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Finding Our Feet: Mindful Walking, Running and Hiking for Personal Transformation

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I’ve grown accustomed to ignoring sensations in my feet.  I played lots of sports growing up, and foot pain was always part of the equation.  My (half-hearted) attempts at physical therapy didn’t provide much relief, and I opted to mostly ignore my body and smash my sore feet into soccer cleats, high tops and running shoes.

Freshman year of high school, I went to a dance and woke up the next morning hardly able to hobble out of bed due to pain around my big toes.  I distinctly remember putting on basketball shoes and doing my best to make it up and down the court, but I couldn’t.  I learned from a podiatrist that I had bunions (not a growth, but a outward rotation of the ball of the foot that turns the big toe inward towards the smaller toes) and he assured me that because of my age, removing the bunions via surgery would be the most quick and effective way to fix the problem. Although surgery changed the location of the pain, it never went away, and I spent ten more years pushing through foot pain.

This disregard for listening to the messages of my body finally changed when I began to practice yoga.  After ten years of trying to pretend my feet weren’t connected to the rest of my body, I began to accept and allow the pain and listen to the sensations.  Traditional Chinese Medicine even taught me that the feet are a map for the entire body, which really struck a chord. As I invited curiosity and awareness into my movement routine, I noticed that my feet began to relax, release and eventually re-program themselves towards lightness and pleasant sensation. I also learned that ignoring my feet for so many years was like ignoring my super power to feel grounded and connected to myself and the world. 

My relationship with my feet is certainly one of the reasons that Mindful Walking practices didn’t initially feature in my personal mindfulness routine, and I still have the habit of excluding mindful walking from my practice. There are, however, various occasions over the years where I have been drawn towards teaching or participating in walking meditation, and the power of the experience has been truly touching. I have found that mindful walking appeals to all ages and activity levels, and appreciate being reminded that sometimes the simplest practices are the most transformational.

Hikers

During one meditation program at The Yellow Door, an experienced through-hiker named Greg came to practice. He had recently crushed the Pacific Crest Trail, and was looking for his next challenge.  Our meditation teacher, Dana Wheeles, introduced various playful meditation techniques, including mindful walking.  In her class, Dana instructed us to feel each part of the sole of the foot as it hit the ground and to let the energy of the room guide our paths; standing, moving and feeling into the entire sensation of the body.  

After the session, Greg approached me and said the practice blew his mind.  Although he had walked thousands of miles with those same feet, he had just experienced them in a completely new way, full of awareness, presence and sensation.  I’ll always remember him leaving the studio with a big grin on his face and the look like, “hey feet, nice to meet you!” 

Walkers

My step-mom, Ruth, is an avid walker.  She usually walks her dogs or my dad, and uses this time to clear her mind.  On her last walk, I suggested she try Mindful Walking and the mantra, “I am here.”  Her response was magical.  

Upon return from the walk, she explained that despite the pulling from the dog, she was able to concentrate on mindful walking for fifteen minutes.  After that time, she found a clearing in the path that opened to a patch of sun.  Unlike any other time she can remember, she said it was if her eyes automatically half closed and uplifted towards the light.  For a few minutes, she lingered in a state of warm connectedness, as if the entire world around her melted into an ambiguous hazy bliss. 

Then, the dog pulled and she continued back home. 

Runners

My friend Jen is a super runner.  She bikes and scales mountains all over the world like a billy goat.  She also, admittedly, likes to complain about body pain and ultra-endurance mishaps; an endearing form of self-deprecation for a woman who embodies resilience. During one intense race in the Hong Kong Mountains, Jen wasn’t able to poke fun at her body, because the conditions were so intensely brutal that it was all she could do to finish.  As if naturally, she created a “One foot in front of the other” mantra in her mind, and focused solely on the movement of her feet for the duration of the challenge. 

To her surprise, the pain and anguish during one of the hardest races in her life melted away.  Without the luxury of negative self-talk, she immersed herself fully in the image of strength, the only mindset that would allow her to finish.  Although the race was physically one of the toughest of her life, it was a mental breakthrough. 

For myself, one of my most transformational long-distance runs came when I approached it in a mindful way.  During one half-marathon, I was working on decreasing stride length by increasing cadence, and did so by quickly repeating the mantra, “down, down” in my head during practice.  I didn’t know the exact beats per minute, but every time I said down, my right foot needed to hit the ground.  I did this for over thirteen miles, and seldom did another thought enter my head.  

Not only did I end the race with a mental clarity and physical lightness that I have seldom experienced, by my final kick literally felt like gliding through the air.  For the last mile, I didn’t feel my legs, only the “Down, down” of each foot, as if my body gave in to a higher energy and propelled me to the finish. To be honest, I don’t practice this technique much anymore, but I think I have internalized short, quick, steps as part of my mindful long-distance running technique. 

Mindful Walking can be a moving meditation all of us, and it’s hard precisely because it’s so easy. 

Instructions for Mindful Walking:

  1. Set an intention for your feet.  We like: I am, here.  Each time the right foot hits the ground, say to yourself: I am.  When the left foot hits the ground: here.  
  2. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your intention.
  3. Take small steps.
  4. To begin, it may be helpful to set a timed goal for yourself.  Start with something that seems easily achievable. Here’s a 10-minute Walking Meditation and infographic from Mindful.org.
  5. After you finish, give yourself a few minutes of stillness in the body to absorb the experience.
  6. Another option: If repeating an intention doesn’t feel right, your anchor can be noticing the sensation of your feet hitting the ground. 

A word on the science:

Mindful Walking is one of the skills taught in a traditional 8-Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Research has shown that MBSR programs enhance physical and psychological well-being in individuals experiencing physical and mental illness and amongst healthy but stressed individuals. Click HERE for more evidence.

Mindful Walking is a type of moving meditation where an intention or “anchor” is used to bring the wandering mind back to the present moment. Choosing an anchor helps calm the mind, and bring the nervous system into balance.  Scientific American explains that, during mindfulness meditation, the grey matter in the amygdala (our brain’s ‘fight or flight' response center) actually shrinks, while the prefrontal cortex (higher brain function, like concentration and decision-making) actually thickens. Additionally, the relationship between these areas of the brain change so that primal responses to stress are gradually replaced with more thoughtful spaces between stimulus and response. Click HERE for an Elephant Journal article about other possible anchors. 

About the author:

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Erin Lee Henshaw is the Co-Founder and Mindful Facilitator of The Mind Body Project, mindfulness for institutions.  Her company runs mindfulness programs for schools, companies and communities in the US and China to enhance focus, resilience and science-backed happiness.  Erin specializes in teaching trauma-informed Hatha yoga, elementary mindfulness and breath work and is developing curriculum for Teacher Self-Care and Mindful Parenting.  She is a tea and bike lover, entrepreneur and avid believer in experiential education. 

Contact: erin@themindbodyproject.com
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Co-Founder Spotlight: Brittany Dunn chats with Zodiac Active

ZODIAC collection is designed for people who incorporate mindfulness in their daily urban life, whether it is paying attention to healthy living or good design. Today, we are very happy to introduce you to one of our first customers and role models Brittany Dunn. Brittany has been dedicating her time in Beijing to spreading positivity and mindfulness practices, amongst many other things, to the people around her through the The Mind Body Project and her teaching work.You can see our beautiful photo-shoot with Brittany wearing ZODIAC in some great Beijing locations, plus her interview below!

ZODIAC成衣系列为在日常都市生活中运用正念(mindfulness)的人所设计,无论是在关注健康生活方式还是留心好设计方面。今天,我们十分高兴地向你介绍我们最早的顾客以及模范之一Brittany Dunn。Brittany一直以来在北京致力于宣传正能量并实践正念,她通过多种方式向她身边的人传授相关知识,如“心灵与身体项目”(The Mind Body Project)以及多个课程教学。你可以在下方看到我们在北京实地取景拍摄Brittany本人穿着ZODIAC服装的照片,以及我们对她的采访!

ZODIAC PEOPLE | ZODIAC 人物 
BRITTANY DUNN

Q: Hey Brittany! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

 嗨Brittany!可以先请你向我们介绍一下自己吗?

Brittany: I'm an entrepreneur, coach, facilitator, and educator. I'm a co-founder of The Mind Body Project; helping schools and company stress less to live more (www.themindbodyproject.com), as well as an Adjudicator for Guinness World Records.  On the side, I lead Heyrobics sessions and assist with the education of new instructors. I also lead professional development trainings for teachers at the International Montessori Training Institute of Beijing. My goal is to help people feel better about themselves, wherever they're at.

Brittany: 我感觉如果我尝试去描述自己可能听起来会显得陈词滥调——但你可以说我是一个创业者、一个有激励能量的人、体育教练、教育者、引导者、演讲者、顾问。我是“心灵与身体项目”  (www.themindbodyproject.com) 的联合创始人和引导人,吉尼斯世界纪录裁判员以及美国一大学的国际交流方案专家。在业余时间中我也是有氧运动教练以及北京蒙特梭利国际学校中一为教师设计的专业拓展训练“嗨-导师-教师”的教员。我的目标是帮助人们减压,对自己更自信并且长寿,无论身处何地。

Q: We like your vibes and appreciate your efforts to spread love and positivity to others.  Talking about love, what do you love about your life right now?

我们很喜欢你的正能量并且欣赏你为他人传播爱和积极心所做出的努力。说到爱,目前你爱你生活中的哪部分?

Brittany: I love and treasure the authentic relationships I’ve cultivated in my life. Keeping a small tribe of people - who I make time for, who make time for me, who know me well and give me unconditional non-judgmental support and yet still challenge me - is something I feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude for. I’m pretty happy that I have finally started to solidify a pretty healthy routine despite juggling a lot of things. As a naturally high energy and always-busy kind of person I've worked on slowing down which has helped me to run for and last longer but more importantly avoid old patterns of burnout.  Fewer marathons, more meditation; less caffeine, more home cooking; the phasing out of all night parties and more early morning sketching, writing or yoga. Professionally, I love that I find what I'm working on meaningful and that it has the potential to positively affect others. I'm so happy that I have earned the trust to choose projects and people I want to work with.          

Brittany: 我爱并且珍视目前我所获得的可靠人际关系。在这个小群体之中我们相互给予和分享,他们理解我并给我无条件的支持,不妄加评判的同时又给予我挑战——这令我万分感激。我很高兴我最终开始稳固了一个非常健康的生活习惯,尽管我同时做着很多不同的事情。我是一个自然嗨,也是一个不停忙碌的人,现在我让自己慢了下来,这可以帮助我去做想要做的事并且可以持续下来,但更重要的是,健康的生活使我避免容易使人倦怠的循环模式。现在,我参与比以往更少的马拉松长跑,多了些冥想;少摄入咖啡因,更经常在家做饭吃;渐渐不再彻夜参加派对,而有了更多早晨画图、写作或做瑜伽的时间。在职业上,我热爱我目前的事业,我发现我所做的工作是有意义的,并且它有积极促进他人进步的潜力。我也非常高兴我获得了他人更多的信任,因此我能够选择想要做的项目以及想要共事的伙伴。

Q:  Wow, you really do juggle a lot of activities at once! So, what does your typical day look like?

这真令人惊叹,你真的同时做着很多的事情!那么你通常的一天又是怎样的呢?

Brittany: As for me, each day is different depending on my work schedule. I wake up, drink hot lemon water and spend 5-20 minutes in some form of meditation or early yoga then I make an espresso on my old fashioned mocha followed by a mostly veggie breakfast. My mindfulness practice reminds me that if I make a choice - knowing fully the consequences of that choice - I can still go down that road if I'm ok with living it the next day. Four weekdays are spent leading Music and Movement sessions in Kindergartens to all the classes in that particular campus followed by my after-school programs. Tuesday nights and various other times, I also lead Heyrobics sessions. A few days per month are spent adjudicating Guinness World Records' event attempts around Mainland China. The rest of the time is filled with working on the startup I co-founded: The Mind Body Project--aiming to help others stress less and feel better through breath and movement programming. I believe we’re never done learning, 1-2 times a year I make it a point to get away for a program or special training. Last summer, we took part in a startup accelerator program the Darden School of Business at The University of Virginia. Later this year, I’m heading to India for more children’s yoga and mindfulness training.

Brittany: 对我来说,每一天都是不同的,这取决于我的工作安排。我早晨起床,喝杯热柠檬水,然后做5到20分钟的冥想或早晨瑜伽,之后用我老式的摩卡壶做一杯浓缩咖啡,再做个以素食为主的早餐。我的正念练习提醒着我如果我做出一个选择,要明确意识到这个选择所带来的结果,如果我知道明天的我依然感觉良好,我才顺着这条路继续下去。每个星期中我有四个工作日在一个特定校区里带领幼儿园所有班级做音乐和运动的课程,之后处理一些放学的事情。每周二晚上和其他一些不固定的时间,我在有氧运动课程中做教练。以及每个月中有几天做中国大陆区域吉尼斯世界纪录的裁判工作。在其余的时间里,我将为我联合创立的启动项目:“心灵与身体项目”做准备工作,这个项目旨在通过呼吸和运动课程帮助人们减压。我相信学习是永无止境的,一年中有1到2次我会暂停正在做的事情去参加课程或特别培训。去年夏天,我们参加了弗吉尼亚大学达顿商学院的创业加速计划。而在今年,我将去印度学习更多儿童瑜伽并参加正念训练课程。

Q: What do you love about the city you are currently in? 

你爱你现居住城市的哪一点?

Brittany: The thing that stands out to me the most about Beijing is the people. It is a place where you aren’t considered odd for leaving home. It has a community filled with local and foreign inspiring people that will help you organize an event, pursue an interest, start a business, study something new, connect you to the right person, register and fly you to a different city for a new race and invite you a restaurant opening after just meeting you. I’ve been made to feel welcome from almost the very start. The daily kindness I encounter is beautiful; you can't be kept down here for long. It's a growing hub for entrepreneurs and dreamers, I also love how accessible it is. I used to commute over 300 km’s a day by car to my university job back in New Jersey which I see now as unhealthy. Now I may bike a total of over 25 km in a day but it’s freedom and helps fight the cold.

Brittany: 在北京最吸引我的是这里的人。北京是一个包容度很高的城市。在这里有容纳本地人和外地人的综合社交群体,这些人相互激励,他们会帮助你安排一场活动、追随一个兴趣、做一个生意、学点新的知识,把你介绍给适合的人,有时还会促使飞你到另一个不同的城市就像把你带到一个全新赛道,或是刚刚和你认识就马上邀请你去一个新餐厅的开业剪彩。我感受到人们从一开始就接受了我的到来。这种每天都可以遇见的友好是美丽的;你不会在一个地方长时间留足。北京是一个连结创业者和梦想家的逐渐壮大的枢纽,我爱它平易近人的特点。以前我每天坐车在我工作的大学和新泽西之间往返300公里,目前在我看来这是不健康的生活方式。现在我每天用自行车骑行至少25公里,这感觉是自由的,还能帮助我抵御寒冷。

Q: How would you describe your relationship with clothing? 

你会怎样描述你与服装的关系?

Brittany:  I think over the years I've shifted from accumulation to minimalization. I like owning just a few quality pieces that are also comfortable, easy to move in as I'm always on the go; riding my bike, walking or bouncing with my students. My wardrobe has gone full circle since childhood, again now made up of brightly colored sports bras and running tights! I’m happy to say I no longer have anxiety about missing sales and can let go of the temptation to buy something when I need a pick me up. Now I don’t spend and my closet only has things that I actually wear regularly. I’ve ending up consigning most of my business professional clothes or giving them away as they got so little use, instead I invest in a well made piece when I find one every few months, mostly ones from other startups like ZODIAC. Some of the favorite items I've had for years have been gifts or received through swaps; trading dresses with friends is not only a precious saving measure but usually leaves room for a great evening of dress-up.

Brittany: 这些年以来我的衣服逐渐由积压转变为极简。因为我经常出行,我喜欢拥有几件优质、舒适又方便携带的衣服;这使我无论是骑自行车、走路或是和我的学生做跳跃运动,都感觉自信。在我还是个孩子的时候,我的衣服就充满了整个衣橱,现在它们都被明亮色系的运动文胸和跑步紧身裤代替了!我很高兴我现在不再为错过打折活动而感觉焦虑,也可以摆脱买东西的诱惑。我不再浪费,衣柜里放置的衣服都是我实际上常穿的。我把那些几乎不穿的商务职业装也转交给了需要它们的人,转而投资给可能几个月才发现一件的出众服装,它们大部分来自一些初创品牌如ZODIAC。部分我非常喜欢的单品已经穿了很多年,它们之中有一些是我收到的礼物,也有一些是通过互换而来。和朋友互换衣服不仅是一个节省的方式也为某些特定场合带来更多穿着的可能性。

Q:  Which ZODIAC pieces work for you and why?

有哪些ZODIAC的服装适合你以及为什么?

Brittany: The Power Stretch Legging is the most multi-functional piece in my wardrobe; I can wear them to bike everyday, getting good protection from the cold and they are breathable without getting sweaty. I can dance and run with my students, equally wearing them with heels and a fitted top for my meetings and presentations. I can also wear them on the plane because they are as comfortable as pajamas and does not wrinkle so I don't look ruffled when I land. I also wear them when I am around my apartment because they have the comfort of pajamas. I never had a more useful AND stylish piece!

Brittany: 牛仔高弹打底裤是我衣橱中最多功能”的一件;我可以每天穿着它骑车,御寒效果和透气性都非常好。我可以穿着它跳舞,和我的学生一起跑步,需要开会或者做报告的时候我会穿上高跟鞋和修身上衣。在飞机上我也会穿这件,因为它给我感觉几乎和睡衣一样舒适,并且不会因为久坐而产生褶痕,不会使我在下飞机后看起来乱糟糟的。我也会在我的公寓里穿它,这也是因为它拥有和睡衣相当的舒适度。它是我目前为止最实用同时又时尚的单品!