I've barely clocked a mile, and I've got that ridiculously good feeling again. My mind is aglow, and this isn't a runners' high. Or maybe it's the best runners' high ever. Tell you what: you test the following out for me, and see for yourself.
What I'm doing (that you can do, too) is generating a supercharged mental-emotional state while using one of the most well-researched meditations out there that I've adapted for running. Sound difficult? It's not. Read on.
Metta is a mindfulness-based practice rooted in the Buddhist tradition that is now used in contexts as diverse as mental health clinics, corporate wellness programs, and VA hospitals, where it's helping veterans recover from PTSD. It's been shown to spike neurochemicals associated with feelings of wellbeing, connection to others, and confidence; and it's been linked to a whole host of physiological health benefits. Not only that, it's been shown to have lasting effects on the brains of meditators after just six weeks of consistent practice. It's simple, and one of the best things about it is that it's a thought-friendly meditation. So, bring your busy monkey mind aboard; you'll be steering the ship.
It goes like this: after you find your running rhythm, on each exhale start breathing out a desire for someone around you, or for someone in your mind, to have something really good. That's it. You breathe out and think something like, "May you be happy," "May you know freedom," "May your anxiety decrease," "May ____________ (insert beneficial thing) come your way." You keep that going on with each exhale. Imagine you're sending the vibe over to the person you just passed (or are holding in mind).
That's Level 1. It introduces you to one of the greatest paradoxes ever: wishing good things for others, even strangers, will stoke out your own mind. It'll even impact your vagus nerve (which impacts everything else in your body).
Tip: Do several rounds of wishing yourself well first, then begin breathing out for others.
Tip: Don't be anal. Keep it relaxed. However it works for you is how it works. Let it be shaky. It will develop. Keep going.
Ok, Level 2: Continue exhaling out excellent things to passersby, to a friend in your mind, to your dog, to yourself, but now use your inhale to gather your vibe into the center of your chest. This is a heart resonant practice. Bringing proper body awareness to the game amplifies it. Gather your vibe into your chest on the inhale; disperse good things for others on your exhale. Engage your emotional awareness. Get earnest about it. Use the endorphin rush to turn it up. As you establish your flow, you will be amazed at how good this gets.
Tip: It's best if you can establish a rhythmic breath. A four-count inhale and two-count exhale with a one-count pause in-between is optimal for stamina, speed, and mental clarity.
Warning: mystic material ahead.
Level 3 rolls deep. We move from connecting not only to others but to our environment as well. You see, we are running upon the majestic earth - one of the most dynamically creative, self-healing forces in the universe. And you're pulling in all your air from the vast and open sky - which is what the Tibetans use as a metaphor for the ultimate nature of consciousness itself. Connecting to these forces is one of the most powerful moves you can make in meditation.
So, by now you've got your well-wishes flowing on the out-breath, and you're connecting to your heart and body on the in-breath. Now you take the in-breath one step further as you imagine pulling energies up from the earth below you and down from the sky above you on your inhale. Bring them right into your chest, into your lungs, then release the heart energies into the world.
It will take some practice, but what you're doing is simply gathering your vibe from all around you, then sending it back out all around, creating a field of positive energy that flows both in and out of you. (Ahem. Is it just me, or does this sound like it'd be an amazing way to live, not just run?)
More tips: This is a practice, and as with all practices, they are meant to be done over and over to get better with repetition. Start simply with Level 1 and see where that gets you. Try it for 10 minutes of your run. And please remember the golden rule of meditation: spacing out happens. It's easy to drop the ball, but just as easy to pick it back up. So let it be wobbly. Let it get interrupted. Screw it all up. The most important thing is to do it.