“Everything heals. Your body heals. Your heart heals. The mind heals. Wounds heal. Your soul repairs itself. Your happiness is always going to come back. Bad times don’t last.” –unknown
I believe in balance, and I often think of myself as a person who can “do both things”. For example, I want to be an invested and reliable employee, but I want to make sure I leave room in my schedule for non-work-related activities. I want to be a good friend and family member, but I don’t want to practice improper boundaries and spread myself too thin. I want to have a healthy body, but I also want to indulge here and there. I want to improve my movement practices, but I don’t want to hurt.
I don’t mean that I never want to find my edge, or that I’m afraid of a blister or sore muscle. In fact, I revel in a physical reminder that I’ve made my body work hard, but I don’t want to hurt.
Reading Hell-Bent this month allowed me to explore this kind of balance between improving my movement practice and avoiding actual pain. At first, I was interested in the surreal kind of pain associated with Bikram yoga and particularly back-bending. I wanted to know more about pushing past the first few phases of pain in order to transcend into some kind of altered state reserved for only the strongest of mind and body.
Despite setting a new running goal recently (a 10k), I’ve been in an enormous running rut, so I thought I would take my newfangled strength of mind and set out to break through some pain barriers. I would run and push past the physical sensation of pain in hopes of finding a secret pleasure that I’d never before worked hard enough to feel. No walking, no breaks, no water.
No thank you.
Maybe I’m weak-minded. Maybe I’ll never reach a “full” runner’s high, or run so hard I hallucinate. Maybe I’ll never join the secret society of “real” runners, with their 4am runs, nutrition gels, and “26.2” stickers plastered on their back windshield. Maybe none of that really appeals to me, and maybe none of that really matters.
What does matter to me are the few things I hold true and sacred about my running. I know that I love the feeling of running, and the feelings associated with having run. I love the speed, the wind in my hair, the primitive feeling of moving. I love the wrung out, tired body and oxygenated brain-feeling that comes after a run.
I know that running with my dog is a special bond that he and I share with each other, an unspoken communication. In these moments, we are two wild beings using motion to find understanding of the other’s world.
I know that I started running as a way to quiet the hurtful thoughts that would haunt me on our evening walks. When I walked, often for several miles, I would remember thoughts of recent events that I wanted to forget. I couldn’t get away from negative self-talk. I cried a lot, and more often felt angry. When I ran, I had to think about things like managing dog leashes, breathing, running form, and not falling over. If a pitiful thought seeped through, I could easily push it aside. It’s hard to feel sad for yourself when you can’t breathe. If I somehow mustered strength to feel angry, I could channel it to run a little more.
I know that in those moments of motion, I found healing. I learned that, with time, patience and kindness to it, my body will adjust to the demands I place on it. I found that pain and soreness will pass, and when it does my body will be stronger for having experienced the pain. Is my mind not a part of my body? I learned that my mind, too, could find healing and become stronger for having gone through pain.
These days I run for fun and fresh air and fitness, but it wasn’t so long ago that I ran for physical exhaustion and maybe even pain. So, while I’ll neither be training for an ultra-marathon nor joining any back-bending clubs, I’m glad that I am able to identify one more revenue of balance in my life.