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For me, running is a form of meditation. I am alone. I am moving. I feel free. It’s a morning ritual that readies me for the day to come.

On a morning run this winter, with only one mile to go, my lower back suddenly locked up with no warning. As the stabbing pain radiated down my right leg, my thoughts went into panic mode: How am I going to stay in shape if I can’t run? How am I going to cope mentally if I can’t run? What’s going to happen to my body?

I believe that curiosity is one of our biggest assets when it comes to our health. So, in the spirit of curiosity, I hobbled home and began reflecting about what had happened. Was it simply that I had tweaked my body in an odd way? Or was it something else?

I replayed the run in my mind. I had been moving at an easy, comfortable pace, but I remembered that right before my back spasm, I had been caught in a mental cycle that left me frustrated and exasperated. I was struggling with a conflict of values: as a mother and entrepreneur, I’d been wrestling with the feelings of inadequacy that often come playing both roles simultaneously. I’m a visionary, but I love my family. How could I do justice to both sides of myself? At the same time, I was grieving for the loss of connection with my own mother; we’d been estranged for decades, and I longed for maternal guidance through this tough stretch in my own life.

All of these competing desires had drawn me into a state of worry and fear. That mental stress translated itself into physical anxiety. And then, BAM! That was when I’d felt the lightning bolt of pain. And as I lay on the floor with an ice pack on my back, I burst into uncontrollable tears. Clearly, I was dealing with issues that went beyond the physical.

Because of the personal coaching I do for a living, I’m always applying my methods inward, asking myself, “How are you going to be responsible for your own self-care?” Through these situations, I’m learning that I have to take responsibility when anger, frustration and exasperation flood my mind, and deal with it directly. If I don’t, my body will hold onto it – much like my lower back did on my run that morning.

We humans possess a deep mind-body connection; everything that happens throughout our days impacts our overall health, including actions, thoughts and feelings. (As my chiropractor always asks when my back acts up: “What are you afraid of? What are you holding onto?”) The ways in which we respond, or fail to respond, to these daily happenings can move us forward toward optimal health . . . or away from it.

Facing difficult emotions and situations takes strength, courage, and a lot of dedication. It’s much easier to run away from really facing up to the things that trouble us. Take it from my favorite author and storyteller, Brene Brown: when we numb the difficult feelings, we also numb the joy! By acknowledging physical pain, and giving ourselves some grace through the difficult process of seeking out its roots, we can open up to the joy of self-compassion and a new sense of awareness.

As founder and President of Oakley Integrative Health, LLC, Edie Oakley is a certified Integrative Health Coach. In this capacity, she partners with individuals, corporations, and non-profit organizations as they explore and deepen learning of themselves in body, mind and spirit, and empowers them to move forward as they become advocates for their own health. She is also the co-founder of EmpowerRing, LLC, a Washington, DC-based organization that is researching/piloting holistic health coaching for youth and teens using a variety of mindfulness-based practices, including breathing, journaling, eating, movement and communication. Edie is a Registered Nurse with more than 15 years of experience in intensive care and pediatrics. In 2002, she earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked with young women on issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and transitions. In 2011, she became certified as an Integrative Health Coach and completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at Duke Integrative Medicine. She is passionate about being a part of a well-care model of health. Edie lives in Durham, NC and enjoys running, art, travel, nature, friends and spending time with her husband and two boys. read more about
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  • Giselle Jones

    What a refreshing article. I love Brene Brown myself. Those questions from your chiropractor are profound.