Running, Therapy and the Evolved Body

In a  recent issue of Runner’s World I read about Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT), founded by William Pullen. His website says DRT

… is fundamentally the linking of movement (walking/running) with traditional talk therapy. It replaces the static atmosphere of the therapists’ office with an outside environment rich in life, change, and possibility. Less confrontative than an office where client and therapist “face – off” to one another, with DRT the therapist joins the client side by side, sharing each step.

The benefits of running for mental health have been known for some time. What is interesting and exciting here is the combination of mindfulness and therapy with running to create a context for exploring clients’ issues.

My partner and I have always found we can discuss our deeper personal problems when we are walking, particularly on long walks in the countryside. He too now runs and we have started talking while running; I recognise how DRT will work with those who are able to run or walk. But I think the benefits of this context might be deeper than just movement outside and side-by-side. I suspect that there are close links to our oldest human instincts in running. Our bodies have so many evolved features adapted for long-distance running that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are all runners. And if distance and endurance running is naturally human, combining this with our other great adaptations, cognition and self-awareness, will connect us to who we are in our embodied thinking selves in real time. All this seems to have connections to what it is to be human and my musings about Zen and Heidegger.

I have had a long-term interest in the uses of philosophy as therapy, and there exists a movement that uses philosophy as counselling. Prompted by Pullen’s development of DRT I am beginning to wonder whether there isn’t something to be said for linking running with the philosophical approach to therapy, especially in the context of, perhaps, a phenomenological view of counselling, something which is well-established  already.

Connections, connections, connections … who would have thought the simple activity of running could be so ontological!

Right, I’m off out for 10 miles, or so, to think.

[All of the above led me to a great little piece by a therapist called Manu Buzzano called The Art of Phenomenology. Regularly readers of this blog will appreciate why I liked it so much.]

Ordinary authenticity

My running is now back on and seems fine. It’s always a tad ropey picking up after a lay-off of more than a couple of days, but all seems well. I should get around 8kms under my belt this afternoon (maybe 11km, depending on my pace). Thinking about running, however, is not running. Running is something that we just do. Knowing how to run is a ‘know-how’ rather than a ‘know-that’. Additionally, unlike other sports, it is extremely simple in its fundamentals, a very ordinary and everyday kind of thing to do for anyone able-bodied and at an ordinary level of fitness. Two philosophers, giants of twentieth century thinking, concerned themselves with the everyday experiences of life: Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Both Heidegger and Wittgenstein spent a great deal of time showing how we get so much of philosophy wrong. They approached the task in different ways, but essentially tried to demonstrate that the ordinariness of life – embodied, physical, skilled, messy, connected, meaningful, linguistic, diverse, directed, goal-oriented, social … – is all the metaphysics we need. All the rest, the problems and questions about the ‘fundamental’ nature of things are based on mistakes. There is a good book by the philosopher Lee Braver, Groundless Grounds (Braver, 2012), that explores many themes that overlap in the work of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, which I highly recommend.
On Heidegger’s side of things, his central concern throughout his life was to investigate ‘Being’, that is, the way things are, how they turn up in our world. He wanted to overturn the idea that best way to understand things and ourselves is from a perspective of abstract reflection and a passive ‘objectivity’, and to show that things have a variety of different meanings and different ways of being in how they are used and interact with us. Additionally, the being that we are, which he calls Dasein (‘being there’, ‘existence’ or ‘presence’), is rather more than a mere ‘rational animal’. In fact, people have written vast tracts on what Dasein is, but, very crudely, it is a being with some awareness of its own way of being in the world (being-in-the-world), and with a concern for its nature and its connectedness to everything else. In that Being, it is our projects and goals that really shape our existence, the vast majority of which are ordinary, everyday acts and orientations. Sometimes, however, we choose to do things that develop a deeper skill or a use of ourselves that heightens (or deepens?) our awareness of our being while we are engaged in it: it becomes what Heidegger would call an expression of authenticity. Of course, as already suggested at the top of this post, we can’t effectively reflect on this being or authenticity, only do it and, perhaps, catch it in language that does not repeat the errors of metaphysics (which I have failed to do here!). So, perhaps, running – or more specifically, training and improving – while ordinary and everyday, can become deeply authentic. Something else to explore further …

BRAVER, L. 2012. Groundless grounds : a study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.



“Anyone can achieve their fullest potential, who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.”

Martin Heidegger