How headphones dysregulate our inner ear, sense of balance, and ultimately our physical mechanics

I’ve been pondering whether or not I should write this for a while now, and as time goes on, my finding seems to have increasing evidence as to why we shouldn’t use music while we run and why we should ultimately train music free.

For starters, let’s talk about inner dialog and influence. Our inner dialog is important, our inner thoughts and observances, our ideas and so on, tend to be harmoniously adjusted to the speed and mood we have when plodding along the country lanes. When listening to music, our thoughts are influenced by the style of music we’re listening to. We’re somewhat pulled into someone elses field of being rather than our own. I’d nearly go to the extent of saying that we’d need to create our own music just to be in sync with ourselves. Though, despite that, we really do lack the fortification of our inner dialog. When we’re faced with it and only it, it becomes a lot more important for us to entertain an optimistic outlook, and hopeful “what if I could…?” and a clear vision of what we want to do while remaining clearly aware and responsive to our body and breathing. The quality of our fortified mind determines the quality of our runs, our energy and ultimately our well-being.

Balance. Running on habit. Running without headphones allows us to listen to our body, to our thoughts, and even to sync up with what is around us in a harmonious way. This last element is important, because while we listen to music, we become unaware of how we’re forcing our bodies to ‘press on’ despite driving them in a brutish manner. Not to mention the dysregulation of our inner ear and balance, this is the extent of why we drive our bodies in such a brutish manner. We’re essentially following a musical pattern that isn’t our own. This might work for dance choreographies, but for running its a big NO. Dancing is somewhat versatile, while running is a very repetitious action of one foot in front of the other. In a way, we have to be light footed and flexible, using our natural body dynamics.
All of that goes out the door when we have loud pounding music ‘forcing’ us onward.
Worse still, setting the forced momentum aside, is the lack of insight and empathy we have for our bodies while we run. We will get messages from our body. And our knee’s will lock, because we’re not listening!

Breathing, breathing patterns, and personal rhythms. When running, over the years, be that through long-distance trail runs, sprints or outpacing my friends on the soccer pitches, … I recalled the breathing patterns (3 in mouth, 1 long nose in, 3 long out / 4 rapid in nose, 2 long mouth out, …) chest patterns (How my lungs feel when I’m taking long strides? How capable I am when I’m sprinting? Am I sticking the chest out or am I pressing downward on my abdomen? …) and leg patterns (outward to in in rapid succession, long reaching outward strides, tiny but rapid tiptoes, or slow relaxed, recovery type running?). I had discarded all of this and was no longer paying attention (No wonder I felt winded, tired, and had knee pain!), to how I felt, to what my body was capable of, to what my breathing intake capacity was, I was simply pushing onwards to the beats in my ears.

Lack of special awareness. When running, or even cycling, I often found myself looking behind me as if paranoid suddenly and my general feeling was that of fear. Was someone or something behind me? If we can’t hear, we have to physically check, we’re disadvantaged.
This also plays into our internal sense of balance, when we have headphones on our voice goes tiny because we don’t want to speak too loud, and we thus seem to lack confidence when we utter a ‘Hello’ to someone at the gym or anywhere else. This is also an effect of numbing our senses and heightening a feeling, thus cutting us off from reality for a while. It’s as if we’re in a bubble, and that bubble prevents us from treading each pace correctly.
When running at night (with headphones and music), I’d often make a false stride or feel the need to turn around ‘just in case’ something or someone was there which is a weird sensation of fear that prevents our energy from flowing properly. Though, when running at night without headphones or music, my runs are peaceful, relaxed, and my strides never miss the mark, fear doesn’t even occur because I’m aware of what is around me. The same goes for the intensity of my pounding, without headphones each stride is perfectly balanced and proportionate to the weight distributed to that leg. But when listening to music, my strides are heavier and less balanced, its less a poetic dance between the roads and I than it is a brutish spartiate thirst to conquer the road. One is a friend to your knee’s, the other is out to kill them…

Fake motivation, like caffein, leads to a crash, a lack of personal momentum. When we’re running with music, something strange occurs. We settle into the beat and forget everything else, despite our bodies screaming at us and our lungs being overinflated or under-oxygenated due to the stress of pushing to the speed of the music. Although, as this happens we’re less privy to our thoughts, although we can hear them with music, they’re subtly influenced by the tone of the music. Ever tried listening to sad violin or piano while sitting in front of a window on a rainy day? How about turning on some Jazz to go with a piping hot cup of tea? The mood changes instantaneously doesn’t it? Yet, despite being in control of our thoughts, our feelings colour the perception of our thoughts thus tugging them one way or another. When we listen to elevated beat counts such as anything over 100 bpm, we tend to desync from our natural pattern and sync up to the creator of the song, the track, and how it resonates with us, thus making us feel one way or another.
Before we know it, we’re off to the races, except we’ve left our baseline state behind.

Baseline energy. When we depend on music to get motivation, our energy resonates with that dependency and we then need that musical high to get us motivated. And I’m pretty sure that the level of our energy is only in relation to our base state, so if we continually depend on music to amp us up, when we have no music in our ears we feel empty, and everything seems boring or even monotone. This is a major problem, it’s similar to the dopamine hits an addict gets when they force their way to get to the high. Except, after a while, they dysregulate their baseline sense of normalcy, thus creating a lack of comfort in the mundane everyday occurrences. This is a form of contrast which is uncomfortable to be in, which brings the individual to seek more stimulation in order to ‘feel alive’. When running without music, our thoughts, our mood and our breathing patterns are joined, thus creating a rhythm of thought that drives us onward, in a motivated way. Have you ever tried forcing yourself to do something when you’re unhappy or even angry? Right… you also know that when you force things, they often break. When going for a run, we’re driven by a mood and thought process and running without music allows us to strengthen our baseline optimism in a way running with music doesn’t.

Virtuous dynamic. When running with open ears, we create a virtuous circle, as we combine having the right balance, the right breathing patterns, propper balance, and fortification of our internal motivational dialogue.

Vicious dynamic. When running with hyper-stimulating kinds of music, while imbibing substances such as coffee, we essentially dysregulate our bodies natural capacity to a) create energy to thrive off of, b) we become dependant on some external form of stimulus to do most anything, c) our energy suffers as a consequence and so does our mental health, d) we end up pushing and forcing our bodies to adapt to the rhythm of the music, e) we dysregulate our inner ear, thus becoming unbalanced and unaware of the impact, the pace, and the dynamic of our body on the roads.

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