Side Stitches Are A Blessing

For most runners, side stitches seem like a gift straight from Hell. When you are least expecting it, the invisible hand of the Devil seems to squeeze your insides together ever so slowly – with enough strength to cause pain, but not to force you to stop. Besides being downright evil, that hand is damn persistent as well – if you don’t do anything about it, the pain will continue until, after a long fight to see who is more stubborn, you have to give in.

Before I began my running training and learned to like the sport, I hated side stitches, too. Whenever I had to run for PE class, there they were. Like those annoying people who invite themselves to every party – you know they’ll be there, but you really wish they weren’t. OK so that example sucks. The point is that I had side stitches every time I was forced to run, and I hated it.

But now I run often and think side stitches are a blessing.

So what changed? Two things: the way I run and my attitude. My appreciation for side stitches also appeared in several stages: (1) I learned how to manage them, (2) I accepted their existence and released my resistance to them and finally (3) I learned to see them as gifts.

Do you also run and have a problem with side stitches? Then read along. Do you not run but are still curious on how you could apply this knowledge to other areas of your life? Then feel free to skip the next part but definitely read 2 and 3.

(1) How To Handle Side Stitches

Most people will tell you not to eat anything right before your run and stay hydrated. That’s all good, and yet I get side stitches at least once during each of my runs, regardless of what I do prior to them. If you’re sure that your pain is not from having eaten before the run or dehydration, then there is one easy step you need to do:

  1. Breathe deeply.

You might not be able to go very deep if it hurts too much, but try to push a little harder with every breath. Breathe in as much air as you can and breathe it all back out. Do this for as long as it takes the pain to stop. You see a side stitch happens because your diaphragm is contracting, much like a cramp in any other muscle. The only way to stop the contraction is to stretch the muscle, and you do this by breathing deeply.

Usually I get side stitches when I’m thinking about something and my breath gets shallower. As soon as I notice some pain building up, I focus on my breathing and stretch my diaphragm. In a matter of a few breaths the pain is gone, and I get to enjoy my run again. This time, though, I make an effort to be more present and keep focusing on my breath.

*Warning: if your pain persists after 10+ good deep breaths, it is probably not originating from your diaphragm and you might want to stop running. In that case, see if resting for a few days helps.*

(2) Releasing Your Resistance

So you know how to stop a side stitch on its tracks now, and yet every time one comes you still feel a certain discomfort. You resist its appearance and wish it hadn’t come in the first place. You worry, complain aloud or in your head, and feel your stomach and shoulders tightening a little. You haven’t accepted side stitches as a normal occurrence while running yet.

The fact is, though, that unless you are always fully aware of your breathing and posture, you will get side stitches once in a while – if not every time you run, like me. The point is not to eliminate them completely, it is to learn to live with them and handle them when they arise.

I cannot change your mindset by explaining this to you; you will have to change it yourself. Though I think you’ll find it rather easy, you still have to put conscious effort into changing your attitude towards side stitches. Just like it makes no sense to worry about the future or regret the past, it is also stupid to resist your present. So learn to accept side stitches as a part of your running experience and know that you can handle them when they come.

This attitude also allows you to deal with other problems in life. Accepting a bad circumstance, even if there is nothing you can do about it, is much better than resisting it and feeling like shit; resisting a bad circumstance when there is something you could be doing about it is plain stupid. So try it out: slowly learn to accept little nuisances you can fix like side stitches, then transport that attitude to situations you can’t do anything about like being stuck in traffic, and finally try and incorporate it more and more into your life so you never feel like complaining.

Bonus: Besides just making life better, this simple tip will probably make you live longer, too, since you won’t be in as much stress!

(3) Thank You For The Pain

*Warning: If you actually implement what I tell you in this part, your happiness might skyrocket. Make sure to do it in a safe place where there is no danger of breaking the ceiling.*

From the moment I start feeling the pain of a tightening side stitch, I stop thinking and running becomes a form of moving meditation. I am no longer distracted by my thoughts and all of my mental energy goes into making sure I’m breathing properly. From then on it’s heaven: I pay more attention to my surroundings and my body, and get a deep sense that everything is alright.
I might not be the only person to smile after a side stitch passed, but I don’t do it because the pain went away; I smile out of gratitude for the pain, because it reminded me to enjoy life moment-by-moment.

I smile because I know that the pain was just a way my body (or Higher Self, or God, or Whatever) found to bring my attention back to the present. And I smile because I am in LOVE with the present.

So… what if side stitches are just there to remind you to love the present moment?
That’s right, side stitches are good.

Think about it: side stitches are good.

Then what does this mean about all of your other problems? Yup… you guessed it… they, too, are good. All of your ‘problems’ are there to remind you that you’re not being true to your real self. A circumstance only becomes a problem when you resist it, because resistance is suffering, and it is not the way of your true self.

In the end, problems are simply there to help you grow. Some focus on specific things (e.g. side stitches help you pay more attention), but all of them help you learn the most crucial ‘skill’ for happiness: releasing the resistance and embracing the present moment.

So see problems as blessings, and use them to your favor. So what if they are *actually* thrown at you by the Devil to make your life miserable? Well, in that case it is even better to see them as blessings and opportunities for growth: you’ll be happier and grow more AND you’ll get to piss off the Devil while you’re at it! ;)

For the sake of it being fun, here are some quotes on gratitude:

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
 – Oprah Winfrey

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

“Gratitude rocks!” – Vasco Brazão

So, what are your own ‘side stitches’ you’ve been complaining about that could use a little gratitude-fueled melting?


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