18 May 2011

The Zen of Naked Running

It's anti multi-tasking. When I go to the local YMCA and board the tread mill, I do so sans IPod or newspaper and with the TV screen on the off position. I just run.

I realize this sounds strange, but sometimes I like to do just one thing at a time. Like meditating. I don't check my email, listen to music or run errands, I just meditate.

We have a lot of options today. It is possible to be on the computer with two, three windows open at a time and have the TV on and be talking on the phone too. People today text while doing pretty much anything. People are busy and have no patience with just walking or talking or listening or washing or reading or running. Someone, I'm sure, would like to figure out how to get something else done while sleeping.

This can't be healthy.

You notice how when you get to sporting events there's always something going on during any stop in play? At a hockey game the second the whistle blows rock music blares over the PA system. Between innings at baseball games there are all manner of visuals and sounds emanating from the gigantic scoreboard. There's contests, kiss cams, blooper reels, sing-alongs. We can't just sit and talk or contemplate. Our senses need to be occupied at all times. Who decided this? Does some Big Brother not want us to engage with each other?

Not long ago if you arrived early to a movie theater you could sit and chat with your companion or, if alone, read. Now many theaters have adds running continuously, some even disguised as informational programming.

Young people today have a very difficult time focusing (ask any school teacher). A discussion on one topic is not stimulating enough. Teachers have to integrate modern technology into their lessons to keep young minds from drifting and trouble from brewing. Movies for young people are geared to shorter than ever attention spans. Scenes are short and action is quick. Emphasis is on visuals with the story line and dialogue merely an accompaniment.

Could it be this makes us less mindful? Less sensitive? Less able to really listen to one another and to express ideas? Surely with information and images so readily and quickly accessible, people are far less patient. Minds can't sit still.

Yesterday when I was on the treadmill the guy next to me had the TV on (what genius decided people needed something else to do while exercising?) he was watching the screen but listening to music from his IPod. He didn't seem to be working up a sweat. I only noticed him once I got on my machine. Then I ran. And thought. I thought about everything and nothing. I also became aware of my running. As a seeming paradox to this I soon was oblivious to my running, I was just doing it. About nine minutes in I began to sweat. At various times I was aware of different parts of my body. Sometimes because of a momentary ache or pain. I felt a side ache for a time. Then didn't. I grew quite tired and drenched in sweat. It was wonderful. I was my running.

After 35 minutes I was done. I took a short stroll around the gym to catch my breath then returned to the treadmill and ran another ten minutes. It was the same sort of feeling one gets from jumping back into the swimming pool after having been out for a few minutes.

I used to get a lovely jolt of post exercise endorphins that was a true natural high. Now I get that and a feeling of invincibility, like I've just bathed in the fountain of youth. I can't imagine sullying the whole experience with some sort of external stimuli.

Recently at the ballpark I had a nice long chat about running with my good buddy Paul who is one of the country's top senior runners. As a life long runner he also runs old school. In fact he asserts that music pumping into your ears and perforce your brain is not good for your body as it cuts of message being sent from body to brain. Paul also extols the benefits of, shall we say, natural running, to the mind and spirit. I actually don't think of Paul as a runner as if it were something he did on the side. It would be like thinking of him as someone with two ears. He is his running. I am sometime. He has melded mind, spirit and motion into his being. You can't do that while reading the box scores or updating your facebook page.

Oldest daughter has a friend who runs ten miles every other day and claims that she can't run without music. There is, of course, a difference between can't and won't. Anthropologists have uncovered evidence of ancient civilizations where people ran in the times before portable music even existed. (True many an ancient Greek runner would be accompanied on marathons by a flautist who would run along side him playing directly into said runner's ear. But not everyone could afford that.)

I realize that my little diatribe will have somewhere between little and no influence on readers who currently exercise the new fashioned way. But I would urge people to consider conducting as many of their more enjoyable affairs single mindedly. Sure if you're doing unpleasant chores or, God forbid, work, you might be trying to kill two birds with one stone. But when engaging in a pleasurable activity such as listening to music, recreational reading or running, staying focused and appreciating that moment can be highly beneficial. Actually hear the different notes in the song. Appreciate how the author constructed sentences. Feel your body pushing itself and reaching new levels of endurance.

It's good for you.


Tudor Queen said...

Riku, you would have liked my late mother. She was utterly bewildered by the way people were always plugged in to their iPods, cell phones, etc. "Why can't people just walk where they're going, do what they're doing, and be aware of the world around them?" She loved people watching, loved nature, and was invariably fully present in the moment.

I have all the above referenced electronic media, but sometimes I leave it all at home so that I, like my mother, can be present. Thanks for reminding me of her wisdom

Richard Hourula said...

You're welcome. I have an IPod as well and sometimes I use it on the bus as white noise so I can read, but for the most part I use it solely to listen.