Anxiety, anger, fearfulness, depression — there are many forms of emotional turmoil that get us down, and just as many forms of therapy to try and help. Some just aren’t effective: after a few sessions on the couch, the problems return. That’s one reason 18.1 million of American adults are afflicted with anxiety today, and why the U.S. is among the most depressed countries in the world.
But there’s a highly effective new way to leave our blues behind, called Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT). It combines moving and mindfulness, harnessing the freeing energy of exercise and the healing power of self-awareness.
DRT isn’t just for fitness-minded: We don’t even have to run to do it. The combination of thought exercises and moving can be done at a walk or a run — whatever works for each person. As we move, there are plenty of chances to reflect and see how far we’ve come. The sense of accomplishment brings with it a newfound energy and confidence, and that, in turn, builds the strength to keep moving — farther and farther away from emotional pain.
Here are five key steps to get moving, get mindful, and lift yourself out of low moods, depression, anxiety and stress:
• Make room for your feelings. As you move, you will reconnect with feelings you may have hidden deep down. That sensation of “emotion in motion” can be very powerful. So prepare yourself to welcome these feelings, and become aware of them as you move. That way you’ll be able to understand them and more easily process them as they emerge.
• Work at your own pace. It’s not important whether you run or walk, but that you move. DRT can and should be adapted to whatever level of fitness you have. The key is simply to challenge yourself physically to some degree, some of the time. If you struggle with taking a half a mile walk, set that as your first pace. If you love to sprint, go for it. Your goal is to be moving enough to where the blood flows a little faster. And you don’t need to push yourself too hard, or to maintain the same pace throughout the whole session.
• Listen to your body. Mindful running isn’t complicated or particularly challenging. You are not actively changing anything — merely noticing the tone of your inner dialogue and meeting whatever you find there with acceptance and patience, letting it pass on by naturally. It is an open-ended practice, continuing until you decide to stop. As you begin your walk or run, pay attention to what your body is communicating, as well: is it slumped with the weight of the world, or is there a spring in your step?
• Be mindful of your movement. How you run or walk may indicate how you move in the wider world, such as in your relationships or work life. Are you quick to start but tire rapidly? Do you keep to a consistent pace but just can’t let go of it? Do you save it all for a sprint at the finish, and then forget the rest of the run that came before it? Part of mindful movement is understanding and learning what your moving style says about how you address the rest of your life.
• Don’t strive too hard. Mindful movement, whether it’s running or walking, is not like conventional exercise. It’s actually important to avoid working too hard. Don’t strive: it can create far more stress and anxiety. Don’t try to run your first or fastest four miles ever at the same time as you’re also trying to understand your feelings. The key is finding your pace, finding your footing, and finding yourself. It will happen on its own if you stay present.
Movement is a part our lives. It’s in our DNA, and it’s hardwired into our own behaviors. Returning to that essential state can help us overcome so many emotional hurdles. It gives us a physical context — a sense of truly passing through time and space — that makes it easier to shift our perspectives, raise our moods, and return to a place of hope, energy, and possibility. True healing requires both body and mind working in harmony, and that’s best achieved on the move.