I’ve been a long distance runner for two decades, and I’m currently training for a marathon. I’m not fast, but I love it. I plod out miles, one foot in front of the other, adding race medals to my collection.
I recently spent some time with a physiotherapist for some knee pain I was having. We worked to reduce the pain and inflammation through dry needling (a form of acupuncture) and exercises to address muscle imbalances. But things still weren’t coming right.
So she suggested we go for a run so she could view how I was running. I thought it was silly at first. I mean, I just run…? It’s one of the most simple exercises and there’s not a lot of variation in how you can run, right?
Turns out I was wrong.
After returning from a trot up and down the field she looked at me and said, ‘honey, you are running wrong!’.
Observing my disbelief, and – if I’m honest – my defiance, she asked me to run again but this time, to pay attention.
‘Pay attention to how your arms are moving’, she said.
So I did. I ran, and I noticed.
Oh my goodness. She was right. While my left arm swung easily at my side my right one was much stiffer and barely moved.
She explained the impact this rigidity and imbalance were having on my whole body, and eventually on the ligaments and muscles around my knee.
This was it. My knee pain didn’t have much to do with my knee at all. And it had everything to do with my arms and my running style. In essence, it was a holistic approach that uncovered the connectedness of all my limbs, joints and muscles. And I didn’t see it until I paid attention.
And thus began the lesson that running taught me about living.
Learning to pay attention
When something isn’t right in life, when things are off kilter or out of balance, it helps to just pay attention.
It sounds perfectly logical and something that we would do anyway. But think for a moment. When was the last time you sat still and actually pondered your life? Gave it a kind of assessment?
I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier (and feels safer) for me to keep the status quo. And even when things aren’t going great it feels too hard to change so I just plod on.
Although I run a lot I am a ‘lazy’ runner. I just go out and run. There’s not a lot of stretching, and I’m not the best patient when it comes to following through with exercises from the physiotherapist.
But my body can’t sustain 40+ miles a week without some extra care. If I want to run this marathon and stay injury-free I have to invest in extra things to get me over the start line. Drills that focus on arm movement, sports massages, and lots and lots of stretching.
And I have to learn to pay deep attention to my body when I’m running.
It’s exactly the same in life.
If I want to achieve anything and live in alignment to my purpose in life, I have to start paying attention.
The status quo won’t do, particularly when things aren’t quite right.
Swap the quick fix for an ‘attention session’
Recently I found I wasn’t sleeping well and had begun to mindlessly take the odd pharmaceutical to help me. I just wanted to sleep and wasn’t too concerned about how I got it. I just wanted a quick fix.
But as the odd sleeping pill turned into one or two a week I felt ‘off kilter’. So one morning I sat with this feeling and began brainstorming what might be going on. Nothing fancy, just some stillness and what I’ve come to call an ‘attention session’.
It turns out I had slipped back into old habits of screen time in bed at night. Any medical professional will tell you this is about the worst sleep hygiene you can practice.
So I ditched the phone and read a book until falling asleep instead. Almost instant improvement.
I probably wouldn’t have figured it out unless I’d sat down and really noticed what was going on.
Paying deep attention isn’t hard to do, but it isn’t something we are used to doing. We live in a fast-paced world where everything is instant, on overdrive and multitasked. Our culture doesn’t allow us the time to really pay attention.
And yet this is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself.
If I’d kept running without paying attention I could have injured myself really badly, and likely not have made it to the marathon start line. If I’d kept my sleeping pill habit it could’ve turned into an addiction.
But instead, I noticed. I listened to what my body was trying to tell me and adjusted accordingly. When I felt ‘off kilter’ I applied a holistic approach – because everything is connected.
What is it that you need to pay attention to today? Maybe you need to take five minutes to sit and notice.
And just maybe a regular practice of paying attention will help you avoid injury, or stress, and help restore balance.
About the Author: Emma Scheib is a mom, writer, and lover of all things slow and simple. Her blog, Simple Slow Lovely, helps people live a slower, simpler, and intentional life, based on their values. Connect with her on Facebook.