pass the Chunky Monkey. But a few years ago, running actually changed my relationship to discomfort. Since then, I have made personal study of exploring my ability to tolerate discomfort and see what benefit might lurk in that space.

I remember my first Physique 57 class, during which I very nearly vomited. As we worked our thigh muscles through a series of lunges and squats, I didn’t believe it was possible to do what was being asked of me. The burning sensations were too powerful to tolerate and I had to back off, take a break and then rejoin the group when I regained control of my legs.

The pleasure-seeker in me might have campaigned for leaving the building and never turning back, but something had piqued my interest. In addition to the motivating music, the fit and encouraging instructors, and the 20 or so other people challenging themselves, the idea of leaning into the discomfort appealed to me.

Since December I’ve taken about 2 or 3 Physique classes per week and in that time I have practiced going toward the burn much like I practice staying with the breath in meditation. Without lamenting perceived failures or anticipating future challenges, I can experiment with just how much discomfort I can stand.

When I take a Physique class now, my muscles still burn but, rather than stopping to get the relief I intuitively crave, I become curious about that discomfort. I linger there, and even lean into it. By doing so I notice it is not constant. There are in fact moment-to-moment variations in the quality of the discomfort: one moment, red hot streaks down the quadriceps muscles; the next moment, a powerful surge of ability; the next moment, a pulsating warmth that encircles my thighs, and so on.

The sensations are different every time, but by resting in that space, I learn more about my body, it’s limits and abilities. And I have gotten stronger, physically and mentally.

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One of these days, Alice...Remember the first few weeks or even months of your most recent relationship? The marathon dates where you never ran out of things to talk about, the continuous stream of texts in which he shared the most mundane details of his day in the cutest way, the way she always woke up smiling, her skin endearingly dewy? Not to mention the nonstop sex…

And then something shifted. You realized you knew exactly where his story was going or she emitted a sound you preferred to believe she, unlike all other women, didn’t emit. And you found yourself in new territory. Post-honeymoon.

A lot of people utterly freak out when they reach this point. Without the excitement of the honeymoon, what is there to look forward to?! Some head for the hills, while others just get bored. But the smart ones dig in because they know that’s when the real fun begins. Besides, most of life is post-honeymoon, right? So gird your loins, people!

We’ve all experienced the end of the honeymoon in relationships, but it happens just about everywhere else too. In my own life, I’ve reached this phase on many fronts: in running, blogging, not drinking, and even meditating. Getting to this point is both frustrating and revealing, so I’ve had to come up with a few tricks to keep things fresh, hot, and new(ish).

  • Read: Like any good student, when things feel a bit stale, I often hit the books (or the web). Reading allows me to learn new things about my post-honeymoon fixation and discover a network of people with similar concerns and interests. Through reading others’ stories, I am reminded of what life was like when I was drinking. I am able to glean new morsels to mull over during sitting practice. I might pick up a few new songs to add to my running playlist. And I always discover new ideas to write about.
  • Do a mini: Whether this means a 5-minute meditation, a 15-minute writing stint, or a 20-minute run, “doing a mini” gives me a taste of what I want so I don’t forego it completely. The added bonus is that I’m often left wanting more.
  • Take a day off: If I’m simply feeling bored with something, I’ll take a day (or a few days) off. This can help relieve the feeling of doing something just because I feel I should. Plus, I get a chance to reflect, to miss whatever I’m taking a day off from, and approach it the next day with freshness. This is trickier when it comes to not drinking since I can’t take a day off from being sober. But I can take a day off from being abstemious in general, and maybe allow myself some other indulgence I typically eschew—a red velvet cupcake, a mani-pedi, a massage, or the veggie burger at Hillstone.
  • Bring others into it: Whether it’s running, meditating, writing, or teetotaling, the presence of other people consistently increases my motivation and fosters a sense of community.
  • Remind myself why I do it in the first place: When the novelty of something has worn off, I always remind myself why I do it in the first place. If something is beneficial to my life, it’s importance will extent far beyond the newness, whether that is health, fun, or the addition of richness to my life. If something was worth doing simply because it was new, then maybe it was just another distraction after all.

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I was a born power walker. With long legs and an East Coast sense of urgency, walking fast came naturally. It was my exercise of choice, preferred mode of transportation, and an early foray into meditation.

The year I moved to Boston, I must have logged 1000 miles walking around what I came to know as the Charles River treadmill. The wind in my hair, the chop of the water, the intersection of Boston and Cambridge, and the energy of the other people – walking was exhilarating. Yet something was missing. I longed to run.

I ran in high school but never well. On the track team, there were two options: long, slow distance or short, fast sprints. I had neither the lithe physique that lends itself to mile after mile nor the thick muscular set that could set the school record for the 100-yard dash. The category in which I would have excelled – slow, short distance – did not exist.

Since my inglorious high school track days, I gave running a try once or twice but it never stuck. I always started off way too fast and burned out before I’d gotten far. This was discouraging and physically painful and inevitably cut short any long-term change.

My memory of running was one of discomfort and inadequacy. I couldn’t run fast or far so I wondered ‘why bother?’ Yet, as runners passed me on my daily walks, I yearned to follow them…to break free of what had become a predictable stride and risk falling, failing, or simply looking stupid.

About 2 years ago (during my second year of not drinking), I decided to give running another chance. At first, I could barely run a mile, and that was on a treadmill, notoriously easier than pounding the pavement.

It was the middle of July and Boston was sweltering (in retrospect, starting to run at that time of year seems analogous to quitting drinking right before the December holidays, but you have to start somewhere, right?). When I tried running around my beloved Charles River loop, I was dripping with sweat and wheezing like an asthmatic before reaching the Arthur Fiedler head, not more than half a mile out. Once I couldn’t run any further, I stopped to walk and catch my breath. After a few minutes, I began to run again and tried to make it to the next milestone.

This went on for months. Run, walk, run, walk, run, walk. In time, I could run to more distant milestones before needing to stop and walk – the boathouse, then the softball fields, then the Museum of Science.

Sometimes I got cocky or elated and ran so fast so I had to stop after just a few minutes. Other times my legs felt so wooden and heavy, I walked more than I ran. Occasionally, running felt effortless, poignant, and meaningful.

Running this time around was different than previous attempts. Whereas in the past I was acutely aware of being the slowest, this time I focused on the fact that I was running at all. I developed a curiosity about the experience, what emotions it brought up and how I felt before, during, and after a run. I realized that slowing down allowed me to go further, continuously, and to gradually work up to a faster pace and longer distance. By focusing inward, I began to view each step as a choice.

This is how running prepared me for meditation. Choosing to do something that is inherently uncomfortable and at the same time challenging and rewarding is intriguing. Practicing such discipline, even when it isn’t convenient, particularly good, or fun requires staying in the moment.

Much like I choose to put one foot in front of the other while running, in meditation I choose to focus on one breath and then another. The pleasure of hitting my stride and feeling like I could go forever is very similar to how I feel when meditating (at least sometimes).

I’m still a very (read: VERY) slow runner. For every 300 runners who pass me along the Charles, I might pass 1 person, but he’s usually tying his shoelaces…or he’s a statue. The first mile is almost always uncomfortable. But once it’s behind me, something shifts and some space opens up. My breathing settles down, my legs remember what they’re supposed to do, and I loosen up physically and mentally.

The running journey, like the meditation journey, continues to be a choice – one step (and breath) at a time.

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