- Our oldest and most innate behaviors: breathing and running.
Our oldest and most innate behaviors: breathing and running.
🤸♀️ Stretch 64
What you focus on expands.
Have you thought about what you want to focus on this year?
As I wrote in my last newsletter, 2024 will be a year of convergence for me. Do less but do better. Fewer distractions, trips, books and podcasts. Double down on what works (often the simplest things!)
One way I’m planning on doing that is by prioritizing the powerful combo of breathing and running.
These are two of our oldest and most innate behaviors, impacting our energy levels, our moods, our focus, our sense of self, and our sense of connection to the world and people around us.
I know they work. I don’t need more information or convincing. I just need to build a simple and consistent practice, and stick with one approach for long enough to actually make a difference.
My “bibles” for this year: The Mind Illuminated for breath meditation and ChiRunning for running.
MY BREATH MEDITATION PLAN
10 minutes x 10 days ✔️
15 minutes x 15 days ✔️
20 minutes x 20 days …
25 minutes x 25 days
30 minutes x 30 days
35 minutes x 35 days
40 minutes x 40 days
45 minutes x 45 days
50 minutes x 50 days
55 minutes x 55 days
60 minutes x 60 days
It’ll take me over a year (385 days to be exact) to slowly increase my meditation sessions to 60 minutes per day.
I've been toying with the idea of hour-long sessions for SO LONG but keep putting it off. I feel an insane amount of friction at the idea of spending an hour seemingly "doing nothing."
The thing is: intellectually, I believe this is one of the best ways to spend my time. Plus, I'm curious about what could be on the other side of taking daily meditation seriously. I want to give my Future Self the gift of finding out.
So... new approach. The goal is to bypass my fearful, resistant mind by taking it super slow and easy.
My key motivation?
Training my mind to focus and to quiet my thoughts.
I struggle with this on a daily basis and I’m convinced that improving these skills will be key to living the most interesting and joyful life possible.
Our brains are not fixed. They’re remarkably responsive to experience, which means they can get better at things. There’s a ton of scientific evidence showing we can train our brain to get better at focus. And one of the best ways to do that is through… meditation. Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at “meditating”, but at a wide range of skills, like attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness.
And that’s not just a psychological effect.
The studies show there are physical, structural changes happening in the brain:
Increased neural connections between regions important for staying focused, ignoring distractions and controlling impulses
More gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness
Even with just 5-10 minutes of meditation per day over the past 2 years, I've noticed a difference in myself. I am more aware of my thoughts so I catch myself quicker when thinking something negative, judging someone/something, or worrying. I don’t get stuck anymore in these weird moods without understanding why.
I want to see what can happen if I make meditation a daily priority for an entire year.
Breath meditation, also known as mindfulness meditation, is a practice that involves focusing your attention on your breath. I focus specifically on breathing light, slow, deep and through the nose.
The idea is simple:
By training your mind to focus on one thing (your breath) and gently bringing your attention back whenever it wanders, you are effectively training your brain to be less susceptible to distractions.
By the way, I’m now officially a certified Oxygen Advantage Functional Breathing Instructor (quite the mouthful, I know), so if you’re interested in learning more about this practice, let’s chat!
Book: The Mind Illuminated
I’ve dusted off a book called The Mind Illuminated, an incredible 10-stage meditation handbook written by a neuroscientist turned meditation master.
Don’t be turned off by the name or the cover! It’s incredibly practical and neuroscience-focused, and talks a lot about how to improve our focus, attention and awareness.
I’ll make another attempt at slowly making my way through the 10 stages throughout the year.
I use the habit tracker app Done to keep track of my sessions. I’m currently in the 20 minutes stage. Once I hit 45, I move to the 25 minute sessions for 25 days and update the tracker.
My Done habit tracker
I like this playful gamification element to (hopefully) keep things a bit more interesting once the novelty of my new plan wears off.
I do give myself a teeny tiny bit of flexibility. I can miss a day, but then I need to do a double session the following day. If I miss that, I need to start over from scratch. Plus, I can only miss once.
MY RUNNING PLAN
Aim for minimum 3 runs per week, focusing on slow, nasal breathing and duration only (rather than distance or pace)
Participate in 1 race or trail run per month (no specific goals, just for the fun energy)
Be an active member of the Lisbon running club
Always run without earphones
Pliability app or yoga on the non-running days
My key motivation?
Accessing the full range of emotional, mental and physical benefits that come from moving your body.
I’ve been running since my early twenties but in a very inconsistent, unstructured and uneducated way. I was also stuck in this cycle of training for a random race, struggling with shin splints, “resting” for a few months and then back at it again. I liked running but saw it as purely a physical activity.
It’s clear that our entire physiology is engineered to reward us for moving.
We don’t just look better. We feel, think, create, decide and sleep better.
And so I want to use these hardwired mechanisms to the fullest. Instead of looking for external tools and solutions, I can just rely on my own body. No need to complicate things. Just move, every day.
Every single time I'm amazed by the difference between weeks where I run and weeks where I don’t run.
I’m noticeably happier, more creative and more outgoing. I find myself making decisions more quickly, and there's a strong and energetic urge to be involved, to organise, to reach out. There's less shyness and less overthinking.
As ultrarunner Adharanand Finn says, “It may only be chemicals shooting around in your brain, but after a long run, everything seems right in the world.”
I’ve completely shifted my approach and mindset thanks to a book called ChiRunning—a running style developed in 1999 using principles from t’ai chi, yoga and breathwork.
It’s kinda oldschool (just take a look at the website and you’ll see what I mean) but it’s exactly what I needed.
Using this book as my guide, I’m re-building my running practice from scratch—both in running style and mindset.
My favorite part about the book are the four “chi-skills”:
Focusing Your Mind
Breathing: Tapping Into Your Chi
Relaxation: The Path of Least Resistance
It might be too soon to say and we’ll see what happens as I start going for longer runs but so far, by using the book’s techniques… no more shin splints.
Just like with the meditation plan, I’ll make my way slowly through the ChiRunning book, take the time to do the exercises, experiment with my runs share my notes here along the way.
P.S. I recently went on a podcast called Running On Purpose to talk about my running journey, my fascination with the nervous system, the importance of breathing for runners, etc. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
Aaaand that’s a wrap. 🌯 Did any of this spark an interest in building a meditation and/or running practice? Let me know in the comments or just hit reply to this email.