In fiction writing, we like to say that ‘setting is never passive.’ It’s always an active participant in the story, and to some degree, setting is character. The same can be said in athletics, in exercise. Where you practice has an impact on your perception of the activity. Running a 10 K on a track is a vastly different experience than running the same distance through the woods, just as I imagine the experience of yoga is different at home over zoom than it is in a studio.
This allows for a lot of opportunity to keep an activity fresh, to approach it in a new and more conscious way. For instance, due to where I live in the city, I typically have only a few routes for a distance run uninterrupted by traffic lights and pedestrians. So I rely heavily on a well-worn course, conveniently furnished with a foam running track that takes me around a large park.
The more I run, the easier it is to undertake the experience automatically, without taking notice of my surroundings, of the experience in the moment. As wonderful as it is, at times it can feel like a routine experience: a habit more than a practice. To counter this, I make an effort to switch up my setting as best I can, to keep my setting from being passive. I do this by taking the run off the spongy running track, and running along the dirt next to it, or striking out on a path all my own along the park outskirts, where there are no other runners or track.
A simple change in setting, a different type of terrain under my shoes makes all the difference in bringing my awareness to where I am in space and time. Rough terrain is especially effective, as one has to pay attention so as not to stumble. No daydreaming, planning, getting lost in a song. There’s only the focus of one foot following the other.
Sometimes it makes for a more difficult run, but the effort is also part of the practice.
For more mindfulness exercises, look here.