Mindfulness Meditation

I've been meaning to write this since August last year. Eeek!

When people ask me why I run so much my canned response is usually,

"I have a lot of emotional issues."

We all do.

It took some time, and expert advice, for me to really grasp that all human interaction is shadowed by an intense web of complications that stem from our biology and past experiences. I certainly have failings in my emotional intelligence which contribute to my desire for solace and disconnection. Which isn't always healthy. Running to cleanse negative thoughts with endorphines is often akin to running from your problems. Rarely do I reach resolution for my mental churnings while on the lamb. It can help immensely to sort through them a bit but in the end they still weigh on me.

The most frustrating aspect I've found with all of this is the difference between being able to understand things at an intellectual level and being able to actively employ emotional regulation. I'd like to think I can push myself hard to do things my body is not really willing to do. That is what we do as endurance athletes. We override normal regulators, fatigue and mental resistance, to get after something. Run 30 miles after throwing up for a few hours at mile 70 in a race? Sure. Not over react when someone tells you a truth about yourself? Errmm... How about come down from negative thoughts about a loved one?

Talking about things with a trained professional certainly does help. The stigma with mental health in this country is staggering. The tide will turn and hopefully children will get much more than history and math in school. They'll learn to be better emotional regulators and interact with each other with more compassion.

Mental therapy felt a lot like physical therapy in terms of helpfulness. It was a good learning experience but I wanted things I could do to practice and train on my own. From physical therapy I learned self massage and some stretching techniques that I could employ myself. A popular tool in psychology is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It basically breaks down to thinking about why you did things. What happened? How did it make you feel? How did that dictate how you acted?

This hits at one of the biggest cruxes of my shortcomings. I was severely disconnected with how things made me feel. I'd often struggle to describe what I was feeling. Humorously I had to use a sheet with common emotion words on them to put to paper what was going on inside me. It's hard! Try it sometime.

Just last year I was able to take a tiny step towards working on this through mindfulness meditation. Now, I'm not the most holistic person. Prior to this year I thought meditation was all about relaxation and candles and zen moments. A book by a neuropsychologist introduced me to a different style of meditation (Rewire Your Brain for Love - http://amzn.com/1401942555). In its different exercises it teaches a person to perform repetitions of clearing your mind and concentrating on something specific like the sound of your own breath. The human mind will always fight to push thoughts into the forefront, and that is fine, the practitioner gently pushes the thoughts away and regains focus. Repetitions, training, I dug it! It even has some peered reviewed publications behind it that enforce a physiological change in individuals using it in their daily lives.

Remember when you were a child and you'd know your mom was angry just by the way she closed the door when coming home from work or put her stuff down? It could have an instant effect on how you felt. Primordial stirrings of being hunted in the wild. We're intimately in tune with each others feelings and it is difficult to curb our immediate reactions by letting our intellectual brain interact with the emotional brain. These meditation techniques aim to improve the communication of the different aspects of the brain and allow you to react and handle situations better. In turn this will help you be a better emotional partner for yourself.

Interactions will never be entirely clean. People screw up. A lot. But the hope is someday I won't feel like a boat without a captain. I'll actually understand more about what is going on inside my own head and why I do the things I do. I'll be able to understand and communicate my emotions instead of being at their mercy. If nothing else, it would save me money on running shoes.

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