Category Archives: Physical Exercise

Let Go with a Limp

hiking with Springloaded technology braceA few months back I wrote about my experience in letting go of running.  You can read about it here.  One thing I should make clear is that the physician who diagnosed the osteoarthritis in my right knee talked about me not running marathons again, but she did not rule running out entirely.  She prescribed an off-loading knee brace and said, “You might be able to run with it; I don’t know.”

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The Breg Fusion® OA Plus Osteoarthritis Knee Brace that I have. 

In early December I was fitted with the brace and started using it.  I noticed that I had a slight limp or hitch in my walk as I use it.  I mostly wear it when I go on longer walks of three to four miles. Also I have worn it on occasion at the gym, using it with an elliptical trainer and walking on a treadmill.  I have not as yet tried to run with it.  Partly because it is winter in Minnesota and I fear slipping on some patch of snow or ice.  Partly because I want my body to adjust to wearing the brace during walking.  This spring, when I feel the urge, I will try a short run.

For now, at this moment, I have set running aside.  I may be able to run in the future, but for now I am not.  What mindfulness continues to teach me is to live in this moment, accepting as life is, not as I would like it to be.  In the past I have wasted a lot of mental and emotional energy regretting some event or yearning for something different.  Learning to live in this moment is challenging.  My mind seems to have a default mental state (sometimes referred to as the default mode network) that likes to ruminate about some past event or fret about some future challenge or problem.

Jesus warned about the danger of future worries in Matthew 6:34

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Centering Prayer is retraining my mind to let go of these ruminations and worries while coming back to the simple awareness of God’s presence.  As one sits in centering prayer, one may notice the mind wandering to some thought, feeling or judgment. When one notices the mind moving off on this mental tangent, whether it be some joyful anticipation or some anxious though,  the practice of centering prayer is to gently let go of whatever thought or feeling my mind is following and return to my chosen sacred word.  I may do this dozens of times during my twenty minute session. It is the continual practice of letting go and turning to God that is the exercise portion of centering prayer.  (You can read more about centering prayer here.)

Like walking with my brace, my practice of centering prayer still feels like it has a pronounced limp. Yet my trust is not in my feelings during centering prayer, but in the fruit of the Spirit that has come with the practice in my daily life.  I have discovered that I am more consistent in letting go of my worries and my attachments, such as my fixation on running.  At least for the moment, which is sufficient for today.

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Homework: The Body Scan

This post is the third in a series focusing on my path to Christian Mindfulness.  The series starts here.

Our homework for the first week of MBSR was to do a daily “body scan.”  This was a guided meditation exercise in which I laid on the floor on my back.  I listened to a thirty minute audio recording during which my instructor systematically guided me through my body, focusing my attention on different parts.  She started with my feet and with a gently voice helped me observe any tension and/or sensation occurring there.  She gave me visualization cues to help my feet relax.  Then she moved on to my legs and through the rest of my body.

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The corpse pose in yoga is useful for the body scan

The process was relaxing and peaceful. I remember having a similar experience in my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) class in seminary decades ago.  My CPE supervisor was active in meditation and he led us in a similar exercise each Friday afternoon.  That pleasant memory reassured me that scanning my body was a healthy and life-giving form of prayer.

As a Christian I have experienced a love/hate relationship with my body.  My Christian belief sees the goodness of God’s creating human bodies, including my own.  I was taught and still believe that God chose to become a human being in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16).   Yet my Christian heritage also has elements that negate or de-emphasize the body, seeing it as corrupt and evil.  My sinful appetites (the lust of the flesh, I John 2:16) are centered in my body.  I was taught that my body was not to be trusted, since it was weak and prone to sin.

Growing up, I  learned to live mostly in my head. I was a bright child intellectually and grasp new ideas and concepts quickly.  I received most of my affirmation from being a good student, which also focused my attention on the thoughts and ideas revolving in my head and less on my body.  I was not much of an athlete, so my body did not receive much consideration growing up.  I was a gangling naïve nerd that basically ignored my body.

iStock_000016821441SmallThat began to change when I began to train for my first marathon in 1999.  As I ran I learned a lot about my body (what ached, what thrived) and became more familiar with it.  Yet even my running seemed to be in my head.  Running friends shared how running helped them calm their minds and relieved their stress.  My running rarely did that.

As I continued to practice the body scan meditation, I discovered tension that rested in my shoulders, as if I were carrying the load of the world’s troubles. I often fell asleep, showing me how tired I was. I explored the knot or ache that sat in the bottom of my stomach and how often I ate for emotional reasons.  My body was trying to tell me something, but I was so busy living in my thoughts that I rarely listen. Now I was learning to listen.  My home work was starting to lead me home.

In what ways do you listen to your body?

The Shirt Off My Back

Four bikes were outside when I arrived for our Saturday morning run.

“No one told me that they were riding this morning?” I thought as I walked inside.

I noted the four who wore cycling gear as they greeted me, though several others were dressed to run.

“Hey, no one told me about a ride this morning.” I said, a bit miffed at being left out of the loop.  As I said this, I felt this surge of anger bubble up inside me, not sure where it was coming from.  My voice and actions became more dramatic, nearly shouting, half in jest, half in anger, “Why didn’t you include me in the text message.  Don’t I count!”

The others laughed at my outburst (as I had wanted), but I also realized that I had overstated my case and began to apologize.  Tim, one of the cyclists, said, “You need to take some time to center yourself.”  He was right.

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Shannon, also a cyclist, apologized that she had sent out the text invite and used an old thread that did not include me and several others.  I calmed down and said it was okay, especially since I knew Shannon would not do it intentionally.  Shannon is a gracious and generous child of God who gives of her time and energy to help others.  She is a physical therapist who opens her workplace early on Sunday mornings so that our group of runners can do strength training as way to avoid injuries. She regularly travels to Haiti on mission trips and feels comfortable praying for our group.  I consider her a friend.

l525182534As the runners and cyclist prepared to leave, Shannon approached me to see if I had a spare shirt.  It was cooler than expected outside and she needed another layer.  I looked in my running bag and pulled out the only long sleeve shirt I had: my finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.  I teased Shannon that she needed to return it freshly laundered.

After a short prayer, the group headed out the door, cyclists and runners.  I had a great run that morning and headed home prior to the cyclists’ return.  It had been a gorgeous Saturday morning and, after my initial outburst, I was grateful for having a great group of runners to challenge and encourage me.

Later that afternoon, Tim called me to tell me some bad news. During the ride, Shannon had taken a fall.  Fortunately she had a good bike helmet that had protected her head.  Still she had to go the ER where she discovered that she had broken her collarbone.

I texted Shannon that I would be praying for her quick and full recovery.  She texted back that she appreciated the prayers, she was doing all right but that she owed me a shirt, since they had to cut off her jersey and my shirt in the ER.

When I read the text, two thoughts in quick succession flashed into my mind.

The first thought was: “That was the finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.   That can’t be replaced!”

The second deeper thought was, “John, which is more important, a shirt or a friendship?”

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Matthew 25:40

PCT Day 1and 2: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I confess: I am a biased hiker. The high alpine country above timberline is where I prefer to hike.  The sweeping vista of snow-capped peaks and the dazzling array of alpine flowers strike the sweet spot in my backpacking experience.  I was exposed to this as a young child, making the annual family trek from sea level to ski level on the seventeen mile road from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge.  The Olympic Mountains remain spectacular in my humble opinion.

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

 

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

Still to reach timberline, one often needs to hike through timber.  This was the case in August when I hike my third section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in southern Washington.  The trail is aptly named in that it seeks to follow the crest line of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington.  Often the crest is above tree line, but not always.

For this portion of the PCT I decided to skip the first forty miles as it climbs through the thick forest of the Columbia River Gorge (the border of Washington and Oregon).  I started just south of the Indian Heaven Wilderness where a forest service road crossed the trail.  After my brother Robert snapped my picture, I plunged into the forest.

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I soon discovered that the wilderness area named Indian Heaven is not my personal vision of heaven.  Though dotted with dozens of small lakes, the trail was all below timberline.  Occasionally the trail climbed a small ridge where one could glimpse some of the distant peaks.  But mostly, for the first two and half days and 35 miles, I walked through a multi-green tunnel.

As I hiked through the forest, I explored my mental bias.  I recognized that forest hiking is part of long distant hiking.  Just as in life, one cannot always choose the surroundings one may prefer.  I also discovered that forest walking is a great place to practice both intercessory prayer and mindfulness.  As I walked I prayed for my family, friends and for my congregation.  I used a simple prayer of compassion.  For example, my prayer for Resurrection Lutheran Church was

May Resurrection be filled with loving kindness.
May Resurrection be filled with peace.
May Resurrection be strong and vibrant
May Resurrection live as children of God.

I would repeat the prayer several dozen times, as I breathed in and out.  A peace and purpose came with the prayer.

IMG_20140822_162010_988I also practiced mindfulness, dwelling in the present moment, experiencing each footfall and each touch of my trekking poles.  I try not to race ahead mentally to when I would reach the high country.  Rather let this moment in the forest be my experience.

It was not easy.   My mind still likes to jump around, bouncing from one habitual thought to the next.  Yet the more I practice, the more I see the reward of simply being in the moment, even when surrounded by a green tunnel.  And truly God is in the forest valley as much as the high country.

I was reminded of Psalm 1 as I hiked:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;  but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

And if one keeps one’s eyes and mind alert, strange sights can be encountered.   One can imagine all kinds of story on how a saddle ended up in a tree.

 

Lord Jesus, keep me alert to your constant presence.

 

Next, Reaching High Country.

Hope Springs Eternal

For many people in the Upper Midwest, it has been a long, cold and difficult winter. Polar Vortex sub-zero cold snaps. Snow drifts higher than our cars. Streets that seem to be perpetually rutted with snow, ice and potholes. And all the outside conditions play havoc on our interior outlook. With few exceptions, we – are – all – sick – of – winter.

So no wonder as the temperature rises, we want out. This week is spring break for many of the local schools and several families in the congregation have “escaped” to points south. But some of us who remain behind will not give way to winter.

Early Spring Ride

Early Spring Ride

Take my friend, Tim Torgerson for example. Yesterday when the temperature climbed towards 40 degrees, he pulled down his bicycle from the garage rack and went for a 23 mile ride. Most of the county roads that he rides have wide shoulders and these are cleared of snow (but not sand and gravel). He even stopped to take a picture of the snow banks along the way.

This morning he and I went for a run together, outside. Yes, there is still plenty of ice and snow on the running trails. Yes, with daylight saving times it was still dark at 6:45 am when we started out. But we were determined to avoid the dreaded treadmill and so we pulled on our spiked shoes, reflective vests and hit the road. Neither of us slipped or fell and we did enjoy a spectacular sunrise.

Life Wins!

Life Wins!

Spring is coming to Minnesota, slow, but relentless. We take great hope in the promise of green grass, budding trees and fragrant flowers. Heck, I would relish some good old-fashion mud right now.

The hope of spring reminds of a deeper, stronger hope. The promise of Christ’s resurrection. No matter how dark our lives may seem at times, Christ promises us new life. “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25.

What do you yearn for?

Lord Jesus, my hope rests in you.

Four Lessons for Joyful Habits

Today I reached 100.

100 days of consecutive running.

Grandma's 06 smile

During this streak I learned four lessons about healthy habits.

Turn disappointment towards joy

I used as motivation the disappointment I felt last September when I was unable to register for the Boston Marathon. (Read more here. )

My disappointment was the initial start to my running streak, but I knew that such motivation could only take me so far. I knew that I had to have an interior attitude of joy and thanksgiving towards running and NOT simply a “I should do this” attitude. Almost anyone can start a healthy habit or discipline; it is staying the course when the mind/body/spirit begins to resist the habit for a variety of reasons: “I am too busy with work” or “I don’t feel like running today” or “The weather outside is too cold.”

Focus on joy of the habit

527355_10150757438158830_723953829_9331133_942278610_nFor me, running has been a source of joy, especially when I am dealing with stress or disappointment. I enjoy the movement through space (especially if it is outdoors along a scenic trail) or the camaraderie I experience running with friends. I know that not all runs will be filled with joy or endorphins, but many will be.  I need to lace up my shoes and start running to discover if it will happen.

Keep the habit simple and flexible

My running streak did not require me to run huge miles every day. I needed to do at least a mile, but once I got started I usually did more. I averaged 4.1 miles per day.

I also kept it flexible. I originally thought I would do all my running outdoors, but in early December we had some nasty ice and cold so I joined a local gym and did my running on a treadmill. It was not my first choice, but I prefer to be safe and steady.  I still go outdoors when the weather permits.

The joy flows into other areas.

Learning to Pray Anew

Rolling into Prayer

I have discovered that my best time to run is early in the morning. Then afterwards, I allow the joy to flow into my time of prayer and meditation. I have created a small holy space in my home where I have my Bible and devotional reading so that I can easily shift gears and focus my mind on my life of faith in Christ. I am learning to be silent and still, listening for God’s still quiet voice (I Kings 19:12).

I recognize that someday this running streak will end, but for now it has been a healthy habit that bring joy to my body/mind/spirit.

What habit brings you joy?

Lord Jesus, guide me into habits that honor you.

Superior Hiking Trail – Day Two

On day two of my hike I awoke to clear skies.  I climbed out of my tiny new tent and prepared a breakfast of granola, mocha and an energy bar.  By 6:30 I was on the trail and climbing onto Blueberry Ridge.   I was feeling strong and prepared to push my limits.  “Perhaps a twenty-mile hike today,” I thought.

IMG_20130529_090022_559By midmorning I was hiking  upstream along the west bank of Split Rock River in sunshine.  There are many cascades and falls along this section so I stopped several times to soak in the view.

IMG_20130529_095152_488I reached the bridge that crossed the river before noon, pausing to take a few pictures.  The trail continued back downstream beside the river for a mile or two and then turned east.   I stopped for several trail mix snack breaks.

As I climbed another ridge I spotted the Split Rock Lighthouse for the first time. By now I was starting to feel fatigued and wondered if my twenty-mile goal was such a great idea.  My ankle was sore and my back was tightening up as well.   I still had miles go to reach a campsite, so I picked up the pack and pushed on.   Along this section of trail, I passed four other backpackers heading west. They would be the final people I would see on the trail during my trip.

The trail guide describes this 11 mile section,

SHT croppedThere are many steep ascents and descents that take one through a wide variety of forests – much birch, maple, and aspen as well as impressive stands of cedars and white pines. The section also traverses part of the Merrill Grade, one of the historic logging railroads. Many sections of the SHT traverse long ridges of table rock, or follow long outcroppings which form walls for the SHT.

In other words, it was a lot of up, down, up, down, up, down sort of hiking.  I took a long lunch break in a pine forest, lying on a bed of moss.  A short nap ensued.

When I started hiking again, I knew I faced a choice.  I could try to push it to Beaver River campsites which would give me 19 miles or I could call it a day when I reached Fault Line Creek campsite at 14 miles.  There were no other campsites in between.

IMG_20130530_063237_398I reached Fault Line about 4:30 in the afternoon.  Even though it sat by a beaver pond, it was not a very scenic campsite.  There was still plenty of sunlight and even at a slow 1.5 mile/hour  pace I could have reached Beaver River by 8:00 pm, plenty of time to set up camp.

During the day I had sung, On Eagle’s Wings and remembered the verse, but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31).  I noted that waiting on the Lord came before the renewal of strength.

So I decided not to push on.   I listened to my body for once.   With my fatigue, it was much easier to stumble and fall, causing possible injury. I pitched my tent at Fault Line.

That night it rained.