I used to be a runner, or at least that is what I called myself. For about a decade of my life, I ran most days of the week. At first it began as a way to stay fit while in college. I used to play sports in high school which kept me active. However, in college, between studies and a part-time job, I couldn’t afford to be involved in sports. I needed a cheap and easy way to stay in shape, so I picked up running. I could do it anywhere, anytime, and all I needed was a pair of running shoes. It was perfect for the poor college student.
Initially, it was hard. I ran seven minutes in one direction and then seven minutes back. Week by week, the distance gradually grew longer, and it felt good. Running was a personal escape from reality and my ever racing mind. It was meditative with my rhythmic breath. As the distance grew, I explored the trails and neighborhoods around me I otherwise would not have seen. I felt like a bounding deer jumping over rock and stone while winding my way around each bend. I even got to explore the streets of Barcelona in the early mornings. Everyone was still sleeping and the city was peaceful, a sight only few get to witness. Eventually I was running 4-8 miles most days of the week, with an occasional 10-12 mile long run on the weekend. I looked and felt healthy, emotionally and physically. It was a beautiful love affair.
However, as time went on, running became an unhealthy obsession. I had to run in order to feel good about myself. No longer was running an enjoyable way to move my body and explore the world around me. Instead running became a chore. If I didn't run, I felt guilty. If the run wasn't long enough or fast enough, I felt guilty. I always timed myself, and I always tracked the distance I ran. No longer was I running out of pure joy, nor was it brining me joy. I was chained to my own prison of fear.
Eventually I stopped, all because of a biking accident. I hurt my knee in a collision with a car door and could no longer run downhill without severe pain. A year later I completed physical therapy and was told not to run for 8 weeks. At first I was distraught. However, during this break I realized the relationship I had with running was hurting my mental and physical health. Who cared if I ran a 7 min mile or ran a half marathon?? NOBODY!! I wasn't a professional athlete. I was simply competing with myself. But why?? In the name of health? Because of my ego? Or the desire to keep my running figure? It was all a mess, and I was a mess. In those two months, I realized, I would be thankful if I could ever run again without pain, no matter the distance, no matter the speed.
Now five years later, I run, but only occasionally when the mood strikes. Instead I thoroughly enjoy walking, hiking, and simply being outdoors. My past self would feel aghast at my current exercise regimen. I have no structure, no routine, and I simply do what sounds good to me in the NOW. However, when the desire to run is strong, I choose to run NAKED. I leave my home with nothing, no phone, no watch, no music, nothing. I simply run to run undistracted by today’s technology and to be present in the NOW. I want to feel the fresh breeze on my skin, to breath rhythmically with my step, and to explore the nature around me. And perhaps not even think at all. I run at a pace that feels good, not rushed. And I stop, whenever I want to. Sometimes simply to rest on a sunny bench in the park, or to admire some flowers along the way.
In retrospect, the accident was a gift. It forced me to change an unhealthy pattern. Otherwise, I may still be stuck in the cycle of fear and guilt. Ultimately, I am healthier today (both mentally and physically) than I was then. My hope is that this essay may bring to light your relationship with exercise and movement. Do you move because you have to or should? Or do you move because you want to? And are you moving your body in a way that feels good and brings you joy? Or are you constantly pushing your limits? If you feel caught in a similar cycle, then I encourage you to honestly evaluate your relationship with exercise. Instead of letting numbers or unrealistic goals define you, opt for presence and kindness. Kindness to yourself and presence in your being. And always opt to move NAKED, free of devices that keep us from being present in the NOW. If you have been there or are there, you are not alone, we are not alone. Let’s run NAKED together!
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