embodied wisdom: commentary on “Choosing the Right Running Shoes – NYTimes.com”

“Perhaps most unexpected, running shoes designed to somehow “fix” someone’s running form turned out often to be ineffective and even counter-productive.”

~ Gretchen Reynolds | NYTimes.com

Shin splints, patellofemoral syndrome (aka runner’s knee), a broken toe, stress fracture of the foot, a sprained ankle, a strained piriformis, sciatica, chronic hip and sacroiliac pain…and this list only covers my lower half!

Mine is a body that has sustained and, thankfully, recovered from numerous injuries.

With the exception of fracturing my foot after jumping cross-legged off a cement post when I was 8 (and apparently crazy), I can trace all of my physical dysfunctions and subsequent recurring pain back to the three years I spent on my high school track team hurling a shotput and discus across fields. I suffered the consequences of overuse and repetitive stress from being under-coached and under-conditioned (the inequities in girls’ training and conditioning in sports is a topic for another post) well into my 30s.

No single pair of shoes or orthotics — whether those prescribed and specially-designed for my feet by two different podiatrists as well as the “over-the-counter” from a footwear store — successfully resolved my bouts with pain. I’d get temporary relief then the pain would resurface and continue migrate between my traumatized body parts (shoulder, hip, sacrum, leg) with varying levels of intensity and duration. Finally, two years after pregnancy, childbirth, and the ensuing exertions of parenting had magnified these strains, I could no longer live with short-term fixes that only addressed the afflicted area of the moment.

I needed and ultimately benefited from a holistic approach to rehabbing my body. I worked on realigning my pelvis; strengthening and stabilizing my deep core muscles, hips, shoulders, and feet; mobilizing strained tissues with massage; and maintaining/returning to a neutral posture throughout my day.

I’m not saying that shoes aren’t a factor at all. But I don’t think it’s a wise practice to focus so much on what we put on our feet while neglecting to pay attention to how we take care of our feet and the rest of our body.

Full disclosure. I’m a skeptical/mindful consumer and am fully aware that shoe companies have a vested interest in our buying new shoes every few months. So I challenged my own rehab doctors with questions about the validity of the commonly circulated advice to swap our running shoes out after 300 – 500 miles. The response was non-committal — it may be more of an individual choice based on one’s biomechanics and how quickly they wear down shoes.

My bottom line.
Be the expert of your own body! Become fluent in the messages it relays through sensations of pain, fatigue and imbalance as well as those of strength, freedom of movement, stamina, and well-being. Keep testing out what’s true for you!

Read more about the research on biomechanics and running shoes via the NYTimes.com: Choosing The Right Running Shoes.

TrailBlazers Launch

We’re so thrilled to have launched the pilot session of our new walk-to-run program TrailBlazers last Monday!

The day began stormily with hourly forecasts that nerve-wrackingly shifted bouts of rain to land before, during or after our scheduled meetup time.

Alas, finger-crossing and fervent hoping prevailed (despite the afternoon flash flooding around town)! The skies calmed, the sun burst through, and the streets dried up so that we could blaze a new trail with this great crew of women.

moving in the spirit of self-love

Health is not an optimal way to make physical activity relevant and compelling enough for most people to prioritize in their hectic lives…We should count any and every opportunity to move that exists in the space of our lives as valid movement worth doing.

~ Dr. Michelle Segar

I taught group fitness classes in an athletic center for 7 years and more or less squandered the “perk” of having a free membership. Much of it was due to the logistics of time and distance: managing a roster of classes taught at multiple locations, coordinating childcare, and being a single-car family with a staggered lineup of activities. The rest: my hard-to-shake sentiment that gyms suck!

But when the frenzy of a hectic period collided with the pressures of meeting everyone else’s needs before my own, I knew that soothing myself with a 20-minute meditation practice wouldn’t be effective. So I decided to burn off the stress with some tension-busting cardio. However, instead of feeling relaxed and restored, I found myself getting increasingly disgruntled.

Creeping in was the crazy-making noise of negative self-talk! I replayed frustrations and common scenarios that had (or would) hijacked my self-care routine; imagined the endless hours and superhero dose of willpower it would take to reach my pre-pregnancy weight; and lamented how little I had appreciated my body in the past. Then a clear voice cut through the chatter. Enough! This is not healthy. I jumped off the elliptical and headed straight to the sanctuary of my favorite park where sunshine, open air, and quiet woods always nourished my sense of sanity and well-being.

trailblazing in the rain

As a practitioner and advocate of the principles of mindfulness, I recognized in that moment that exercising in a state of duress and dissatisfaction would only feed my discontent. I, like so many others, transformed what is intended to be an endeavor to improve health into an act of self-violence. Yes, even the seemingly noble goal of self-improvement can be fraught with violence. The struggling and striving to be better — to be or have enticingly “more than” in this area or “less than” in another — can lead us to unsavory places. Comparing, criticizing, loathing, harming. For me, the gym can be a hostile space where self-contempt breeds like staph bacteria on a locker room floor. Far too many people are hating themselves into exercising.

I vowed from then on to only move in the spirit of self-love: to saturate every cell and fiber with affirming thoughts and feelings; to strengthen and energize body, heart and mind with meaningful activities (like walking in nature) that made my muscles sing. I refused to participate in or propagate the “self-improvement hustle” (inescapable in the fitness industry and, well, our culture in general) and recommitted myself to cultivating self-understanding. A core tenet of my spiritual traditional, it is through diligently seeking to know ourselves that we can make skillful and compassionate choices. When I have a case of the blahs, I listen deeply to take the appropriate course of action: sometimes it means I rest and turn off my brain, at other times it signals that I must hit the trail for a run to unravel tensions and uplift my spirit.

Reframing exercise in this way enabled me to integrate it more consistently into each busy day. It no longer felt like an agonizing chore that generated guilt if I had to keep putting off (like the clean basket of laundry that takes days to fold, hang and stow). Other key factors in making exercise more sustainable for me:

1) Letting my partner know just how essential it was to my well-being (teaching classes did not count) and requesting extra support from him around scheduling adequate time for self-care. Bonus: It proved to be beneficial for both our endeavors to correct physical imbalances and rehab from long-standing injuries.

2) Turning exercise into a social event. Aside from being an ambassador of a running group, where organizing and leading weekly runs kept me accountable to my commitment to train several days a week, I began setting up walking dates with my girlfriends. Bonus: We share news, laugh, contemplate, problem-solve, air grievances, blow off steam and…save money we’d spend on food and beer!

The gym is still not my first choice — not when the park is closer and free — but I’m now fully inoculated against the toxicity I once experienced there. Running on the treadmill or lifting weights, I am fortifying myself with a deep care and respect for the vitality this body of mine possesses.

Read more about Dr. Segar’s research on reframing exercise:  NYT.com | Rethinking Exercise as a Source of Immediate Rewards
[updated on 30 March 2016]

special event news: conscious + fit clinic on 6/6

Ready to get Active?! Whether you’re just getting started, are rehabbing from injury, or are refreshing your fitness regime — learn the foundations of dynamic + functional movement to keep you ‪#‎CONSCIOUSandFIT‬ this summer. BONUS: Get tips to decompress + relax + sustain physical + mental well-being!

Open to All Levels. Co-taught by Tara Scott, teacher of movement + mindfulness + meditation, + Bianca Guess, certified running coach + group fitness instructor. Cost: 20/person. Location: Heartdance Studio, 1806 E. Michigan Avenue, in Lansing.

REGISTRATION CLOSES 6/1. SIGN UP NOW: Conscious + Fit

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movement as meditation: learning to walk in peace (when sitting is not an option)

walking is always, always a good choice.
we were built to walk.
every location of every muscle and every shape of every bone
offers perfection in walking…
our bodies want to walk.
and with the body as in life,
we will find that what attracts us is in our own best interest.

~joy colangelo

It’s walk where you are 3been almost 15 years since I discovered that walking meditation was actually a thing! It happened quite spontaneously through the normal course of my day, trooping around New York City.

One moment I was mapping out errands and very likely puzzling out the “issue-of-the-day” related to grad school, work or relationships; and the next: I could only hear the sound of my breath and the rhythm of my boots on the pavement.

Everything else dropped away. The cacophony of the bustling neighborhood became a low humming in the background — alerting me of my surroundings but no longer as intrusive or overwhelming as it could be.

In the midst of the relentless “madness,” I felt surprisingly centered, clear and relaxed!

But it would still be years before I even stumbled across mention of walking (along with standing, lying down, and, of course the most commonly-known posture, sitting) as a form of meditation. “Ahhhh,” I thought. “So that’s what was happening?!”

Many moons later, I was introduced to the formal practice of walking meditation when I began studying the dharma with my root sangha. Those 20 minutes that we devoted to silently circumambulating the temple helped us transition from the hustle of the day into the quiet refuge of practice. Physically, it also helped to ease tension and to pbig sky mind.constellation2repare us to sit steadily in meditation for 20 minutes.

Beyond the temple walls, I’ve enjoyed walking meditation in yoga studios, at a labyrinth, on a park trail….and lately: around the rug in my living room!

So walk where you are to invite mindfulness and cultivate peace.