As soon as I felt the pain in my heel, I knew things would turn out badly. I was two miles into a six mile winter trail run. Fresh snow padded the single track trail and I charged up each dip, rise and incline in the red rock slope. Rhythm, focus, running, loving, breathing, seeing sage dusted white, junipers crowned with snow. And then the pain–dull at first creeping up my right ankle. I slowed, surprised, then walked a few steps. The pain subsided. Emancipator throbbed in my earbuds, pressed me on so I ran again, only to stop again. Shoot, I thought, what is that?

A week passed. Two skiing endeavors, one painful, one not. Another run. A mile in. Hot pain in the heal and that was that, no running for a week I said, not realizing that it would be much longer.

Achilles tendon injuries are no stranger to runners. Before that fateful run I had heard from a running friend about the horrible discomfort of achilles tears, ruptures or tendinitus. What I didn’t realize at the time was the enormous effort, and lack of effort, required to heal an achilles. In two weeks I digressed from running and skiing strong to sitting for hours on end. My days took on a new rhythm––icepack, followed by hot epsom salt soak, arnica massage, repeat. This change was a shock for a girl who spends every waking hour in motion, foot induced flight skipping to and from horse pens at feed time, long runs and walks with a feisty husky, mornings off skinning up ski slopes, after-work evenings running around a restaurant.

In order to get over this set back, I would need to relearn the art of moving mindfully.

When I was 22, I spent three months at a yoga ashram. Each day was designed to cultivate mindfulness–5:45 morning meditation; 6:00 hatha yoga practice; morning hours spent chopping vegetables for my fellow yogis; afternoon hours dedicated to the magazine, Yoga International, I had come to work for; evening yoga at 5; soup dinner at 6:30 followed by evening meditation and quiet walks around 300 acres of northeastern Pennsylvania hills. Mondays were declared “silent Mondays.” That is, complete silence throughout the ashram during meals, meditation, vegetable chopping, and magazine work (unless communication between editors was entirely necessary). In leu of speaking, people communicated to each other via nods and  gestures. Beyond silent Mondays, ashram residents were encouraged to be quiet and mindful of those whose walls we shared. Walk slowly, experience each step, breath and muscle movement.

Away from the controlled environment and harmonious community of an ashram, however, mindfulness can easily be lost in the modern day to day. Concerns about procuring an income, maintaining a home, raising children, juggling work, school, social activities and (for some of us) staying fit easily overshadow awareness of our overall well being. Which is how I fell into the pattern of rushing into long trail runs without stretching during my limited time away from work. A dangerous pattern that has led me to prolonged episodes of couch-confinement and to very slow walks around the neighborhood.

But since slowing down and becoming more aware of the passing time, I’m finding that I’m reading more and thinking deeper. I’m allowing my mind to expand beyond the day’s events, dramas and dissatisfactions. I’m day dreaming more, consciously thinking about what I want in life. And on those long, slow walks I’m noticing houses in town I hadn’t seen before, admiring how the clouds shift across Sopris’s twin peaks and generally finding myself more aware of my surroundings that I normally would be while scurrying from one thing to the next.

Sure it stinks when your forced slow down, but sometimes slowing down isn’t so bad. Sometimes it can be, dare I say, enlightening.