Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Running with Nature

Running with Nature by Mariel Hemingway and Bobby Williams is, simply, a book that helps people live their best life. It's not a book specifically about mental illness, but a book about having a well rounded life.

Many of you know that I use many lifestyle initiatives in order it treat my bipolar disorder. I have researched what diet, sleep schedule, meditation techniques, exercise, etc... are effective in treating bipolar. While there is a lot of overlap in what works, I have also come to learn that exactly what works is different for each person. You really need to experiment and see what is your perfect treatment plan, knowing that it will need to change as you age and as life changes.

So, I have been looking for a book that speaks clearly and concisely about basic principles which create mental wellness while also giving room for discovering what works for you personally. Running with Nature (formerly The WillingWay), is just that book. This is one of those few books where you highlight and flag almost everything in the book and you read it over and over again so everything can sink in.

Each chapter talks about an essential element to living a well balanced and healthy life and achieving mental wellness. I will go through each chapter and highlight some of the main points.

Photo from Mariel
Get Outside
This chapter is all about the benifits of being in nature which brings us closer to ourselves and the divine. One of the great suggestions in this chapter is a simple one: walk barefoot. We truly connect with nature when walking barefoot - it grounds us, and we feel the rejuvinating energy of the earth by walking upon it without rubber soles on our feet. Try it and I guarantee you will feel better in a few minutes.

Sleep Well
If you have read anything about treatment for mental illness, you will know that keeping a good sleep schedule is extremely important. This chapter explains why sleep is important and how to create an environment so you get the best sleep you can. They also talk about your natural circadian rhythm and how to honor it. Circadian rhythm is one of the things most disturbed by bipolar disorder so you have to get this on track. 

Breathe Consciously
This chapter explains the importance of breathing and also how to use breathing techniques for mental health such as alternate nostril breathing, which my therapist taught me. This technique helps balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain and helps you feel more balanced. This chapter is a great resource for quick ways to improve your mental state no matter where you are.

Live Silence
We rarely ever have silence in our technology laden, fast paced world, but without silence we can not tune into ourselves and get to know who we are. This chapter talks about different forms of meditation and their benefits. I am glad that they mention how during meditation deep emotions come up, so if you are experiencing depression, trauma, etc..., you should see a professional counselor to help you through the process. They also talk about the importance of prayer, which they define as asking our inner self, the Universe, and God (or what you find divine) for help. What I love about their prayer practice is that they say to always add at the end "For the highest good of all concerned in connection to the universe and the source of all that is." This means prayer is not about asking to get what you want, but asking for the greatest good of all. Another part of silence is turning off technology and they suggest turning it off for one day a week. This is something I want to try soon as I think it would help our whole family.

Eat Wholesome Food
An amazing chapter about how to eat good food, but not giving a prescription that everyone must eat the same way. They believe that each of us, if we pay attention to our body, can discover the right diet to maximize our wellness. I find this to be so true. While I know that the basics of a Paleo diet work best for me, there are things I need to modify for it to work best in treating my bipolar disorder. This chapter gave me the freedom to listen to myself and be my own expert. It covers such things as eating as local and organic as possible, the issues of pasteurized dairy, keeping an acid alkaline balance, healthy protein sources, gluten sensitivity, and the issue of sugar. Nothing in this chapter conflicts with what I have researched about a healthy diet for people with mental illness.

Drink Pure Water
Basically, pure water helps us in many ways by keeping us hydrated, clearing out toxins, and it gives you great skin. This chapter talks about how to actually make sure you are drinking pure water that will give you the most benefits for a healthy mind and body. I am glad they talk about the environmental impact of drinking bottled water and also some of the things you need to watch for in tap water.

Cleanse and Heal
I admit, I was a bit afraid of this chapter because there are so many detox and cleanse fads out there. Few of them are a good idea, most of them will set someone like me with an eating disorder up for increased disordered eating. Mariel addresses the issue of disordered eating and fasting, so thankfully this chapter explains the basics of cleansing and how to find what method is right for you. Too many "experts" recommend cleanses and fasting to people with eating disorders and that is a serious problem. There is a whole range of ideas from just eating mild foods for part of the day to give your body a break, to people who fast for a few hours a day. I also love that Mariel talks about the connection of food and mood, she says "I have a passion for making people aware of health, nutrition and lifestyle as it relates to mental well-being. When I eat unheathy food, I become mentally challenged and off-kilter." There is a lot in this chapter about mental wellness and food choices, it is a wealth of information.

Laugh and Play
One of the best chapters ever! As adults, we think we are not supposed to have fun and play, and we teach our kids that they need to play less and act more like adults. Mariel and Bobby quote Unitarian minster Rev. James Freeman Clark (shout out to my fellow Unitarian Universalists!) when he said: "The love of play and sport shows that amusement is evidently one of the original instincts of human nature." Having fun is essential to a well balanced life. Play games, find fun exercises, use a trampoline, laugh. Make a conscious effort to bring happiness into your life through laughter and play. This chapter has made such a difference in our lives, especially as a family. This has allowed us to focus more on finding time to have fun as a family, which also means I am participating in activities which combat the depressive side of my illness.

This chapter talks about how adventure keeps us growing. This is also where they talk about the mental health benefits of exercise. Exercise helps combat depression and boosts cognitive ability. Keeping up with exercise means you need to pick something that is fun and adventurous, or challenging for you. Exercise is key to a good mental health treatment plan, I can not stress that enough. This chapter and the Laugh and Play chapter have really added to our lives. (Look for an upcoming post about Slacklining!)

Be Mindful in Your Relationships
Wow, a book about wellness that recognizes true wellness is not created in a vacuum! If you are in a partnership, you have to communicate well in order for both of you to maintain wellness. They talk about being honest with each other, having time together, and making time for yourself. They also talk about male and female energy, but not just that only men have male energy and women female. I acknowledge that not everyone feels there is male and female energy and so that part of the chapter may not speak to some people as much.

This is just a basic review'summary, and I don't feel it does the book justice! It has really changed the way our whole family lives, even to the point that my son told me today "Mommy, you need to get in touch with nature more" when he was asking me to play outside on this warm spring day.

Look for future blog posts that talk about the many ways in which we have implemented the principles of this book for better mental health by clicking on the Running with Nature tag/label on the right side of the blog. I am feeling so much better, with a more even mood and better ability to implement diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle components after embracing the suggestions in Running with Nature.


Rev. Katie

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