Om Shanti

It's not always to the swift.
It's not always to the swift.

Over on the Dailymile web site, user Jim W. asks,

Do you use a running mantra? If so, and you care to share, please post and tell us What? Why? When? and How? you use it.

This is a terrific question touching on one of my favorite facets of running-the mind/body link. Running is no doubt an intensely physical act. We feel the impact of every foot fall; the thudding of our hearts beating faster; and the burn as we move air in and out of our lungs. There are blisters, shin splints, IT band issues, and the occasional fracture as well as GI tract problems and dehydration. But running is not all hamstring pain and plantar fasciitis. On the positive side of the ledger there’s weight loss, an increase in muscle mass, and improved cardiovascular health.

When I started out as a runner, it’s these physical aspects of the sport on which I focused. But I soon learned how important it was to engage my mind as I ran to “trick myself” into sticking with running and pushing myself to run farther. One of the ways I do this is to use little running mantras to keep my mind occupied and keep my body moving. But what have I been telling myself all this time? Jim’s question prompted me to examine my inner voice, and in doing so I found my mantras fit into two categories-technical and motivational.

I use the technical mantras to try and maintain proper running form. I remind myself to breathe properly with “big breath…into the belly”; posture reminders include, “head up…head up…head up” and “head over feet…head over feet”; and there’s always the general, “relax…relax…relax”, which I should learn to follow up with, “enjoy!…enjoy!…enjoy!” And, since I sometimes find myself hitting the ground flat due to some discomfort, I say to myself, “heel toe…heel toe”. I also call to mind running tips I’ve picked up when I encounter specific situations. For example, there are lots of hills to run up and over here in San Francisco , and I find myself repeating some of Bernard Lagat’s advice when I start up one of these slopes, “stand up straight, shorten your stride, keep your arms pumping”. I say that over and over, and soon I’ve crested the hill ready for what’s next.

Then there are the motivational mantras. I get a chuckle repeating, “I am a machine…I am a machine” a favorite of Haruki Murakami’s I gleaned from his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I also internalized something I heard an elite runner say when he acknowledged, “running is not fun while you’re doing it”, a phrase I now use to get me through awkward patches. Toward the end of a long run when I feel my energy fading and the muscles in my legs are rebelling there are the traditional chants of, “keep going…keep going…keep going” and “you can do this…you can do this”.

Outside of these repeated phrases I have two favorite motivational mantras, which have helped me many times when I’ve wanted to quit and give up. The first is to remember, “This is the thing you’re doing today.” I’ve found this mantra especially powerful because it reminds me to focus on running and not think about what else I’ve got going on that day. If I start to think about doing the laundry, or cleaning the house, or any number of mundane but important chores, I find I begin to pick up the pace and start to rush through my run to get on to doing other things. Instead of “running my race” I get distracted and my breathing and form begin to break down as my anxiety to get things done grows. Telling myself that running is “the thing I’m doing today” brings me back into balance and focuses my mind on the road before me.

I’ve been asked, “What do you think about when you’re running?” The short answer is, “I try not to think about anything, especially what I’m doing!” The longer answer involves invoking these mantras at various points on the paths I take so I can get to the finish, rest up, and start out again. And the second of my two favorite mantras?

“You can’t brag about it if you didn’t do it.”

Leave a comment about what goes through your mind.

flickr photo by g.rohs

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2 thoughts on “Om Shanti

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