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Running Therapy

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I have feet that bear the scars of a ballet dancer. From the ages of three to seventeen, I spent hours on end at the dance studio. My body is still accustomed to motion. It craves it. I require movement…it’s almost as if a little piece of me dies when I am not moving.  Later in my life, running replaced dancing.

When I first started running with friends, I recall my internal voice screaming,  “Stop, or you may just die!”

Suffering through my side stitches, huffing and puffing, my seasoned running friends encouraged me by taking my mind off my desire to walk or give up by distracting me with silly conversation and laughter. They chatted, and I concentrated on being able to breathe. Before I knew it, I was running three, then five hilly miles at a shot, and eventually outrunning those very friends. The one friend who got me started with running accused me of leaving her in the dust.

Running became my solitary sport, but I didn’t mind that at all. I rapidly realized it helped me put my life in perspective, because when I was out there on the trail, I was with nature, my music, and nothing but my own thoughts. It became my time to think and process life. It became my personal therapy. Things that wouldn’t make sense pre-run would suddenly have clarity post-run. I am still not sure of the cause of this. It’s like meditation to me—the endorphins, nature, movement, the music, the blood flow to my brain I guess—enabling me to see things more clearly and to think creatively about issues, goals or problems.

Running has been my solace many times in my life. Sometimes I was running away from things, needing space and time to make important decisions. Other times I was running toward goals, and using it for emotional and physical fuel. Running also allows me to challenge myself physically and push my personal limits. It has taught me that my mind is far more powerful than my body. Following a severe ACL injury and replacement resulting from a ski accident, running literally motivated me to get back on my feet again and run my first half marathon in my hometown of Philadelphia. Then, once again, one year later after another reparative knee surgery, I signed up for the even more challenging Big Sur Half Marathon in California. Through these traumas, I became a firm believer that human will is far stronger than the body, and I quickly learned that my body would rise to whatever my mind set as a goal. Running became far more to me than just a sport or a workout. It allowed me to experience the power of intention and the strength that lies deep within each of us. Now I apply this principle to every area of my life and this knowledge is both a valuable revelation and a gift in my life.

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At times, running helped me run through difficult emotions, allowing me to feel them in private. Running is cathartic for me.  There is something about the motion of running that has helped me move through pain without getting stuck. How could you get stuck when you are physically moving through space? Running gives me no choice but to move forward through my emotions mentally—not around, not over—but through. A tear streaming down my face mid-run just blends in with the sweat, and an angry expression passes for determination so nobody notices. Running has made me physically and mentally stronger.

You may ask… how does this all relate to healthy relationships? It absolutely does…without question. We all need an outlet, something we can plug into that literally juices us up and allows a release. Life can be confusing, bewildering, difficult, and even exhausting sometimes. Everyone needs something healthy they can turn to for reflection, relief, and comfort outside of their relationship. Honestly, my belief is that everyone needs something to connect to outside of themselves—almost a vacation from life to just be alone. Running has been my conduit for introspection.

As a therapist, there are times in my life that, even with my training, I cannot see my relationships as I would for my clients. It’s almost as if my education and experience are suspended when I try to conceptualize a problem or issue in my own relationships at times. When I run, I am present. I can see through to my own wisdom. I am in the moment. I hear my internal voice loud and clear, and I can honor it. I can brush away the cobwebs and see what I need to see. I challenge you to ask yourself… what is it that does this for you?

If you don’t have a healthy form of relaxation or connection with yourself, I encourage you to find one. Explore options that seem interesting to you. Hike. Exercise. Read. Write. Fish. Travel. Paint. Join a club. Learn a skill. Reach out of your ordinary life to discover your peace. If you better the relationship with yourself, it will only improve your relationship with your partner. It is definitely a win-win scenario. A healthy relationship with yourself is imperative to a healthy relationship with others—be it friendship, family or lover.

The soft light of the late afternoon falls over a beautiful beach in Malibu where I am fortunate to be running. I love this time of day on the beach, right before the sun sets and everything seems to sparkle like glitter. I have one ear pod out and one in so I can hear both my favorite music and the sounds of the waves crashing onto shore. In this particular moment, all I am thinking of is gratitude: for my healthy body that has healed and once again carries me, for the many blessings in my life, for the gift of sharing my message as a writer, for all the people I love in my life and who love me. I am smiling and running into the sunset like it is a beacon—and it truly is for me. I am grateful for the gift that running has given me…. so many positive things that reverberate in my relationship and make me a better person, friend, wife and mother. Now that is something to run towards.