I hate running. I have since I was a small child.
I used to fake sick every Friday in middle school when we had to do a mile run. People would make fun of the way I looked when I ran. I would have trouble breathing, and was slower than everyone else.
Fast forward 20 years. In a week I will be taking an intensive training program to teach others how improve their running, and what’s more important: to actually enjoy it.
I first started running more seriously while at an arts summer camp before my senior year of high school. They woke us up with a bugle call at 6am (I know, right) and there was a big gap between that and our first class for breakfast. However, I hated the food. There was a big open field behind our cabin. So, I decided to go for a half hour run as many days as I could that summer. I cranked my first MP3 player (or possibly a Discman) up to full blast and ran around the field for an unknown distance before collapsing back in my cabin for a quick shower. I still hated it. What made it work, the only thing, was having music I was excited to listen to.
Fast forward again to the last couple years. After a lot of experimentation, I have found that one of the things in my life that leaves me with the best vitality is running consistently. Every period where I do so corresponds to the best periods of health in my life. The run however, is still a chore. I do my best to check out during the actual ask--I see it as a time where my mind can wander. I get caught up in the music I’m listening to, or as has been the case recently, podcasts--ironically, many of them are on the Art of Presence.
Fast forward(er) to a couple months ago. I’ve signed up for the ‘Art of Running’ teacher training and am reading back through Malcolm Balk’s book of the same name, when I reach a bit that terrifies me. In the book, he advocates for running without any music or audio. This allows you to pay more attention to your body and turn the activity into a form for enjoying the present moment and getting more in touch with the sensation of being embodied—the exact opposite of the routine that has allowed me to successfully be a runner for the past couple of decades.
Why does listening to audio take us out of our sense of embodiment? It is hard to say exactly. There are curious connections between our sense of embodiment and our sense of hearing. When I do spatial awareness exercises with clients I often tell them to ‘listen’ to the space around them. We ‘listen’ to our bodies. And there is something about sustained artificial audio that takes us out of our bodies and can give us a sensation of floating in an intellectual space outside of our embodied reality.
Reading this, I realized running is one of the activities in which I ‘kick myself out’ of my body almost completely. And the idea of coming back into my body when I run brings back old terrifying associations with shame over being made fun of for ‘running weird’ and other body shame issues.
Grudgingly, I decided to try it out.
The results have been startling.
The first striking thing is that I immediately set personal records at the three distances I run most frequently. And not by small margins—I improved 2 minutes on my mile run and nearly 10 on my three mile. These are HUGE. They are probably a result of me better being able to pay attention to mechanics, and more importantly, to feel when I was approaching an unsustainable level of stride and stay on the edge of it rather than going over and then wearing myself out, forcing me into interval or below pace running.
Secondly, I found I was less worn out after runs, and actually enjoyed them more. They made me feel great in my body when I stopped avoiding the experience of being in my body during them. I found myself more energized for the rest of the day, with a great sense of the support of the ground below me and the movement in my hip sockets.
This made me curious about the way I consume audio in general. I love music and podcasts, but sometimes it just ends up feeling like a background buzz that I’m not really paying attention to. So I made an experiment—what happens when I don’t allow myself to multitask with audio while I carry out my daily activities?
Once again the results were shocking to me. Suddenly, all the activities that used to be dreary chores became interesting to me again—opportunities to make friends with my body. My posture improved in all of them. And when I did listen to music again, I felt like I was really hearing it rather than just using it as a way to check out.
The moral in the story from my perspective is not that listening to podcasts or other audio while doing your daily activities is bad for you. Its simply that when we do too much of it, we lose the ability to be present in any of what we are doing. And if I even do one activity a day without my normal audio, my quality of life improves.
Here’s your challenge: pick an activity you usually supplement with audio. It could be running, it could be doing laundry, it could be driving. And try doing it without sound for a week. How does your relationship to the activity change? How does your relationship to your body and posture in the activity change? How does your enjoyment in the activity change?
Let me know what you discover!
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.