If you have a lot on your mind and feel overwhelmed, running or fast walking is one of the best ways to distract your brain for a while. People tend to get those flashes of insight while running or showering because they have given their brains something else to do, while solutions incubate in the background. Then the Eureka moment comes where brilliant ideas arrive seemingly out of nowhere!
In fact, your brain is working on solving problems while simultaneously doing a million other things. (including keeping you alive). Allowing yourself to play, exercise, and do other things gives your brain fuel for the creative fire.
I have a love-hate relationship with the treadmill. It’s convenient because I live in a very populated, weather-challenged city, and going to the gym prevents me from having to worry about getting hit by a car or freezing my face off in the cold. That said, it’s a human hamster wheel with zero pretty scenery and plenty of monotony.
However, there are ways to turn around the negatives, and make conveyor-belt running enjoyable!
First, I grab a treadmill on the side with the view I like best, overlooking a busy square with abundant people-watching opportunities. I may be running in place, but my scenery is always changing!
Second, I never ever go without great music to listen to. Pandora and wireless headphones might just be the most effective workout tools ever invented. (Suggested running song: Titanium, by David Guetta & Sia)
Now let’s travel back in time to the day I first attempted running 10 years ago. My initial ‘workout’ was less than encouraging, and lasted for about a total of 30 seconds. But I was as stubborn as I was breathless, so I kept at it.
I read running journals and articles by people who run crazy long distance marathons, to try and figure out how they did it (and what in the world they were thinking). But it wasn’t until I tried yoga that I thought about how I was breathing.
What bugged me the most was that I had to stop running long before my legs were even close to tired, simply because I was so out of breath. I began experimenting with the way I was breathing when I ran, until I figured out how to keep it under control. Then everything changed.
Within a month, I was able to build up to running 6-7 miles at a time. I even went temporarily insane and signed up for a 10K. One sunny day, I actually pinned a paper number to my tank top and ran down the middle of closed off Boston streets, among a crowd of several thousand other women.
I no longer feel compelled to rack up the miles like I used to; but to this day, I still use the same breathing and posture techniques.
Keep it as slow as possible, with equal measured inhales/exhales. I use my footsteps as a guide to my breathing rhythm. It’s an easy way to stay in pace with my body. Even with music blaring in my ears, I feel every sneaker thud as a beat to count. I breathe in slowly, filling my lungs to capacity for 4-5 counts, and exhale the next 4-5 counts. You can vary it depending on how fast you are going, just watch that your breathing remains as even and slow as you can.
No amount of good breathing will help if you are hunched over or out of alignment. Not only does that result in crummy performance, but also in cramps and muscle aches. Plus, paying attention to your posture will help your breathing.
First, put your hand over your stomach, in the center of your torso. With your thumb touching the bottom of your sports bra, curl your fingers into a loose fist. Now your middle 3 fingers are resting over the spot I’m talking about.
Now imagine a string through your center, connecting that spot to your back and slightly pulling it in toward your spine. Focus on keeping this area ‘pulled in’ a bit, and you’ll notice your stomach naturally sucks in, and your tailbone tilts under and down. Perfect!
All that’s left to do is keep your shoulders back and lifted, which is easy. You probably bend your elbows as you run, so just think about keeping your forearms lifted to the bottom of your ribcage.
Running has a lot in common with meditation. Both take regular practice. Just as you continually watch your thoughts come and go while aiming for stillness in meditating, so do you constantly keep watch on your breath and posture while running.
Aside from the physical health aspects of running, I’ve also found the repetitiveness is another form of meditation. I can relax, close my eyes, (well, briefly…I don’t wanna fall over) and let my mind quiet down, as my thoughts are focused on my breath. And often, that’s when creative ideas come out of nowhere. I can’t count how many times I’ve rushed back to my car to write down a great idea before I forget. In fact, the idea for my next article just came to me on the treadmill! (So keep a pen and paper next to your water, or use one of those note apps.)
The next time you feel lost and are running out of ideas, maybe the problem is that your ideas are out of running. Try going for a run or fast walk and see what happens. There’s nothing to lose, except a few calories!