Tuesday, 18 August 2015

On 15:08 by Victoria Stanham in ,    2 comments
Post originally published at www.joy4running.wordpress.com

Written by Victoria Stanham
Most of my non-running friends’ response to “Why don’t you run?” is something along the lines of, “I love the idea of running… I just hate the actual running itself.”
If we are all born with the necessary hardware and software for the task... why is running pleasurable only to a gifted few? Does it have to be this way? Can something be done about it?
I believe it can... and I have this great idea to share with you.
Just for clarity's sake, I’m not going to teach you how to go “from couch to 5k”, nor give advice on what shoes to buy, nor what training plan to follow, nor what to eat before a run. All these topics have already been exhaustively covered in other running-related blogs out there.
My focus here is not so much on the “externals” of running as in the “internals”. What you’ll get from me is ideas on how to manage your breath, body and mind so that they stop fighting each other and start cooperating during your runs.
What for?
Sheer running-bliss. No more, no less.
So what’s my running-mojo all about?
1.     Awareness and Use of Breath. Enjoyment of running is almost equivalent to your enjoyment of breathing. Do you enjoy breathing? Do you like how you breathe? Do you enjoy breathing even when your heart-rate speeds up? Or does it suddenly get all painful and out of control?
2.     Awareness and Use of Mental Processes.Out of control breath equals out of control mind… and vice-versa. Where does your mind wander off to when you run? Is this what your train of thought looks like? Most exhaustion is rooted in the out-of-control wandering mind; once you learn to bring it home to rest, more energy becomes available to you.
3.     Awareness and Use of Body Mechanics. The body is the resting place for both breath and mind. But, if pain and strain also reside there, you can’t blame breath and mind to try and go wandering somewhere else. To master the biomechanics of running, body awareness has to come first and excess effort must be let go.
Every complaint I’ve ever heard about running from would-be runners can be traced back to the downward spiral of a poor breathing pattern, fuelling an out-of-control mind, which engenders poor body-mechanics, which in turn hinders the breath, which exacerbates the mind, which tenses the body... ad infinitum.
The saddest part is we are not even aware that this is going on, we’re only aware of the discomfort and pain it causes to a specific part of us. So before you decide to tinker with your breathing pattern or your body-mechanics: STOP! You can’t change what you don’t know is there.
My first tip is this: Invest in heightening your awareness of body, mind and breath. Above all, become aware of how these 3 aspects are intimately related.
In future posts I’ll share some of the exercises that have helped me enhance my own awareness of these three areas and their interrelatedness. If you don't want to miss them, just register your email to receive notifications of new posts directly in your inbox.
Happy Running!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

On 17:50 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments
This blogpost was originally published in my running blog at www.joy4running.wordpress.com

It’s winter here in Uruguay, and it’s difficult to start (or keep up) a running routine. No matter how much I enjoy the actual running, and the post-running bliss, stepping out into the cold and the wind is not always the most tempting prospect.
This year, however, I managed to keep the winter blues at bay. These arte the 4 keys I used to stay on track:

1.     Having a Fixed Date with a Running Group and/or Running Buddies

Nothing beats keeping me on my toes than the support and encouragement of my new running group: Trotamundos Running Uruguay , and arranging runs with my sister. There’s something about keeping a commitment with someone else that makes getting out the door easier.

·         fixed days and times for runs means I don’t have to decide when to go out for a run (I like keeping superfluous decisions down to a minimum, they use up too much precious energy)
·         the camaraderie and fun energy of a group makes going out for a run more motivating, even when I’m tired

     2.     Registering for a Race

Joinging a running group means I have 3 fixed running dates a week. This doesn’t mean I don’t ‘skip’ training days anyways. Sometimes I’m tired after a long day of work, or I’m just too lazy. The best solution: registering for a race that’s a tiny bit challenging for me and that requires sticking to a training program. With my sister we’ve set our sights on a sponsored 7k run in a month and a half. I’ve gone a bit further and started courting the idea of running the Nike Half Marathon in two months. Perhaps that’s crazy, but it gives me enough motivation to lace up and step out.

·         extra motivation not to skip training days
·         that great feeling of building towards something, even if I don’t reach my goal
     3.     Having a Training Plan

I get bored if I always follow the same routine when I run. That’s why I like to have a varied training plan. This also avoids me having to decide what to do when I’m out running: it’s there on today’s plan.

·         keeping things interesting and moderately challenging
·         keeping the weight-loss benefits (it’s been proven that doing always the same run, at the same pace completely undermines weight-loss goals)
·         not having to think “what should I do today?”
      4.     Setting up for Success

There are thousands of little, simple things I can do to make it easier for me not to skip a run due to plain laziness.  The ones that work best for me are: a) leaving my running clothes ready to jump into (either by my bed for a morning run, or in a bag if I’m doing a post-work run), b) writing in my running dates in my agenda, so as to avoid scheduling other stuff at the same time, and c) training near my house, (this one I learned the hard way, after joining a club once that required a half hour commute to come and go).

·         elminating excuses and obstacles
·         prioritizing my runs over other activities

What are your keys to keep the motivation going?

Let me know in the comments below… I can always use more advice in this area.

Happy Running!

Monday, 3 August 2015

On 13:34 by Victoria Stanham in , , , ,    4 comments
This post was originally published in my new running and Alexander Technique blogsite, at www.joy4running.wordpress.com

Every time I took up running in the past it lasted me for no more than a month. My main reason for taking up this particular form of torture was fairly straightforward: I wanted to lose weight and I’d read that running burned far more calories than walking.

So, for a few weeks, I would drag myself onto the Rambla a couple of times a week for a 30 minute torture session of walk-run-walk. Although I enjoyed the post-workout feeling of accomplishment, I hated every minute of going through the actual ordeal of putting one foot in front of the other as I gasped for breath and ached all over. This needless suffering was the main reason I would start skipping sessions on any semi-justifiable excuse.

The more I skipped, the harder it was to break the inertia the next time. Eventually some silly injury or nagging pain would keep me off the road for a couple of weeks straight and that was the end of my running spree. The mere thought of having to build up my endurance once again until 20 continuous minutes of jogging didn’t feel like a death march was a sure motivation killer.

I decided running was not for me. When the running craze hit Uruguay I congratulated myself for not being one of those self-torturing crazies on the Rambla, with the pained expressions, heavy footfalls and heaving breaths.

I had also decided I didn’t need running. Having found Pilates (which made me fall head over heels in love with movement for the first time) and the Alexander Technique (which got me hooked into understanding and thus moving how nature intended) I considered my movement needs more than adequately met. And so it was for several years.

But the funny thing is that Pilates and Alexander Technique made me so comfortable in my own body they inched me ever closer to enjoying all the movement possibilities available to a human being… and running is just the natural evolution of walking.

So when my sister, who used to be a running-hater too, started training for and completed her first 5k race, I decided to give running another chance. To my pleasant and ecstatic surprise I didn’t hate it AT ALL, I actually LOVED it. My training in Pilates and Alexander Technique had made me an extremely efficient exerciser; I had more endurance than seemed possible for someone who’d shunned cardio for years. What’s even better, I discovered that even if I skipped a couple of weeks of running, I could jump right back on track without feeling I had lost much training.

Seeing that running comes so easily and joyfully for me now, my sister has asked me what the trick is. It’s not so much a trick but a set of organizing principles that allow body and mind to be better coordinated. This results in the ability to maintain good form and a deep breathing pattern even at times of great physical exertion. The best part is we’ve discovered these principles can be taught and learned fairly easily, so she’s improved her running too!

I’m writing this blog to document my approach to running, in the hopes that it can help you too. My sister will be the one keeping me real with what works and what doesn’t.  I’ll be sharing all my tips and secrets which meet her one basic criteria for a run: take no more than 30 minutes.

Please, if you are at all interested in enjoying running, leave a comment, ask a question, suggest a topic for investigation. If you tell me what’s keeping you from enjoying your runs, or what’s keeping you from running altogether, I’ll do my best to figure out a way to get you a step closer to lacing on your running shoes.

Happy Running!


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

On 15:33 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments

Nearly 10 years after finishing my university degree in theatre in the USA, I am putting myself once again through the 4-year-plus ordeal of acquiring a second degree, in a completely unrelated field, here in Uruguay (physiotherapy).

In that 10 year span I wasn’t idle either. From 2009 to 2011 I put myself through three years of Alexander Technique teacher training and got certified in Pilates Method.

Hence, I know a thing or two about being a student… and what it does to you. I am also prone to forget what I know if I don’t remind myself about it.

With that in mind, I am putting those nuggets of wisdom in writing. These are my 5 key reminders for psychophysical survival and enjoyment as a student. They have carried me through 15 years of studying in different countries and settings (both public and private), through different approaches to learning, in different group sizes and with widely varying resources. They count for both long training courses to short one-hour lessons, and everything in between.

1. Find your “deep why” to channel your energy and drive you on.
Your “deep why” is your dharma, your calling, that thing that sets your soul on fire. Being a student is tough, especially when you also juggle a working-life and family-life. When the going gets really hard it’s tempting to just call it quits. Your “deep why” will carry you through those rough patches.

2. Make peace with how things are to husband your energy and keep you sane.
Learning situations are never ideal; one or several factors are usually not up to standard. Be clear about what you want to get out of this learning situation, why you chose the institution, teacher, venue (or whatever), and use that clarity to separate the chaff from the straw. Once in the learning situation don’t waste energy in pursuits that don’t fulfill your deep why (like complaining that things are not ideal).

3. Know your habitual patterns to avoid wasting energy and losing track of your true goal.
We all have student-personas. Different learning scenarios (study groups, exams, one-on-ones, etc.) will trigger full psychophysical reactions and you might find yourself acting like a high-school adolescent all over again. Know yourself and be prepared to inhibit your desire to “be cool”, or "be perfect", (or whatever) and direct your energy towards actions that truly fulfill your deep why.

4. Empty your glass that you might taste your teacher’s wine.
If you’ve been around for a while you’re probably already full of your own ideas about how things are (or should be). But if you’re so full of your own wine, you’ll never get a taste of your neighbour’s. So, regardless of how much you think you know about the subject, don’t fight the teacher (unless, of course, they are directly attacking you). After all, it’s you who chose to learn from them. So be humble and listen to their point of view. Try to understand what frame of thought they come from, why and how it works when it works, and how it relates to your way of thinking about it.

5. Involve yourself psychophysically that you might make your own synthesis.
Learning is simultaneously a sensual, emotional, social and mental pursuit. To get the most out of your learning bring your whole self into the matter, immerse yourself psychophysically and socially. And after full immersion take time to create your own synthesis, force yourself to elaborate your map of the subject matter. Only then will it become an integral part of you.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

On 20:00 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments

For the most part we are unaware of what a brilliant balancing act it was and still is for our species to achieve the upright stance.

In non-existent “ideal” conditions the normal situation would be to be light, free, and unaware that we are, in fact, living, moving, breathing, 24/7 balancing acts whose stability is constantly being threatened, lost and efficiently, eutonically recovered. In ideal conditions all response option would be open to us always, so we’d be free to choose according to circumstances.

But life falls short of ideal. Although we all come with the same basic fabric design, we are born neither perfectly symmetrical, nor perfectly balanced, nor perfectly ambidextrous. 

As we choose, like and prefer some options over others, using what works and gets results fast, we pull and twist the threads of our basic design slightly askew to accommodate our tastes. This makes choosing the same option easier the next time around, till we don’t have to “consciously choose” anymore: we can reset to relative “neutral” while the fabric is still young and elastic, but our favourite choice has becomes “preset”.

The more we choose the same paths over and over, the more they become a part of who we believe we are, who we “feel” we are. Eventually the choice becomes “us”, it gets recorded in the very grain of our fabric. All the habitual twists, the stretches and pulls, the contractions and rigidities become fixed. As our fabric ages and elasticity is lost, it becomes harder and harder to reset to “neutral” and to choose and hold a different set of twists and stretches on the fabric.

As we become convinced that the twisted and stretched fabric is in effect our “neutral” and “natural” basic design, all “other” possible options fade from our awareness. As they fade from our awareness they become temporarily “lost” in that ineffable place that has become for us the “unknown”. There they will lie dormant until we choose to set out on the quest to re-awaken our potential, to map-out the unknown.

The “unknowable” will remain forever hidden from our human senses. But the “unknown” will be forever there, waiting for us to map it and thus reclaim our supreme inheritance.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

On 18:40 by Victoria Stanham in ,    9 comments

Beginnings are tough for me. I’m all about order, but beginnings tend to be for me all about chaos.

Most of the chaos stems from the fact that I haven’t fully closed the previous actions. I’m dragging the dregs of yesterday into today and tomorrow, and getting them all jumbled up with the new stuff that wants to emerge.

What to do about it?

If I followed my own advice, I would quit doing stuff about it. I would find a bit of space on the floor to lie down on my back, with my head supported on a few books and my knees up. If I did this every day, morning and evening, I’d be making space for change to happen.

It’s hard to believe that just lying down like that and doing nothing will make space for things to sort themselves out. But it does. It’s a cascade of space creation: I make space in my day to stop doing; that leads to making space to lie down; lying down makes space in my body to release accumulated tension; as body tension releases, mind tension lets go too and voilá!  I have created space in my mind.

It’s all about space: time-space, environmental-space, body-space, mind-space.
There’s absolutely nothing else required but to take the time to rest in that space. Time itself will take care of the rest.

When I ask myself to start a new action, I have to allow time before saying or doing anything more. Why? Because as soon as I ask myself to do something, I start up my habitual response to any order (in my case too many frantic thoughts and thoughtless actions) and it takes a little time for me to realize this and to stop.

And it’s only when I have remembered and stopped, created space and given myself time, it’s only when the dust of the previous actions has settled and the waves have quieted in the mind-pool, that the next phase can operate.

What’s the next phase? Listening, with my whole being, for a clear and true direction.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On 11:35 by Victoria Stanham in , , ,    No comments
It’s difficult to change what we don’t know exists. To change we need to know “what” to change, and for that we need to have an experience that contrasts with our habit: the experience of another possibility.

But once we have that new experience, how to we make it into a new habit? In general, the sole experience of a new possibility does not establish the change. It is necessary to record in your brain the new option as a stronger neurological connection than your old habit.

For that we need three tools: desire, inhibition, and memory.

The tool of desire moves us to recreate the new experience, even when it would be “easier and more comfortable” to indulge in our habit. Change is destabilizing. Therefore we need to become familiar with this power of “I want”: What do I want? Why do I want it? How do I achieve what I want? What consequences would come with getting what I want?

The tool of inhibition allows us to choose which actions to allow manifestation and which to deny said permission. Inhibition is intrinsically linked to desire, for it implies “saying no to” that which we don’t wish for anymore, and being able to “say yes to” to the new wish. You need to know “what things” to inhibit. Therefore we need to know: What elements make up my habit?

The tool of memory allows us to remember what we want and what we don’t want when it really matters. The ability to recruit your desire and your power of inhibition to change your habits rests on your ability to remember. F.M. Alexander once said that our greatest problem when it comes to changing habits is that “we forget to remember.”

Remembering what we want depends, above all, on 2 factors: the strength of our wish and external conditions that help us to remember our wish. How can I be more mindful of my wish throughout the day? How can I make it easier for me to satisfy my wish instead of my habit?

To sum up, the first step to being successful in changing habits is to become familiar with your three basic tools: Desire, Inhibition and Memory.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

On 09:00 by Victoria Stanham in , , , ,    No comments

This means first stopping to give ourselves the chance to “say no” (inhibit) to our habitual way of moving and reacting. This habitual way is made up of our ongoing and ingrained tension patterns which make for an inefficient “starting place” or “set point”. 

So, after recognizing the stimulus to action, you give yourself a little pause, some space to stop your habitual reaction and really consider “how” you want to respond.

What you want is a better starting place; so you get your “primary movement” going. This “primary movement”, which concerns itself with the dynamic relationship between head & spine, leaves you in the best possible conditions for any action: a dynamic sense of poise and balance.

Still, you haven’t yet gone anywhere. And it’s the getting going, and the continuing to go, in the manner you decided that is the issue at stake here.

You’ve got to get the primary movement going first. But then you need to keep it going as you go into movement, when your brain recognizes what you’re up to and wants to insert the old habit of tension.

So how do you keep the primary movement going during all subsequent movements? You need to use your mind: mindfulness of movement and awareness of the body as a whole throughout all movements. In Alexander jargon this is called: “keeping your primary directions going”. F.M. Alexander himself once said, “You think that the Alexander Technique is a physical thing; I tell you it’s the most mental thing that’s ever been discovered.”

It’s a persistent, continuous state of monitoring progress, of mindfulness of movement and awareness of yourself and your relationship to inner and outer space. You want to catch yourself when the habit pricks up its ears, so you can let it go before it completely takes over your system. Your persistent, continuous monitoring gives the drive, the force, the energy to the new way.

This is how you build a new “habit”.