I was the middle school kid cut from every single athletic team. No sparkly uniforms or “spirit days” for me. But, thanks to my parents’ perseverance, I became a gym devotee in high school.
Fast forward 20 years. After giving birth to two healthy children, I had three second-trimester miscarriages. During those dark days of overwhelming grief, I felt called to some kind of embodied practice, but I couldn’t bear to walk through the doors of a gym with my still pregnant-looking body. Instead, I headed outdoors. At first, I walked and cried. But, as my body grew stronger and my soul felt lighter, I began running. It wasn’t long before I found myself running a mile, then two, then six, then 10. Much to my surprise, I loved it. Mile by mile, I healed—body and soul.
Nearly 10 years (and one more miracle baby) later, I officially call myself a runner. I log 25 miles a week, with numerous half-marathons under my belt. But my love for running has little to do with burning calories and everything to do with becoming a better mother, wife, and rabbi. Here are eight reasons why I run:
1. Running has taught me that whatever discomfort I am feeling is temporary. When my 4-year-old is throwing a tantrum, I am less likely to be reactive. Just like that crazy hill that shows up mid-way through my Wednesday run, I am reminded that this tantrum shall pass. When I sit with a congregant who finds herself in a difficult life transition, I remember never to make a big decision running up a hill.
2. Running makes me feel alive. When I run, I feel awakened to my body, my feelings, and my life. I breathe deeply. I sweat. I feel attuned to what is happening in my internal landscape. I remember those things when I listen to my teenager crying after a hard day in middle school, or when I find myself in an argument with my beloved husband. I can show up to all that is happening in this moment. Whether I feel sad, angry, overjoyed, exhausted, energized, or unsure, I am faithful that I can be with all my feelings because I practice that with every run.
3. Running has helped me learn to inhabit my body with love, compassion, and pride. Every run leaves me feeling empowered and grateful for the workings of my body. Even on days when I slog through a run or take frequent walking breaks, I say a little blessing of gratitude that my legs and lungs carried me home. During my runs, I practice coaching myself with positive body talk. I use that same gentle voice of reassurance and positivity with my family and my congregants as they face their own inevitable challenges and body issues. You got this! Your body is wondrous in design! Look how far you have come! Tune into your body!
4. Running has given me personal space. As a busy mom of three and a rabbi at a congregation and a university campus, I spend a lot of time with people. I treasure the opportunities to accompany them in their most difficult and joyful moments. That said, I also enjoy my time alone. Running gives me permission to carve out regular time to be with myself. Sometimes I listen to podcasts of personal or professional interest. Other times, I listen to my favorite music, simulating a dance party in my mind and belting the lyrics with abandon. Other times, I meditate, riding my breath with a mantra. Lacing up to spend an hour with myself gives me the presence of mind to be there for others.
5. Running gets me outdoors and re-connected to the natural world. I find it exhilarating to run in the rain, and I am not deterred by sub-freezing temperatures (with the proper gear, of course). In our overly “connected” world of smart phones, e-mail, and social media, I am grateful for a chunk of time to get back in touch with the earth in all its beauty and wonder. As a result, I am more likely to find myself in moments of radical amazement with my kids and swept away in prayer while leading others at synagogue.
6. Running provides me with a physical and spiritual discipline to “lean in” when times get tough. Whether I am facing an injury, a professional challenge, or a parenting fail, I always finish my run feeling that I will not only survive this difficulty, but I will find meaning in it.
7. Running is among my most prayerful experiences. While I am devoted to the practices of prayer and meditation, when I am running, I feel open-hearted, humble, and close to God. Sometimes, I even give voice to these prayers that well up from my heart. Other times, I am simply flooded with a sense of God’s abiding presence.
8. Even though I typically run alone, I love that running helps me feel that I am never truly alone in this world. I love greeting other runners with a thumbs-up or smiling at walkers, knowing that we are all in this together. I feel a sense of camaraderie with people who would otherwise be simply strangers. I carry this spirit of community into my rabbinic work and the values I aim to teach my children.
All of us are on a journey. Running reminds me that it is never (only) about the destination. The goal is to keep going and, when necessary, to delight in stopping to rest. As a mom, a wife, and a rabbi, running helps me literally and soulfully put one foot in front of the other and savor the trail.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.