Truly we feel best when we feel a unity of purpose in our activities. This is not different with running. We feel like we are clicking. Many times I’ve heard a runner say, “it turned over” or “I got in a groove” or “everything felt connected”. These experience are associated with a runners high. We have gone from our day job to the road for an end of day run and boom. Perhaps in some way our day didn’t fulfill some, perhaps vague, deeper need. Our run has transformed us and we go into evening feeling refreshed, relaxed, renewed, cohered, and unified. The simple act of running has delivered a gift. It wasn’t mental, it wasn’t practical, it wasn’t expected, it just was. We deferred to our body, which in its primary motions has a unity of purpose and action. Even when our bodies have been held in questionable, static, and unnatural positions for a number of hours, it bounces back. We feel looser, lighter, more fluid, all of which have a vitalizing and rejuvenating effect on our spirit.
The body has it’s own unity of purpose even in the shadow of disunity that may be obvious in our posture and our daily movement habits and patterns. Take that out on the road and the power of the primal activity of running, which played such a huge role in our childhood and in our collective past history as hunter-gatherers might, at any given time, override any emotional stress or unavoidable lifestyle insults, and yield a joyful result.
What unity of purpose means to the body is simply defined as all the systems and muscles of the body working in concert to accomplish a task. It is a principle of the body that is akin to the “absence of unnecessary effort”. All muscles and all parts of the body are contributing to the task at hand. Nothing is overworking. Nothing is working at cross-purposes.
Cross-purposes are the as ways we work against ourselves and gravity. These tensions we carry have an effect on our running form that disrupts the flow of the unified body.
Here we have something to learn from the study of the body and how it functions. Every part plays its role, all parts are important and necessary to the health of the whole body. Every level and every part, has an effect on every other level and part. We can get ourselves incredibly twisted up energetically and physically and either of these can twist up the other. A perfect example of this could be getting all tied up in a deadline at work, sitting contracted at your computer for eight hours stressing the whole time. Walking out of the office exhausted and tight at best, or angry, depressed, exhausted, and backed up into the red zone at worst. Then you go out for a run and your body, which has been contracted and bearing the brunt of the lifestyle and emotional stress of your day, bounces back first because of it’s natural resiliency, celebrating its own unity of purpose, and carries the whole of you with it.
I’m not trained in yoga, but it’s easy to see that Running is Yoga in this regard. In a very general sense, the root of the word means union. But it also is the practice/ science/art of finding that. So as much as running is a basic natural activity, and any of us no matter what our level of competence, can have that experience. With a little practice we can make that experience a more profound and predictable part of our lives. We can cultivate the aspects of The Runner’s High that we have some control over.
Running form is a big aspect of this and includes things that we can work on such as; getting relaxed, getting aligned, stable where we need stability and mobile where we need to be mobile, getting the right relationship to gravity and ground reaction, getting the chest and breath open and balanced. Getting all of this right ensures a fluid and effortless ride. These are fundamental skills that define the anatomical side of a transcendent running experience.
The other important area is the mind and how we focus our attention. Again, this is an area over which have control and can develop skills through practice. Taking the focus off ourselves and into the larger field of activity and what’s around us. The short list includes focusing on; nature and the environment; fellow runners and enjoying their positive experiences; on your breath and own rhythm, force, and power. At the end of each run, pause for a moment and allow yourself to take in the accomplishment.
All these efforts help propel us into a larger field of activity that is happening all around us, a more comprehensive unity of purpose that we find ourselves part of. The absolute beauty here is that the simple act of running will help you jump the gap. Any efforts we make while running to get relaxed and balanced is like cleaning a synaptic gap so that nerve signals can transmit across more easily.
How could a post on Runner’s High not include some reference to endorphins. Recently there has been conclusive evidence that endorphins do play a role in the reduction of pain and to some degree produce mild euphoria. I say, “Great”, add the cultivation of positive physical and mental running skills, habits, and rituals on top of the endorphin release and you’ve got the formula for some awesome running! Have at it!