The following entries (from beginning runner to half marathon finisher) represents a continuing journey of tremendous grief and sorrow, and of transformation - largely through the therapeutic power of running. The sorrow that has broken my heart open wide has in time allowed me to experience the beauty of being in the present moment. And of course, without the support of family and friends to guide me, I would not have made it this far.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. - Joseph Campbell
Researchers in Germany, using advances in neuroscience, report in the current issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex that the folk belief is true: Running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.
The data showed that endorphins were produced during running and attached themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions, in particular the limbic and prefrontal areas. These right brain areas are activated when people are involved in romantic love affairs or when you hear music that gives you a chill of euphoria, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The greater the euphoria the runners reported, the more endorphins in their brain. The right side of the brain is concerned with being, the left with doing.
I thought this information particularly interesting given the fact I have just trained for and completed my first half marathon. Besides the fact I was running the very same course my daughter Kristy had run for years, there was something else very life affirming about distance running. I had never run farther than 3 miles before training for this race. Now that I have I can honestly say there is something that happens when you run for 2 hours or more at a time. Something that does not happen (at least for me) when I run for shorter amounts of time. By letting my mind go into a state of meditation it also kept me from dwelling on Kristy's death and the sorrow that surrounded me.
When I finished the race yesterday I felt great. For about 3-4 hours after running I felt the best I can remember feeling - ever! My thoughts were filled with all things positive and hopeful. It wasn't until 6 hours later my body began to start hurting. And once it started hurting I was really in pain! My muscles started to stiffen, my joints ached and the euphoria faded away.
I slept last night for 12 hours! The euphoria has not returned but I really didn't expect it would. I truly believe I need to keep running now on a regular basis so I can retain this positive outlook. But there is another phenomena that happens when you run. It's the ability to meditate - when your consciousness idles and you slide into a integrated mental state of being. During this time left brain activity falls away and the right brain becomes dominant. To be sure, I have solved so many artistic problems (in my painting career) and written so many soulful poems during these times of meditation. Most of the time these thoughts are elusive. I can recall the mood but not the specifics of what I have been thinking when my run is finished.
"When people find it necessary to express in words an inner experience such as a dream, an emotion, or a complex feeling-state, they resort to a special form of speech called metaphor that is the right brain's unique contribution to the left brain's language capability. Metaphors allow one to leap across a chasm from one thought to the next. Metaphors have multiple levels of meaning that are perceived simultaneously. They supply a plasticity to language without which communication would often be less interesting, sometimes difficult, and occasionally impossible. The objective world can be described, measured, and catalogued with remarkable precision, but to communicate an emotion or feeling-state we employ metaphors.
The right brain is better than the left in perceiving space and making judgments as to balance, harmony, and the composition of gestalts, from which we make aesthetic distinctions between ugly and beautiful. Since the right hemisphere processes input instantaneously, it is the better side for appreciating dimensions and judging distances. Driving, skiing, and dancing are its province. The right brain's principal attributes concern being, images, holism, and music." The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain
No wonder things look so beautiful when I run!