I’m not one for the whole Resolutions thing. While the idea of flicking a switch on 1st January and creating a new and improved me may be appealing, I’ve done that and failed too many times to believe in big goals and instant changes.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from more than five years of Chi Running is the power of incremental change. Tiny steps taken day after day after day that don’t seem to add up to much on their own, but over time build into something amazing.
So instead of making resolutions, for 2016 I’m focusing on building new habits, or unlearning some old, unhelpful ones, one step at a time. Here’s my pick of the top three habits I believe will have the biggest positive impact on my running, and my overall health, for the coming year.
This year, I’ve played around with breathing through my nose while running. In 2016, I want to get into the habit of breathing nasally on all my runs.
When you first start out with nose breathing, it feels like much more effort. For my first few runs, I had to drop my pace to what felt like little more than a fast walk. So why bother?
Breathing through the nose makes it much easier for the body to get oxygen into the working muscles, exactly where it’s needed. And it also triggers the calming parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite to the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Once I got over the ‘OMG, I can’t breathe’ reaction to nose breathing, I’ve found that it’s brought a whole new level of relaxation to my runs.
For more on the benefits of nasal breathing and using restricted breathing techniques to simulate high altitude training, check out The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown. And with a Chi Running UK Masterclass in February with Patrick, I’m looking forward to exploring the impact of breathing on running performance even more this year.
So my mantra for 2016 is ‘noses are breathing, mouths are for eating’.
Moving in many more ways
Ever got back from a long run and then spent the rest of the day glued to the sofa? Anyone…? Anyone…? OK, just me then.
Much as I’d love to think my running gives me a tick in the box to say I’m healthy, sadly that’s not the case. Exercising for a few hours a week doesn’t undo the damage of sitting for the other 100 or so. They even have a name for it: Active Sedentary.
The change that made the biggest difference to my health and my running in 2015 was moving more and sitting less. Because sitting all day is the worst preparation for running.
I’ve upped my walking, with a little help from my FitBit. And mixed up my working day with regular movement breaks.
But it’s not just how much we move that matters. It’s the variety too.
So I’ve added a pull up bar to my kitchen, that I can hang from while the kettle boils. Yes, really. Because tight shoulders and good running technique don’t go well together.
I’ve also just treated myself to this nifty little table, £8 from Ikea:
It’s supposed to be a computer stand for working in bed, but it means I can now not only work on my laptop sitting at my desk or standing up, but on the floor too. Great for keeping the hips more mobile.
In 2016, I want to learn to fidget: my goal is to work in the same position for no more than 20 minutes at a time. And I’ll keep on looking for new ways to move.
One of my favourite sources for inspiration is Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement. Check out her Upper Body Advent for lots of ideas for moving that don’t need a lot of expensive equipment – just towels, kitchen counters and the odd plank of wood.
And if you haven’t read Katy’s book Move Your DNA for more on why movement is so important for health, put it on your list for 2016. Just be warned: you’ll never look at your sofa in quite the same way again…
Using tech mindfully
While I want my body to be less still in 2016, I’d like to bring a little more stillness to my mind.
This will be one of the hardest challenges for me. If I’m not careful, I become a digital magpie online, chasing the next bright new trinket. Five minutes on Facebook can easily turn into half an hour or more. ‘Ooh, shiny….’
And I find it so hard to just sit. At the first sign of boredom, I’m reaching for my phone and firing up a social network, or a game, or some other app.
I know that I’ve let my brain overdo the mindless tech stuff when it feels edgy and wired by the end of the day. Not good for winding down to sleep.
So this year, I’m looking to build a more mindful tech habit. Ditching the whole second screen thing – how many times have I found myself watching a TV programme while checking Twitter and not really paying attention to either? No tech after 8pm to give my brain a chance to wind down. And making a purposeful choice about when to go on Facebook. And when to stop.
Will it make a big difference to my running performance? Maybe not. But it will make a positive impact on the quality of my sleep and my mental focus, so that has to be a good thing.
Whatever your goals, plans and hopes for the coming year, here’s wishing you health and happiness in 2016!