Have you ever felt “stuck” and gone out for a walk or run by yourself and suddenly find clarity about something that was bothering you? Or perhaps you’ve been on a walk with a co-worker or on a road trip with a friend, and you find the stories just pouring out of you.
Letting your mind wander as your body moves has a powerful positive effect. In this day and age where “sitting is the new smoking,” William Pullen, a psychotherapist based in London, is harnessing the power of joining movement with mindfulness.
It was during a crisis in his own life that Pullen discovered how much help running was in working through his feelings. He then began adding movement to the other therapeutic techniques and found that helped as well. And now Pullen has written a book for the rest of us, called Running with Mindfulness: Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT) to Improve Low-mood, Anxiety, Stress, and Depression.
DRT is a simple and intuitive therapeutic method that helps people through mindful movement and guided questions, Pullen explains.
"DRT is a kind of therapy, which instead of sitting with my clients inside of consultation room, I run with them. Apart from that, it's quite similar to regular talk therapy in an office, but I'm using the body in all sorts of different ways," he explains.
Pullen also notes that you do not need to run or be in good shape to practice DRT; what is important is that you are moving. "Stagnation is what leads to depression, stagnation is what leads to illnesses of the spirit, mind, soul, body - everything."
According to Pullen, DRT is not an exercise regimen, nor is it a physical, mental, or emotional "get-fit-quick" routine. Instead, he says, it is an open-ended guide, putting the participant be in total control - they decide decide when to start, when to stop, how physically challenging it will be, and what prompts to use.
"It's good for anybody, I think," says Pullen. "Anybody who suffers from anxiety, there's a whole DRT journey that takes you on a sort of before, middle, and after kind of journey. And it's the same for depression, anger, and relationship issues, etc."
The mindfulness component is one many people struggle with, Pullen says. There is often too much pressure on mindfulness exercises to not think about anything, and if you do, you fail.
Pullen's advice: "Make peace with (your inner critic) and become aware of the (mindfulness) process...just to notice what you're doing and then to meet it with gentleness, with understanding, compassion, to validate its right to exist instead of trying to fix or avoid." A mindfulness exercise can be as simple as counting every left foot fall on your run, he says, or counting the trees you see on your path.
"As you do in all mindfulness, you're trying to get out of your mind and into a sort of connection with your body and your environment so that you're not obsessing about the past, the present, the future - just what there is."
Whether you're already in traditional therapy sessions or are embarking on your own mindfulness or DRT journey for the first time, Pullen says, a great place to start is to get out the door.
"If we're stuck in our life, if we're depressed, if we're anxious, (movement) gives us a way to both burn off the anxiety, to cure some of the depression with health outside. But most of all, it give us a method to say, 'Look, I'm doing something about this. Today I got from A to B.' Often we feel helpless and don't know how to address it - this is a way to address it with your body."