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Mind Over Kilometer

Running. Yoga. Meditation.

Belated Recap: Real Happiness Challenge Weeks 3 & 4

I confess to being really late with posting this, now that it’s over a week after the challenge is over. But rest assured, I finished the challenge! This is my final recap about the Real Happiness Challenge. See the Week 1 and Week 2 recaps for more about the challenge.

Week 3 – Mindfulness of Thoughts and Emotions

This week was about specifically reflecting on positive and negative types of thoughts and emotions we encounter in our daily lives during the meditation practice. To be honest, I struggled a bit this week because even though I can very easily get immersed in emotions when they truly arise within a particular situation, I have a hard time mentally conjuring up what certain emotions feel like, particularly when I’m in a quiet state of being on the meditation cushion.

That being said, the practice of mental noting from day 15 has stuck with me. I’ve been working on managing my anxiety and bad habit of rumination, and the act of mental noting fits right in with the idea that trying to avoid worrisome thoughts feeds to their power. You have to listen to the mind in order to quiet it.

Week 4 – Lovingkindness & Real Love

The final week of the challenge was a just that – a challenge. This was partly due to the fact that I had a particularly busy week, having one of my best college friends staying with me, and partly due to my ambivalence about change. I alluded to this in the recap from week 2, but there’s sadly a part of me that doesn’t want to be the ever-compassionate person. I have my feelings and opinions, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to let that go. And I also admit that I fell asleep a few more times…

My favorite meditation of this week was the Walking Lovingkindness from day 23. In this practice, you repeat a positive wish toward yourself with each step, but then, whenever you encounter another person or being, you direct the same positive wishes toward them. After an incident when I was bit by a dog on this same path to work, I have been feeling a bit hostile toward dogs and their owners. But trying this practice helped me to see that focusing on my fear and dislike of dogs (especially unleashed ones!) has been clouding my otherwise pleasant daily walk. Though the heightened sense of attention I feel around these creatures is likely not to change, perhaps the negative “add on” feelings and thoughts about them don’t need to weigh me down as much…

Conclusions from the challenge

I’m definitely marking my calendar for next February’s Real Happiness Challenge. As a beginner in meditation, it was a nice way to sample a variety of practices to see what works best for me at this point in my journey. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that I may need to do some more work on the lessons from week 1 to build my concentration and control over my attention first, before reaping the full benefits of the other practices. True change will take time, but a month-long commitment was a good place to start.

I’m planning on trying out some of the meditation apps out there over the next few months, so stay posted!

Real Happiness Challenge Week 2 Recap

I loved Week 2 of the Real Happiness Challenge because it took meditation out into our natural habitats. The meditations were focused around the theme of “Mindfulness of the Body,” and included two walking meditations, a sensation meditation, body scan, eating meditation, drinking tea meditation, and washing dishes meditation.

Lessons and confessions from this week:

1. Formal meditation is a rehearsal for life

When you spend time slowing down and observing the small actions of life, the concentration cultivated during the breathing meditations from last week of the challenge are now being transferred to other actions of the body throughout the day.

2. Mindful actions can lead to insights

I tried eating some cookies and cream ice cream as a part of the eating meditation. Focusing on the sensation of the ice cream in my mouth, the flavor, the smell, and the whole experience, made me realize that it didn’t taste that good to me. I had been telling myself the story that this was a treat, when the true experience wasn’t that pleasurable.

3. Insights during meditation take time to stick

The flip-side to insights is that it’s hard to let go. A big part of me is resisting the fact that I don’t actually enjoy the ice cream that I thought I liked. I’ve read and heard that true happiness comes from letting go, but I still want the fake happiness a little. And that’s why I ended up eating another cup of the crappy ice cream the next night…

4. Sleep happens

I have to be honest that I never got to the end of the body scan meditation this week, despite attempting it twice. During this meditation, Sharon encourages finding a comfortable position, including laying down. I probably shouldn’t have done this in bed with my sleep mask on, but hey, that’s life.

I’m beginning tonight with week 3: Mindfulness of Thoughts and Emotions. Stay tuned for a recap next week.

Have you been following along with the Real Happiness Challenge? Do you have experiences with these types of meditation practices? I’d love to hear in the comments or on Instagram!

10k lessons learned

I recently wrote about the fun part of placing first in the “My First 10k” race that I ran over last weekend. But in celebrating that victory, I failed to mention the rest of that day, which was utterly miserable. So in the interest of full-but-not-too-full disclosure, let me explain.

I finished the race strong, and my muscles, lungs, and mind felt like I had just worked them hard, but not too horrible immediately after the crossing the finish line. The trouble started in the minutes afterwards, as I had my husband snap a couple victory photos. The skin on my stomach felt frozen, and I became very cold very fast. I could feel my stomach starting to get upset, so we drove home, with me whining and complaining the whole way. I thought that a hot shower should be the fix, but after the shower, I was doubled over in bed in a pile of blankets, freezing and in a lot of stomach pain. After several hours of rest, googling symptoms, some Pepto, tea, applesauce, and oatmeal, I was back to my normal self.

So what happened? According to Dr. Google, all the blood went to my legs and out of my gut while I was exerting myself, and my pre-race eating was probably not optimized for the effort. In my online “research,” I found this article on the Washingtonian that strikes the right tone and informativeness. Basically, I was probably somewhat dehydrated, ate too close to the start time of the race, and didn’t think enough about what I ate the night before.

For the real deal half marathon coming up in a month, I’m going to do the following to optimize my digestion:

1. Start hydrating early

I’m horrible about drinking enough water at work, but there’s still a month to work on upping my hydration game. I have a habit of downing a bunch of water several hours before my long run and planning plenty of time to use the bathroom before heading out, but I think accumulating adequate hydration over the course of a few days before the race should be even better.

2. Eat light the night before

I was guilty of indulging in a nice dinner out with my husband the night before the race. We went out pretty early, around 5:30 pm for dinner, and I thought it would be plenty of time ahead of the race for me to get out unscathed. I don’t even want to admit in public what I ate the night before the race, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

3. Wake up early for breakfast

I did a breakfast of frozen waffles with peanut butter the morning of the race. It was something I had done before long runs in the past, so it felt pretty safe. I’m not sure if I should have woken up and eaten it a little earlier, though.

4. Trial other fuels for immediately before and during the race

I tried a couple of sports chews before and during the race and carried a small water bottle with me during the race. I think the ratio of carbs to water wasn’t quite right. I’ve done sports drinks or water and jelly beans in the past, so I might have to go back to that.

I still had a few more long runs ahead of me in my training, so I should try all of these things out over the next few weekends before the big race. I’ll let you know how it works out. What do you do to stave off post-race discomfort?

First race of 2017

This morning, I ran the DC Running Club‘s “My First 5k/10k.” Okay, so technically, it wasn’t my first 10k (but actually only my second), but I wanted to run it as a part of my training for my DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon which is now only a month away.

The race was on the C&O Canal Towpath in Georgetown with an out & back course and everyone starting at the same time. After having mostly run larger races, it was refreshing to do a community race without frills. No chip-timing, no water stations, no sponsor stations. They had a bunch of adorable children, though, as the race was free for all children 16 and under. The youngest one was not even 2 years old!

In my years of running (which btw have been spread by 2-3 year stretches of not running), this is the first year that I’m focusing on speed or any running goals besides just to get to the finish line. Like I outlined in my 13-week Running Goal post, I actually want to train this year. I’m happy to report that I’m still on track with my mini-goals in my plan, and reached a milestone by getting a sub-1-hour time on my 10k! In fact, I ran a 54:40.951, beating my first 10k time by a little over 10 minutes.

And I placed first among females and eighth overall! My bib number was lucky, I guess.

2017-02-11-11-45-28

So how did I do it? I kept in mind everything I’ve learned from training so far.

1. Efficient running form

I spent most of the race singing Rhianna’s “Umbrella” to myself, because I know it’s about 175 beats/minute from my Spotify running list. I wanted to keep my stride-length in check, and that rate seems to jive with my body well.

2. Running mindfully

I focused on the sensations that were going through my body as I ran, but tried to keep from judging or labeling the feelings too much. Focusing on the breath when you’re panting away might seem crazy, but it helped me to feel the rhythm of my run.

3. Aim for negative splits

I was a little worried about this one at first, because I started the race at the very front. (It was really a small race, like I told you). There were two women who were ahead of me the first half of the race, and I got the feeling that I could pass them, but I made myself wait until mile 4 and 5 and ended up with a time ~30 seconds faster at the finish.

4. Smile

At 2 miles left to go, I must have lost my mind a little. I came up with a silly phrase, “the 2 mile smile,” and forced myself to smile until the kick.

5. Kick it

Every race I do, I absolutely have to put in the kick at the end. I saw a man running in front of me at a steady pace and decided that I definitely needed to beat him. So I did. 🙂

So these were the victories from today’s race. On the other hand, the aftermath is something I’ll have to write about in another post, because there’s plenty of room for improvement on the recovery side.

 

Real Happiness Challenge Week 1 Recap

I’ve alluded to the fact that I’ve been following Sharon Salzberg’s work recently, and a little late to the game, I discovered her Real Happiness Challenge on Day 2. I’ve been dabbling in the free lessons and podcasts that Dan Harris does over on 10% Happier after reading his book a while back, and Sharon often shares her wisdom through their programs. So the Challenge is to spend the month of February completing daily free meditations while following along on her book. Since I stumbled upon the challenge too late, I’ll have to read the book some other time and maybe be better prepared for next year’s challenge.

The theme for week 1 is Concentration. Sharon took us through the basic breath meditation, hearing meditation, mental noting, counting meditation, self compassion, balancing energy during meditation, and distraction meditation. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can reliably complete a meditation session without direct guidance, so it’s nice to learn about the various types of practice that are out there.

The most challenging for me was the counting meditation. You mentally note the “in” of each breath and count each “out” until you reach 10, when you begin again. The caveat is that if you become distracted, you start over at 1. I tend to have what I’ll call “micro-distractions,” where the thought passes quicker than it takes to complete a whole breath in. And this leads to the mental debate about whether or not it “counts” as a distraction worthy of starting back at 1. But alas, pettiness with oneself does not pave the path toward enlightenment.

I probably need to steep a little longer in this daily practice of meditation before more profound life truths become apparent, but fortunately for me, we’re starting week 2 today.

 

 

Learning from repetition

Ashtanga yoga, the kind that I started practicing 5 months ago, consists of a set sequence of poses that you memorize and build upon over time. The Mysore style class facilitates this by allowing you to work at your own pace and having a teacher who knows where each student is in his or her practice, to provide adjustments, teach new poses, or give feedback as needed. Because of the repetitive nature of the sequences, the first couple of months were rough on my body, and I brushed dangerously close to some injuries. But now that I’ve had several months to build my strength and since I added running to my weekly exercise, I’m starting to reap the benefits of the repetition.

The first few benefits are superficial, I admit it. I can’t help but be satisfied that over the weeks and months of practicing this type of yoga, I can tell that my form, flexibility, and strength are improving. When you do the same thing over and over, the improvements are much more apparent than dabbling too much without a focus. On top of that, the perfectionist in me likes “collecting” the asanas and building a longer, more complex practice over time. Those were the reasons that made me interested and kept me returning initially, but now for the past month or so, I’ve been stuck at the dreaded Marychiasana D (just look at it!), which wraps up the Half Primary series. I’m no longer “progressing” by adding new poses, but it’s given me more to think about.

My meditation practice and yoga seem to be colliding worlds in just the way they are supposed to. Now that I am used to the poses of my Ashtanga sequence so far, it takes more mindfulness to complete. I need to focus to complete five sun salutations each and not four or six. And without a teacher calling out the poses to the class, it’s up to me to attend to each one without forgetting any. It’s just like driving, when it’s so all-consuming of your concentration when you’re learning, but then one day you get to the point where you have forgotten about half of your commute from mindlessness.

It’s got me thinking about all of the other repetitive things we do with our lives, and I was reminded of this old video by Ze Frank:

I think Ze’s lesson was that we need to take advantage of the precious choice time that we have remaining after all the repetition has come and gone. But the flip side is that the repetition is unavoidable, so instead of discounting its value, we can instead choose to remain awake and grateful for what we have to learn from it.

The itch

I don’t know if it’s just the winter drying out my skin or if it’s all in my mind, but lately, every time I sit to meditate, I get one itch, that leads to another itch, that leads to another. I’ve been struggling with this for a while now, so I decided to try out the feature on the 10% Happier app where you can ask a meditation teacher a question.

I received a thoughtful response from “Joshua,” essentially saying that it is a choice you can make whether or not to give in to the itch. Option A is to stay with the discomfort with a sense of curiosity. Option B, to consciously turn the attention to a more pleasant sensation occurring simultaneously. Option C, the nuclear option, is to scratch, but mindfully. Encouragingly, he said, “With practice, the discomfort usually lessens, and our capacity to just be with unpleasant experiences gets stronger.”

I suppose this lesson is the one that we runners put ourselves through each week when training. The day-to-day discomfort that comes up during running is like an itch. As long as it’s not the concerning pain of an injury, it’s usually just a fatigue or a soreness that you can A.) lean into and fully experience, B.) distract yourself with the scenery or your headphones, or C.) make a conscious decision to walk or cut the run short to save energy for the next runs to follow. The most difficult option yields the greater reward in the end, but there’s always another day.

As I tried to put this into practice today, I had a particularly challenging meditation session amidst the clatter of the afternoon with easily recognizable noises from within and outside of the apartment taking my focus away. I was working on a meditation to count my breath in 10s, but I kept having to start over before I reached 3. But then, I recalled Sharon Salzberg‘s voice from a recorded meditation I did earlier, urging self-compassion in the moments that require refocusing. The anger at myself and the noisy world subsided. The itch settled.

Lesson learned: The body will itch and the mind will think, but the breath is always there to return to.

13-week Running Goal

Back in the first week of January, instead of starting new year’s resolutions, I decided on a 13-week goal instead, inspired by the Self Journal. The journal use has dwindled a bit, to be honest, but I’m still going strong with my goal roadmap. In my “real life” as a therapist, I’ve been trained to write SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) for my patients, but of course, I have never written one for myself. Until now, that is.

Goal: To run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in 2:00-2:10 time.

Progress Goals & Action Plan:

  1. Run a 10k in <1 hour (My First 5K/10K next week!)
    1. Run 180 bpm at least 1x/week
    2. Speedwork 1/week
    3. Read about speed training
  2. Stay within 80% of my weekly training plan mileage (Hal Higdon Novice 2)
    1. Stick to logging miles
    2. Plan for runs
    3. Meditate
  3. Maintain <18 lbs body fat in February & March
    1. Stick to weekly meal planning
    2. Reduce alcohol consumption
    3. Drink more water

Barriers so far have been a week off of training while sick and that drinking water is always a challenge. The half is March 11th, so I’ll keep you posted on how training is going.

Survival

My reasons for pursuing running, meditation, and yoga (or “the big three” as I’ve come to call them) were initially pretty straightforward. Fitness, health, well-being, stress-reduction. You know the drill. But lately, the purpose has become more essential.

Election night, watching the tide turn as the evening wore on, I felt totally out of control over everything and began to question whether it was worth trying to do any good in the world. I realized that I could no longer take anything for granted, and that I had allowed myself to spend too much precious time mindlessly absorbing the Internet and seeking out nuggets of meaningless information to soothe my anxieties about the world.

That week, I made many changes in my life. I stopped obsessively checking the news and instead, subscribed to The New York Times (on actual newsprint). I set up monthly donations to some trusted organizations that were long overdue. I doubled down on my therapy lamp usage. But most importantly, I realized the necessity of the big three.

What I love about these three practices is that they only require my own body and mind to do them. I’ve thought through the worst case scenarios, where everything is truly out of my control, but in each of these situations, having a strong mind and body would help me to regain control. Throughout all of this, I was watching the show, The OA, and thinking about the devastation of being held prisoner in such a strange small cell. Perhaps it’s dramatic to be preparing myself for something so horrible, but knowing the Ashtanga series, detaching myself from the pain of the situation, and having a decent pair of legs to execute the escape plan seems like a decent way to survive.

All drama aside, even as a newbie to “the big three,” I can’t imagine how I would have made it past Inauguration Day, and we’re only into week 2…

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