Exploring Energy

Two weeks into a bout of bronchitis, I set out on a three-mile run, feeling depleted and woozy.

I wondered if I could shake the blahs by stepping-up my energy.

I set the pace at the briskest I could tolerate. It was hard going, like pushing against a wall. Two conflicting urges battled within me: a perky hope that by cranking up a flow of energy I could have a fairly decent run; and down-pulling lethargy from the recent illness.

I did “mini-fartlek,” pushing the pace for perhaps 30-60 seconds, then relaxing. It required a steady effort of will. The mental effort drew my attention to the forehead, where focus and determination are localized in the brain.

Keeping my energy high forced me to straighten my spine and breathe deeply. I felt my center of awareness rise into my chest, where energy goes when I’m positive and running strong.

I expanded my chest and straightened my spine to make room for energy. This helped mightily. The longer I insisted on keeping my spine straight, the better I felt. I had the posture that accompanies energy and focus and will, and soon I was that kind of runner.

Near the end of the three-mile loop, my heart rate rose above 90% on the last hill. It was hot, and I wondered if the heat would “cook” the lingering bugs. Several times in the past, I had averted illness by running hills in 100-degree weather.

After the run, I considered working out at the gym. But an inner wisdom warned me not to push my body too hard, because it still needed the energy for healing.

The results proved the rightness of the “method.” Generating a strong flow of energy paid off all day, as a positive, upbeat mood. Mr. Bronchitis cowered in a corner.

I know there are times when “running sick” is a terrible mistake. But the morning run felt harmonious. It was hard, but not grindingly so; I ran at the upper edge of what seemed normal and right and balanced.

In a recent article, I described how my thinking around intuitive training has subtly changed. I’m no longer as concerned with the details of “listening to the body.” I’m now more focused on the goal of my training: to generate a strong flow of energy.

I still monitor the calm feelings of the heart, by which the body “tells” me what it can do. But my gaze is more on generating a flow of energy.

When I feel fit, healthy, and harmonious, I can’t imagine there’s anything wrong with shortening the warmup and going with a positive flow of energy. Any negative feelings tend to get swept along in that flow.

I’m reminded of a story that exercise guru Covert Bailey tells. Whenever he had an argument with his first wife, he would go for a run and find a happy place within – and one day he “just kept running.”

In the mid-1990s, I moved to the San Francisco area to help defend a lawsuit with important First Amendment implications. A rival spiritual organization sued our church, claiming it owned all rights to our teacher’s ideas, books, photographs, etc. We won 95 percent of the issues in the 12-year suit – the judges ruled that religious monopoly is counter to the spirit and meaning of the Constitution.

The Bay Area is a marvelous place for runners, with thousands of miles of trails and country roads. I looked forward to exploring the routes I had trained on in the 1970s.

But a higher wisdom appeared to have different priorities. In six weeks, I sprained my right ankle five times. The last was a real rip-snorter: my ankle swelled to grapefruit-size, and an x-ray revealed a hairline fracture. I realized that my first priority must be the legal case, with running in second.

Nevertheless, I was eager to resume training. I paid a dance therapist to work on the ankle. She was marvelous. Her hands flowed over the ankle and foot, never painfully, yet after 30 minutes the swelling was completely down.

I went online and discovered the work of Bonnie Prudden, a prominent fitness advocate of the 1950s. At the library I found her book, Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-Free Living.

Prudden preaches active recovery – never coddling injuries, but keeping the hurt area as active as possible (never to the point of piercing pain). I dutifully wiggled and flexed my ankle, and walked on crutches, determined to send healing energy to the injured tissues.

Running was impossible. Yet the annual 8K hosted by the Fifty-Plus Fitness Assocation was fast approaching, and I was determined to run, even though my foot was still in a cast.

I showed up at the start, lined up with the 80-year-olds, and set off at a brisk limp.

As the miles passed, the ankle felt better, and at the finish I was sailing along at 7:30 pace. After weeks of hobbling, it felt wonderful to run hard. Yet I wondered if I had trashed the ankle.

I needn’t have worried. From that point, the ankle healed very quickly. Apparently, the energy I generated in the race speeded the healing process.

Where does energy come from? It can come by simple physical effort, or in more uncanny ways, and from surprising sources. Sometimes, a simple change in attitude can set us flying.

Here’s a weird little energy story. On a Saturday morning, roughly a year after I moved to the Bay Area, I was running in the Stanford Hills, when I suddenly felt an extraordinary surge of energy. I sailed up a long hill effortlessly, light as a feather.

When I got home, the phone rang. It was a friend, calling to tell me that I’d won an entry in the lottery for the 1997 Western States 100. I said, “I know.” Running up the hill, I had checked my watch and realized it was 10:15 a.m., when the lottery was being held. I knew intuitively that I’d been accepted.

I was elated, but worried. In recent ultras, I had experienced crippling pain from piriformis sciatica which reduced me to walking after 30 miles. I wondered how I could finish a 100-mile race. I prayed for guidance.

At the gym, I told my 72-year-old trainer, Bob Botkin, about my fears. Bob led me to the incline leg-press machine and loaded on 190 pounds. He said, “Put your feet on the upper outside corners of the plate. Let the weight come down past 90 degrees, then press it in a steady, washing-machine motion. Do it 12 times. After six times, you’ll hate me.” (He was not wrong!)

Over the weeks, I worked up to longer workouts, with bigger weights. The piriformis sciatica never returned. Once again, I suspect that the healing came by not coddling the weak area, but by judiciously pumping energy through the affected area.

In the 1970s, there was a saying among runners: “If it stops hurting after a mile, keep running. But if the pain gets worse, go home.” I think it’s a good guideline.

The other day, I ran several one-minute intervals on the treadmill, even though my heel was hurting. It didn’t “stop hurting,” and as a result I spent several days hobbling. I wanted to run hard, so I did. I reasoned that if I could run hard, I should. Logic nearly always supports whatever desire is uppermost in the heart. Reason plus ego is a terrible thing.

When I first began working out with weights, I noticed that a variety of minor pains went away: repetitive-use pain in a wrist, pain from an old knee injury, etc. Bonnie Prudden believes that cranking energy through the injured areas prevents them from “setting” in an energy-pattern of injury.

Mary Ellen and I were out walking, and we climbed a chain-link fence to avoid a long detour. As I dropped to the other side, I slipped and painfully wrenched my already-injured elbow. Strangely, the injury immediately “went away.” I wondered if the accident sent a jolt of energy that speeded the healing.

At work lately, I’ve been aware of how my energy rises and falls in response to my thoughts and feelings. This morning, I worked with high energy on a project for several hours. My energy eventually sagged, and I realized it was time to switch gears. I came to a full stop, rested for a moment, then asked for guidance: “What should I do?” I had scribbled some ideas for an article on a 3×5 card, and I felt guided to begin writing. My fatigue vanished as if I had just started the day.

A good part of the reason for a long warmup is that it’s a chance to get the heart’s rhythms harmonized. Research that I cite in Fitness Intuition showed that positive feelings make the heart’s rhythms smooth and regular, allowing its electrical power output to rise by up to 600%. A harmonious heart enables the body to produce more energy. I find that when my heart’s feelings are harmonious, I can run fast with much less strain.

Why not begin harmonizing our feelings before we run? Some powerful “pre-warmup” aids are singing uplifting music, and thinking of loved ones and sending them positive thoughts, feelings, and blessings. I find that carrying positive energy and mental focus into the run nearly always shortens the warmup.

Think of harmonizing the deep heart. If you want to harmonize your heart with music, here’s a suggestion: sing along. Music is a tremendously powerful aid for changing feelings and generating energy. But passive listening doesn’t generate sufficient penetrating power to deeply change your awareness. You want your heart to rock with calm, positive feelings. The experience of opening the heart can range from slightly uplifting, to a major shift of energy and awareness. Music is a huge help, but only if you can actively saturate your heart with it.

What kind of music harmonizes the heart? Possibly not Ludacris, 50 Cent, and Dr Dre. (For my fellow over-60s, those are Dirty South rappers.) Sacred music is powerfully harmonizing, especially if it was composed by an enlightened soul, or at least came from a higher source.

At Christmas last year, our choir sang the Amen chorus from Handel’s Messiah. I initially resisted that music, thinking it wasn’t written by a spiritual aspirant. Yet, once we began rehearsing, I was amazed by its power.

Handel wrote the Messiah at the end of a period of terrible poverty, depression, and failure:

The situation was so bleak in 1741 that just before he wrote the Messiah, he had seriously considered going back to Germany. But instead of giving up, he turned more strongly to God. Handel composed the Messiah in 24 days without once leaving his house. During this time, his servant brought him food, and when he returned, the meal was often left uneaten. While writing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” his servant discovered him with tears in his eyes. He exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!!” As Newman Flower observes, “Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved in putting it to paper, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of musical composition.” At a Messiah performance in 1759, honouring his seventy-fourth birthday, Handel responded to enthusiastic applause with these words: “Not from me – but from Heaven- comes all.” In his last years he worshipped twice every day at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, near his home. (Source: http://www3.telus.net/st_simons/cr9304.htm)

So, here’s another suggestion: look for music that harmonizes your deep heart. Music that comes from where you want your heart to be. Music that brings a message from your best self.

Before long runs, I always drive on the freeway and sing several pieces that reliably help me get centered, uplifted, and tuned to higher guidance. Those songs come from the spiritual path I follow. It’s unlikely that they would work for everyone on the same path, much less others. The choice of inspiring music is personal.

Music carries consciousness. Positive music, particularly music that comes from an expanded awareness, can give you energy, inspire your heart, and improve your running.

Sing loudly at first, to get the attention of your mind and heart. Then, as you become absorbed in the thought behind the music, sing less loudly and focus on the vibrations of the music – engage your heart and feelings fully with the positive rhythms and words.

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