Earlier this year, I was very lucky to be gifted a copy of Run For Your Life, Mindful Running for a Happy Life, by author William Pullen. I started reading this book while still on crutches, unable to walk unaided and put my full weight on my (then) broken leg. So being able to implement the advice in this book soon became something to really look forward to. At the time I was reading and learning about mindfulness in every way I could, but mindful running? Or mindful movement? What was that all about?
Let’s find out…
Who is William Pullen?
William Pullen is a psychotherapist who helps people dealing with anxiety, lack of motivation and addiction, to work through their issues using a method he devised called Dynamic Running Therapy, or DRT. Pullen developed this technique following his own experience. Years ago, when he first started running in Hyde Park in London, he slowly started to become more energised and filled “with a sense of possibility – the very opposite of the depressive thoughts [he] had felt before”. So a year since starting his own journey he embarked on a 6-year journey to train as a therapist himself. Through his own experience, his training, and his practice, he developed DRT.
What is DRT?
In a nutshell, “DRT is a powerful and engaging step-by-step therapeutic method for confronting difficult feelings and circumstances in your life through movement. By bringing together exercise, talk therapy, and the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, it allows you to return to healthy, fulfilled life.” DRT uses the movement of your body to get you closer to what’s going on inside you emotionally – it’s a more empowering and proactive route to recovery than traditional therapy.
Movement is a key component to DRT.
- It’s healing – it’s “instinctive and written deep into our DNA”, and it’s a medicine “not just for the body but also for the mind and soul”.
- It helps to shift perspective – it provides clarity, hope, drive, and possibility.
- When we move, we feel more connected to our feelings, and with this practice, you “may begin to connect with feelings that are hidden deep down”. This, by the way, can be pleasant or painful, so the advice is to take it slowly, with no rush.
Who is DRT for?
“DRT is particularly useful for people who feel ‘stuck’ or worn down, or who suffer low mood, anxiety, stress or depression”. The act of moving in itself can ease the symptoms of these conditions by producing endorphins, which elevate our mood and thinking. In addition, DRT can provide a sense of empowerment, motivation, and accomplishment when you experience symptoms of stress, irritability, or tiredness, for example. When you relieve some of these symptoms you get a chance to look at the underlying situation and the root cause of these emotions.
But I’d argue that everyone can benefit from DRT, because as Pullen states, if your aim is to achieve a particular goal or make a specific decision, you may find DRT useful. Through every running (or walking) session, you can focus on that specific objective you have in mind and create movement and progress towards it.
Do you have to be a runner to practise DRT?
No, anyone can do it. The only requirement, if you wish, is that whatever pace you choose has to challenge you physically. Simply strive to get your blood flowing a little faster, and that’s the intensity of movement you want to aim for. The important thing is quite literally to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
What are the benefits of DRT?
- A more compassionate, gentle, and accepting relationship with yourself.
- Increased clarity, acceptance, and patience.
- Increased self-awareness – being more in touch with who you are and how you can better reach out to others.
- Learning to embrace life more fully and achieve our goals.
- Learning to value what is real in the here and now, not the stories that we tell ourselves.
So how do you actually do it?
DRT follows 3 easy steps:
- Mindful movement
Grounding draws on both cognitive behaviour therapy (or CBT) and mindfulness meditation and is a useful way to relax and get in the mood for DRT. Here’s how it works in 4 simple steps:
- The body scan – you locate yourself in your own body in the here and now. Direct your attention to different parts of your body and become aware of the sensations you find there, without judging them or trying to change them.
- The environment scan – simply turn your attention away from your body and to the environment you’re sitting in, noticing everything that your senses pick up.
- The emotion scan – notice what you are feeling right now.
- Priming – this is the bit when you reflect on what you want from the session. It’s important you do this as essentially it’s a question or aspect of your life that you want to explore during this session.
2. Mindful movement
DRT shares with mindfulness a belief that by acknowledging our feelings and thoughts we can stop overidentifying with them, and therefore we can stop feeling overwhelmed by them. Whether you’re walking or running, all you’re doing is acknowledging without judgement what comes up on your journey. Notice how you are with yourself. Be patient in the process, and self-acceptance will follow. If you notice some negative inner talk, acknowledge it, and move on.
3. Note-taking and reflecting
A big component of DRT is the reflection that follows your session. You can call it journaling if you wish, and what it allows you to do is to gain insight into yourself. All you have to do is to write down what came up for you during the session. Once it’s on paper, you’ll find a huge sense of relief, as it won’t be something you have to keep carrying only in your head or in your heart. Plus, your notes provide a record for your journey and therefore show your progress. If you take the time to summarise your journey at the end of it, rereading your notes may be highly revealing.
Going alone or with someone else?
This is entirely your choice. If you decide to go with someone else instinct will play a large role in finding the right partner. You may be worried about opening up to someone else, but you’ll also find that with the right person, the conversation will flow a lot more easily when you’re physically moving your body. Think about when you’ve naturally opened up to a friend during a walk or while running on the treadmill, when you’re both looking ahead, alongside each other.
Of course, it has to be the right person for you – someone you feel you can allow yourself to be vulnerable with. And if you do choose to go with someone else, remember that your role is not to fix or comfort each other. One of you is talking, and one of you is listening. That’s it. When you’re listening, all you’re doing is being present and listening with empathy and no judgement. You’re not giving advice.
What mindful running (or movement) can be useful for
Pullen dedicates a chapter of the book to each of the below categories, and in the book, you can also find a number of questions that you can ask yourself before you set out on your session. The idea is to pick the ones that resonate with you the most. If you want, you can use the book to record your thoughts and reflections after each session.
Depression and low mood
Although DRT may not be suitable if you have a diagnosis of severe depression, there is extensive research demonstrating the link between exercise and improved mood. On this journey, you will become more familiar with your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions, and you’ll be more equipped to make the changes you can see you want.
Most of us tend to experience anxiety to a degree or another in our lives. The advice in the book is to embrace it where possible, rather than avoiding it. I know I’ve definitely been experiencing some anxiety following breaking my leg – that’s clearly anxiety created by a past trauma.
According to Pullen, anxiety can also be a positive sign though – it may be an early warning that something in our life needs looking at. Maybe we’re living too fast? (I can certainly relate to that!) Maybe we’re seeking closure for something? “If you feel that you are in a rut, make a change. Big or small. Experiment with different kind of changes. DRT will get you moving on your journey again. […] It could be that your anxiety has served a purpose, protecting you from something that you are now ready to face.”
I was pleased to learn that DRT can even help with anxiety that derives from perfectionism. “What are your expectations of yourself? Are they realistic? Do you feel you have to do better? […] DRT teaches you how to accept and cherish your imperfect self, valuing what you are instead of what you are not. When we let go of the striving, the demands we pace upon ourselves and others, we often discover a place of serenity just sitting there waiting for us.”
DRT gets you to look at the assumptions, prejudices, and expectations that you experience in relationships, though an acknowledgement and acceptance of your true self. “Relating well with others begins with relating well with yourself.” After all, the focus of the practice is to relate to yourself in a kind and loving manner, with “unconditional positive regard”, empathy, and congruence. Pullen defines “unconditional positive regard” as simply “looking at yourself and others in a way that is positive, warm and accepting.” And in case you’re wondering about what “congruence” refers to, it’s being mindful about what you are feeling and sensing in order to help you just to without striving to get somewhere else or be someone else.
The key is to increase self-acceptance, and through DRT you can do this by taking “a sept into who you are and how you manage difficulties, the influence of your upbringing, your past relationships and your role in them. Try to be really honest with yourself in this process.”
As we know, anger comes in many shapes and sizes, and it can destroy your health, your business, and every relationship in your life. Common triggers for anger are:
- vulnerability (not wanting to express our fears and weaknesses to others);
- unmet needs (are there any issues in your life that need addressing?);
- past trauma;
- health problems.
“DRT provides a way for you to burn off some of that anger and look at where it comes from. By creating a closer relationship with yourself, DRT helps you to accept what might have felt unacceptable before.” After all, as hard as it can be, anger is just another emotion and another thought. And like all other emotions and thoughts, it comes and goes. With mindfulness, you can observe it without the need to act on it, and that’s the key.
The decisions we make in life often tend to be based either on our intuition or on our reason. If we’re lucky, sometimes it’s a combination of both. When decision-making seems problematic, it may be a symptom of an underlying problem. By letting your practice regular decision making, DRT can help loosen up such rigid ways of thinking, so you can learn to listen to what is going on inside you.
Parents and kids
This was probably my favourite part of the book. How about practising DRT with your child? It gives you an opportunity to discuss what is happening at home and at school. Children love being exposed to the world of grown-up and find it really exciting. “Not only is being outdoors grounding and good for their souls, but the adventure also builds confidence. Children need to learn how to look after themselves. […] This builds resources they can draw on for the rest of their lives – self-reliance, curiosity, and, and most of all, resilience. […] The time you spend running and talking together with your child is priceless and the benefits are almost endless.”
“When you open up your adult world of running to them, children will often respond to this invitation by opening their world to you. Your child will find this special time, this experience shared by just the two of you, incredibly bonding. […] Together you will experience flowing hormones such as endorphins, adrenaline and oxytocin. […] But it is time, the greatest gift you can give your child, that will make the most difference. When they see you have dedicated this chunk of the day to them and them alone, it creates a sense of trust and closeness, and it is in that space that children find security and self-acceptance.”
This is something I’ve definitely started to embrace, and I’d love to write about my own findings in the future.
My favourite quotes from the book
- “Stick with the journey and you will get to where you need to go. It might not end where you thought it would, and it might take longer than you thought it would to get there, but persistence will pay off”.
- “It takes courage to wake up to ourselves. Not being truly at peace with who you are can lead to a lifetime of anxiety; once you stop deceiving yourself, what you find will be refreshing.”
- “The real world in front of you is often actually a much simpler place to inhabit thatn the one in your jumbled mind.”
- “Allow yourself to just be you. It is so much easier and more fulfilling than trying to maintain a fantasy.”
- “We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us – Ken Lavine.”
- “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
- “The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness. – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
I’m sure you can tell I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it’s one I’m going to refer to again and again. If the book sounds interesting, and you’d like to get yourself a copy, you can find it here. You can also find William Pullen on Twitter.
Please note, I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of this post, but all opinions expressed are my own.