Posted by: Joe Nuss on Jul 30, 2010
By Mandy Murphy
I once read that “We live 90% of our lives from our neck up.” If our thoughts consume this much of our lifetime, this leaves 10% for engaging our body in our everyday lives. Then most of the time our body is just tagging along behind all of the doing, thinking, planning, processing, reliving the past or anticipating the future.
No wonder the “great outdoors” is so alluring to me. Running the trails outside gets me out of my head and more in tune with what is happening in my body. It allows for more presence with what is happening right here and now. Upon looking more closely at the exhilaration (otherwise know as a “runner’s high”) that comes from being active outside, I had a few realizations about what I am experiencing:
Sense of spaciousness versus feeling grounded: There are no ceilings, walls or vehicles trapping us when we are outside. The vast sky above and open air that surrounds us gives our mental and physical energy more space. The beautiful views sometimes have no end. This spaciousness is balanced out by the ground. Our attention is also directed down to our feet as we navigate the paths or trails. We are literally grounded by having our attention in our bodies and feeling the earth beneath us.
Sound versus silence: If we slow down enough to really pay attention, there are many sounds from nature. Tuning into these sounds and staying with the sound awareness a little longer than usual opens us up to the environment around us. On the flip side of hearing sounds is realizing the wonderful silence that is present when we are outside. We get a break from the usual sounds of our everyday lives like talking, electronics, appliances, office environment chatter, cars and more.
Solitude versus connectedness: There is an amazing feeling that comes from being out there “alone” experiencing nature yet at the same time, feeling so connected to a world bigger than me. I often run alone and I enjoy looking beyond the surface of what I am experiencing while on the trails -- it is fun to see what else I can notice in the woods or what other forms of nature are present. Again, this contributes to an awareness that even though I am out there by myself, there is so much life and energy in the world to be seen and heard.
In preparation for writing this article, I started to pay more attention to what I was experiencing in my mind and my body as I navigated different sections of my regular running route. This route includes wooded trails, neighborhood roads and paved trails. Starting out on the wooded trails, I experienced a neat whole body perspective as I flowed between focusing on navigating the roots and rocks of the trail and then floating up into my mind to process my day ahead. When on the trails, I am forced to sink deeper into my body and focus on my feet; thus getting me out of my head. In addition, the canopy of the trees created a natural enclosure to hold the experience of the trails.
Coming out of the trails onto a non-shaded street, I realized the spaciousness above me and the contrast between the sky and the pavement. Passing houses I found myself thinking more about concrete and everyday things -- my work to-do list, what needs to be done around the house, what is going on for the kids and the days ahead. Foot after foot hitting the street, my body was merely a vehicle for my tangible, thinking mind on this stretch of the run. The only body awareness that surfaced was a noticeable sweat as I questioned whether or not the owners of a certain house would mind if I ran through their sprinkler to cool off?
Rounding the corner to pick up a paved trail brought another soothing, peace to my active brain. This paved trail winds through natural vegetation and along side a creek. Rays of sunshine pour through the trees at 45 degree angles and again, I settle into the rhythm of my breath and my body as I enjoy the freedom of being outside. Sharing this trail with other people is an interesting element of this section of my run. Some regulars and some new faces, it is fun to exchange a friendly hello and wonder what is driving them get outside this morning? The fluidity between thinking and feeling my body run returns as I enter the trail in the woods to return home.
Given spaciousness, being grounded, silence, natural sounds, solitude and connectedness, my body -- the ultimate source of the runner’s high feeling -- speaks up with a resounding: “This FEELS awesome!” while my mind has a chance to rest and take it all in.
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Mandy Murphy is a Life Coach with Mindsight Coaching (www.mindsightcoaching.com) and an Endurance Magazine Team Member.