Anyone who runs, walks, cycles or does any kind of exercise knows that the benefits of doing so extend beyond the physical. After the brief, endorphin-fuelled feeling of euphoria that follows a good workout fades, exercise can make a longer-term contribution to better mental health, especially if you use the time outdoors to explore any issues you might be having.
In his book Run For Your Life, psychotherapist William Pullen provides a guide to mindful running to help deal with any mental health problems, a practice he has named Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT). We spoke to Pullen about DRT and the importance of exercise in maintaining good mental health.
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What is Dynamic Running Therapy?
It’s a combination of mindfulness, exercise – primarily running and walking – and talk therapy. There doesn’t have to be talking, because running is often done solo, although the book does tell you how to do it with someone else as well.
The book provides a series of programmes and questions that you take with you when you run. These help you explore problems like anxiety, depression, relationships or anger. Most of it is based around your own relationship with yourself – asking you what’s going on and how you feel about that.
It’s not just about psychotherapy and problems. There are also guides for mindful running and walking. It’s what you might do anyway on a good country walk, especially when you’re by yourself. When I do it I’m not setting out to do mindful walking, I’ve just got into the habit of ambling – enjoying each breath and plant I walk past, and the crunch of gravel underfoot. It’s about becoming present.
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Why do you think it’s important to run while you do this?
That’s how I came to it myself. I was having a tricky time in my life and I got into psychotherapy to try and work my way out of it. I also took up exercise. I noticed that running with a friend while talking about my problems was incredibly therapeutic.
I believe exercise is a great way to familiarise ourselves with what’s going on inside ourselves. Anxiety and depression can make you feel powerless. When you decide to get up and go out, if you can, that’s already a good step in the right direction. Particularly if you push yourself that little bit harder. Enough to get the blood moving. The more you push yourself the more engaged you’ll feel in the process and the more you’ll find out what’s really going on inside of you.
Exercise helps cut through the distractions and get in touch with what’s really going on – it gives us clarity.
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Do you think lots of people already do this with their exercise unconsciously?
Absolutely – anyone that does a bit of running will be familiar with the change that happens between the beginning of your exercise and the end of it. You can feel overburdened and lost at the beginning of a run, and by the end of it you feel like a completely different person.
Run For Your Life: Mindful Running For A Happy Life by William Pullen is published by Penguin Life (£12.99), buy on amazon.co.uk