Mindfulness: Week 3 – The Amazing Three-Minute Breathing Space

John among the Laurels

John among the Laurels

Week 3 has been a breakthrough week for me. When I started my eight-week mindfulness meditation course, I suspected that it would eventually help alleviate my chronic pain. However, I did not expect that help would come as soon as this, and in such a dramatic fashion.

First, a quick update on my ongoing struggle with scheduled daily meditation times. I have decided that it actually worked better for me to not have a schedule. This past week, I have been doing my daily meditations when the need arises and when time allows. It’s working fine so I will leave well alone.

This week’s meditations enabled me to take the enhanced awareness that I gained from my first two weeks and integrate it more closely into my daily life.

I completed three meditations daily – eight-minutes of Mindful Movement, eight-minutes of Breath and Body, and The Three-Minute Breathing Space meditation.

My Mindful Movement meditation consists of four interlinked stretching exercises. They are all beautiful in their simplicity. When put together, the total experience is soothing and profound.

Of particular note is a set of body stretches, where you reach upward with your arm outstretched as if you were picking fruit from the branch of a tree. As you return your arm back to your side, you are invited to mindfully observe your hands and fingers as they slowly move downwards.

Personally, I loved this experience. It gave me a heightened sense of body awareness and encouraged a child-like sense of curiosity. It was as if I had never seen my hands before. One has to experience it to fully understand.

Breath & Body meditation spot - Noons Creek

My Breath & Body meditation spot – Noons Creek

I usually did my Breath and Body meditation straight after Mindful Movement as recommended in the book. It worked really well given my already heightened sense of body awareness.

Sitting in a comfortable position on a chair, I initially spent a little time noticing the sensations of my whole body. Then I focused in on my breathing. Gently reminding myself that there is no right or wrong way to feel, I then simply observed my body and breath sensations that were there in the moment.

When my mind wandered away from the breath, as it does, to planning, remembering, worrying or daydreaming, I acknowledge where my mind had wandered to and then gently escorted it back to my breath and the moment.

If I felt any physical discomforts while sitting, I would either mindfully adjust my body position accordingly, or focus my breath towards the area of discomfort. Both of these techniques brought noticeable relief.

Near the end of my meditation, I sat in the silence, focusing on my breath, fully aware. It was as if my whole body was breathing. The experience was sublime.

As I finish this meditation, I am reminded that reminded that the deepest stillness and peace does not arise because the world is still or the mind is quiet. Stillness is nourished when we allow our body, our mind, and the world around us to simply be just as they are – moment-by-moment and breath-by-breath.

As for The Three Minute Breathing Space, I have become especially fond of this meditation this past week. It’s designed to be used as needed and I have therefore used it quite frequently over the past week.

The Three-Minute Breathing Space spot - Noons Creek

The Three-Minute Breathing Space spot – Noons Creek

However, the first time I experienced it was totally unplanned and what happened will remain with me always. Let me share the story with you.

Last Sunday, I drove out to the nearby Pitt River Dyke for my usual weekend long run at around 6:30am. I felt the need to get out and run despite having a bad migraine headache, so I took an extra-strength Advil and hoped it would pass.

The Pitt River Dyke is one of my favourite runs, since it offers some stunning views of the mountains and the river from the trail. There’s also an abundance of wildlife to be seen along the way.

As I ran along the winding trail by the slough that leads to Pitt River dyke, my headache was now getting worse. I am quite familiar with migraine headaches since my 2010 concussion injury. However, this one was now severe and my peripheral vision was blurred. I was understandably concerned for my health.

I was considered turning back when I reached the Pitt River. However, the trail turned and I was presented me with a beautiful river and mountain vista that lifted my spirits and soothed my headache somewhat.

It was a gorgeous morning and the air was fresh and sweet. I scanned the vast blueberry fields that run all the way on the other side of the dyke from the river. I was hoping to see a black bear or two as they are commonly seen feasting on the berries. Alas, there were none to be seen.

“I’ll just do another kilometre or so, and then I will turn for home”, I thought, as I admired the river’s wide expanse flowing gracefully towards the mighty Fraser.

Mountains and river - Pitt River Dyke

Mountains and river – Pitt River Dyke

Then I turned my head, looked down the trail and saw before me the largest black bear I have ever seen just a few hundred feet ahead of me, slowly meandering in my direction.

Delight was my first reaction, although I do know that it’s unwise to get too close. After watching the bear stop and have some blackberries from the bushes along the trail, I decided that it would be prudent to turn around and head back.

However, I just had to take my ear buds out and get a quick photo with my iPhone for the kids. As I headed back along the trail, I must admit that I did a few shoulder checks. I know that bears can run a lot faster than I can. Fortunately, he seemed totally preoccupied with eating the blackberries.

As I continued back down the path, my head and vision were a little better for the vistas and my bear experience, but still very much there.

It had so far been an eclectic morning from a musical perspective. I had set my iPhone songs on ‘random choice’. I had never done this before and it had been interesting to say the least.

The music ended and I was wondering what was next. Then, to my absolute surprise, I was suddenly listening to The Three Minute Breathing Space meditation through my ear buds while I was running!

I was caught totally off guard but immediately went along with what was now happening in the moment. Why not, I thought.

Led by my trusted meditation guide, I continued my run down the trail for the first minute, mindfully observing the river and the blueberry fields while becoming increasingly aware of my innermost thoughts, feelings and body sensations.

For the second minute, I gathered and focused my attention on the breath and the body sensations felt while breathing. During the third minute, I expanded my attention and my field of awareness to the entire body.

“Wow”, I thought. “In just three euphoric minutes, I am fully aware, mindful and grounded in the present moment, and accepting of my life as it is right now.”

By the still waters - Port Moody Inlet

By the still waters – Port Moody Inlet

Even more amazing to me was realizing that my vision was now clear and my migraine headache had totally disappeared!

I was “running on air without a care, in the moment”, all the way home.

Looking back, I have found that a well-managed running program works well for self-managing chronic pain associated with my ongoing concussion symptoms. Now I have discovered a new and significant addition to my chronic pain self-management tool kit – Mindfulness Mediation.

What’s also exciting is that Mindfulness Meditation will likely improve many other aspects of my health and well-being; indeed, all aspects of my life  – moment-by-moment, breath-by-breath.

As for the future, the positive impacts of mindfulness meditation on chronic pain are evidence-based and well documented. Therefore, I envision that it will soon become universally recognized as an essential part of everyone’s chronic pain self-management tool kit.

Thank you again to Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman for writing the book that inspired me to start on my exciting eight-week Mindfulness journey.

You can find out more about their book “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” at http://www.franticworld.com.

Of special interest to me right now is that Dr. Penman has written an exciting new book, along with co-author Vidyamala Burch, that’s entitled “Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing”.

Their new book will be available on September 5th, in the UK at least. I am looking forward to reading it with great enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, I will be starting Week 4 of my eight-week Mindfulness course on Sunday and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you in my next blog.

Namaste,

John

UVic colour - horizontal -NO Centre-crest on lhs

John Murphy is a volunteer Program Leader with the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging, based in Ladner, BC. He currently facilitates their 6 week Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops (2½ hour per week) available free of charge across BC, to adults and caregivers who are dealing with chronic pain.

For more information on our Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop and other free of charge workshops, follow this link to our website:

http://www.selfmanagementbc.ca

Other Self-Management workshop and programs include:

– Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

– Chronic Disease

– Diabetes

SMBC LOGO BIGGER

Advertisements

Run#53 Apr 26: Hyde Creek & Pitt River 14K – my last long training run!

PoCo Trail - Pitt River dyke

PoCo Trail – Pitt River dyke

It feels very good to have now completed my last scheduled long training run, prior to my running the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon next Sunday, May 5th.

I could not make up my mind where to run first thing this morning, which is not unusual for me. Then I remembered how much I enjoyed my Hyde Creek & Pitt River 10K run on the dyke last week. So I decided to run an extended version of the same run again this morning.

If you are a runner and live within travelling distance of this Port Coquitlam trail, you should consider trying it. It’s definitely worth the drive!

I arrived at the Hyde Creek Rec. Centre excited about the fact that I was about to do my last long training run after 4 months of training. It’s quite a milestone for me.

Clear and sunny, the weather was near perfect for running. The river and mountain scenery would be spectacular as I ran along the Pitt River dyke.

I arrived at the car park and prepared myself for the run. First, I set my Strava Run app on my iPhone and then I put on some music for the run.

I had pondered what to play as I drove to the trail and decided that I would first listen to my ‘musica intima 20’ album. As you know, their music is very special to me. I have listened to them often on my training runs over the past 4 months.

PoCo Trail - Hyde Creek

PoCo Trail – Hyde Creek

Musica intima’s rich vocal chords and harmonies sooth my body, mind and spirit. They have contributed greatly to my rehabilitation and have played a huge part in my healing process. Thank you musica intima!

Maybe it was because I was now familiar with the trail. Perhaps it’s because I am now in good physical condition compared to where I was 4 months ago. Whatever the reason, the first 2K along Hyde Creek passed by quickly and I felt great by the time I reached the road that led to the dyke.

Soon I was breathing in the fresh air that comes off the Pitt River and enjoying the scenery that seemed even more beautiful than when I saw it last. The tall dark mountains towered over the blueberry fields in the valley and the river was wide, strong, ever flowing and rich in silt with the spring run-off.

As I continued along the dyke by the river towards Pitt Lake, I became mesmerized with the beauty of the scenery. The mountains grew even taller and the river wider.

The wildlife on this run is equally impressive. On my run last week, I saw eagles soaring in the sky and there were two perched high in a tall tree by the dyke. There are many species of waterfowl on the river and I can only imagine the numerous butterflies and bumblebees when the wild flowers are in bloom.

This area is notorious for black bear sightings, especially when the blueberry bushes are ripe in the fall. It’s still early in the year, so although they are around, I was not concerned about running right into a bear this morning!

As I passed the 5K mark where I turned around last week, I saw what I thought was an abandoned house ahead of me, just off to the side of the dyke.

PoCo Trail - Pitt River dyke

PoCo Trail – Pitt River dyke

Then, as I got closer, I noticed two trucks parked outside the house and also two large dogs that had spotted me and were running towards the entrance to the property, barking loudly.

Despite it’s shabby looks, I guess that the house is occupied, I thought. I do hope that those two dogs do not decide to pursue me on the dyke. They look quite mean.

I like dogs and most dogs take to me, but I was not relishing a confrontation with these two ferocious animals. I knew that there was no chance of outrunning them!

As I slowly jogged by the house, I was extremely thankful to see that the property was fully fenced. There was a large ‘Beware of Dog’ sign on the gate. No kidding!

The path got much narrower after the house and I soon reached an intersection. The path going off to my left was a paved path that went down alongside one of the large blueberry fields and then on to Minnekhada Regional Park.

There were two bear signs posted, warning people about the many black bears that frequent this area that was right next to the blueberry fields.

The trail that continued straight ahead by the river seemed to come to an end at a rock face about half a kilometer ahead.

I had ran about 6.5K at this time, so I decided to go straight ahead and stay with the river. If I turned at the rock face, that would give me the 14K long run that I was planning for my last long run today.

PoCo Trail

PoCo Trail

Of course, my decision to run straight ahead had nothing at all to do with bears!

Once I reached the rock face and the end of the trail, I briefly stopped to catch my breath and have a much-needed drink of water.

I was enjoying the sounds of ‘musica intima 20’ so much that I decided to play their ‘INTO LIGHT’ album for my return journey. It seemed the perfect choice given this most special occasion, my last long training run.

I slowly and quite deliberately started retracing my steps back along the narrow path on the dyke by the river. I wanted to be in the moment for the rest of my run.

Running in nature while listening to beautiful music has been an integral part of my therapy and rehabilitation during my 4 months of half marathon training.

However, running rehabilitation has been an invaluable part of my overall brain injury, concussion and tinnitus recovery effort for over 1½ year now, ever since I was first introduced to the ‘running rehabilitation program’ that was developed by the University of Buffalo Concussion Clinic.

I am so thankful to Dr. Lindberg and physiotherapist Anne Tulloch at the Coquitlam Concussion Clinic for recommended this program to me back in the fall of 2011.

PoCo Trail - Pitt River dyke

PoCo Trail – Pitt River dyke

Running rehabilitation changed my life and running is once again a part of my life. There is no doubt that running will always be an integral part of my ongoing health and wellbeing for as long as I can run. Hopefully, that will be for a long time!

Around the 8K point on my return journey along the dyke, I stopped and walked while I had a sip of water and then continued. Shortly afterwards, my meditative run was interrupted by a now familiar pain in my left groin area.

I had now experienced the same groin pain at the very end of my last two long runs. It was just a slight pain that came on at the end of my runs. I had simply stopped running and then the pain went away immediately.

This was clearly a different situation. I still had 6K still to run and I knew intuitively that if I just kept running with the pain that I would sustain an injury.

‘What to do’, I thought. ‘What shall I do if this happens during my half-marathon race’ I was starting to get a little concerned as I pondered my options.

I decided that I needed to experiment and try to find a solution that would work for today and possibly for the race. So I decided to stop running and immediately stretching out the groin area and then continue running and just see what happens. So that’s what I did.

PoCo Trail - Pitt River dyke

PoCo Trail – Pitt River dyke

Once I started running again, I was pleased to note that the groin pain had gone and I was pain free again. However, after a while it came back so I had to repeat the process several more times on my journey back to the Hyde Creek parking lot.

I have to say that the last 6K of my run this morning was a little preoccupied with groin pain concerns. However, it did not take too much away from the enjoyment of my last long training run.

As I completed my stretches at the car, the groin pain subsided but it was still a little tender when I had finished.

I contemplate my situation as I drove to go to meet my wife Marjory for lunch. She was watching on of her senior students play at the piano festival at a near by Port Coquitlam church.

Overcoming injury is a part of running much as overcoming problems is a part of life. Experiential learning is usually the best way to understand how to try and prevent them from happening and manage them when they do happen. Knowledge and acceptance is key to one’s inner peace and tranquility, while running and living.

Blueberry fields

Blueberry fields

I know that I will go through moments of concern between now and race day over my groin pain and how it will impact my last week of training and also my half-marathon race on May 5th.

However, I also know that those concerns will be tempered with an abundance of philosophy and positive thoughts about having completed my 4-month training program and then having completing the race.

I am once again reminded that life is my teacher and that my journey is ongoing!

Run#49 Apr 17: PoCo Trail 10K – running faster & tragedy in Boston

PoCo Trail - Pitt River

PoCo Trail – Pitt River

It’s been a difficult week. My heart and soul reaches out to those impacted by the horrific acts committed at the Boston Marathon.

It’s so unthinkable and beyond my comprehension how anyone could choose to bring such devastation and pain to so many innocent people.

This horrific act has also brought sorrow, heartache and concerns to the global running community.

Crossing the finish line may now be a completely different experience for us all.

Although I know that it will be a different emotional experience when I cross the finish line at the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon on May 5th, my family and I still look forward to celebrating my finishing the race, and the completion of 4 challenging months of running rehabilitation.

We also look forward to sharing our special moment with the thousands of other runners and their families who have also met their goals and have finished their race too!

PoCo Trail - Hyde Creek

PoCo Trail – Hyde Creek

My 10K run today was dedicated to running for the sheer joy of running.

Coincidentally, I ran the fastest 10K that I have run for quite a few years, seemingly without really trying!

During my 5K this past Monday, I concluded that run times are not a major consideration for me, for my training runs or even for my BMO Vancouver Half Marathon.

Although that’s still the case, I have to admit that it felt good to be running relatively fast again this morning.

I headed out for my run a little later that usual this morning. My wife Marjory had a therapeutic massage appointment at 10am in Port Moody.

I dropped her off, and then continued on my way to Hyde Creek Rec. Centre  in Port Coquitlam to run the PoCo Trail.

Hyde Creek

Hyde Creek

I have never run the PoCo Trail before, so I was quite excited at the thought of discovering a new route.

It was about 10:30am as I parked the car in the Hyde Creek Rec Centre parking lot.

I quickly put on some retro sounds and started my Strava Run app on my iPhone, and then headed up the trail at a good pace.

The sun felt warm on my back and the air was fresh and crisp. The gravel trail was soft on the feet and easy on my knees. I was feeing strong, so I increased my stride and took a few deep breaths. Even then, I knew that this would be a fast run.

About 2K down the trail, I took a sharp left turn and ran over a bridge that crossed Hyde Creek. The trail then took me along by a road for about another 500 metres and then it crossed the road. Then I followed the trail along the DeBoville Slough Wetlands dyke.

PoCo Trail - wetlands dyke

PoCo Trail – wetlands dyke

The trail on the dyke was flat and fast. There’s a great sense of wide-open space as the trail soon begins to wind its way along the slough towards the Pitt River.

As I ran along the dyke, I could not help but notice the amazing vistas.

To my right, the slough and the flat wetlands and to my left was a wall of majestic mountains that bordered the fertile fields of the river valley.

As I rounded a bend in the slough, below me across a stream to my left, was row upon row of Blueberry bushes spread across a local grower’s fields.

This would be a good place for some safe family bear spotting in the fall, was my thought.

PoCo Trail - Blueberry fields

PoCo Trail – Blueberry fields

At this time, I was about 4K into my run and becoming aware that this run was gong to be fast.

My Strava Run app had been confirming that my KM times were all below 6 minutes that equates to a 50-something minute 10K.

I was feeling good at this point, and hoping that I had not gone out too fast. I knew from past experience that there’s always a price to pay when you go out too fast.

When my Strava app announced that I had reached the 5K-point, I decided to stop for a moment to admire the view.

I was now standing beside the tranquil Pitt River. The mountains now seemed closer, greener and higher. It was a quiet, beautiful moment.

I slowly retrieved my water bottle from my new Nathan pak and took a much-needed drink of cool water. After a few minutes, now feeling refreshed, I headed back down the dyke.

PoCo Trail - Pitt River

PoCo Trail – Pitt River

I was still feeling mentally strong, but was soon beginning to feel some physical strain, presumably as a result of my fast pace.

By the time I reached the end of the dyke, I had already made a mental note that should take great care not to head out too fast on my BMO Vancouver Half Marathon race.

When I reached the Hyde Creek section of the trail, I was still running fast but I was thinking much more rationally than before.

A 2½-hour half marathon time is more realistic, said my rational self.

PoCo Trail - Hyde Creek

PoCo Trail – Hyde Creek

I know that I do have a competitive side to me, and that’s okay.

Hopefully my rational side will ensure that my competitive side does not adversely impact my rehabilitation program.

As I ran into the Hyde Creek parking lot and reached the end of my run, I was compelled to check my watch for my run time.

Wow – fifty-five minutes.

That’s my fastest 10K time in years!