Running and traditional talk therapy have their connections to meditative healing, but what could the lasting impact amount to if the two were combined as a 2-in-1 treatment for mental health? For Sepideh Saremi, a licensed psychotherapist and running advocate, the possibilities birthed Run Walk Talk—a forward-thinking approach to integrating movement and talk therapy.
Founder Sepideh Saremi describes Run Walk Talk as "psychotherapy for moving your life forward": It's an innovative first mental health treatment that combines mindful movement and talk therapy to help promote overall mental, physical, and emotional wellness.
"I’m kinda the therapist for people who hate therapy — or for people who otherwise wouldn’t try it," Saremi told mbg in a recent phone interview. But Saremi wasn’t always so attuned to the alternative paths of talk therapy.
"There’s an opportunity when running to slow down and notice your mind in a different way."
As a graduate student pursuing a social welfare degree at UCLA, Saremi gained early exposure to the use of exercise as a modality for mental health treatment in a research seminar, though the concept of exploring running therapy and the mental-health connection beyond the classroom wasn’t completely foreign to Saremi, who began running in her mid-20s. "Running was super helpful to me when I was going through mental health issues," she shared.
Fast-forward to one post-grad stint at a community health center and another at a private practice; Saremi has pursued her interest in running therapy at full-speed with Run Walk Talk, with the hopes of broadening the scope of what therapy can look and feel like.
"For a lot of people, this process of therapy is a lot more emotionally accessible. I take the tools applied in the office and attach them to running," explains Saremi, whose work tends to attract high-achieving individuals who often struggle to commit to traditional talk therapy—or just sitting still for an extended period of time.
"The idea of vulnerability can be very scary, but people have this perception of therapy as being too easy or fluffy—running adds another element of proaction."
Saremi grounds her running therapy approach in awareness and the mind-body connection. "Sitting still can feel strange or intrusive to some—and it’s a lot harder to notice various sensations in body this way." She continues, "There’s an opportunity when running to slow down and notice your mind in a different way. You can use your body and mind in a different way when moving than when you’re sitting."
Even so, Run Walk Talk isn’t exclusive to only runners. "I attract people who are active themselves because they know how much I value movement as a habit, but I also have patients who prefer to walk."
Mindfulness plays a big role in running therapy.
The theme of mindful movement echoes throughout Saremi’s philosophy on running as a mode of therapy—a distinction she finds super helpful for someone who has trouble doing a seated meditation. For her, the purpose of running therapy is less results-oriented with fitness goals and more focused on "exploring what’s going on internally."
"Running is scanning the body—slow downing, speeding up—and checking in with your mood in the process," says Saremi. In her experience, the charged nature of running adds to the expression of emotions. Just the mere act of being in motion can help speed up the discharge of anxiety and restlessness, which can help a person process emotions and move through the moments.
"It’s about being aware of yourself without judgment," says Saremi, who describes the running process as self-exploratory as well. "A lot of problems for people are rooted in their relationship with desire—figuring out what they want and how to connect themselves."
When introducing her work and practice to patients, she makes it a point that the purpose of the session is less fitness- and results-oriented and more focused on "exploring what’s going on internally." "I’m very careful to delineate that we are not working out. We’re moving to work through emotions and whatever else might come up."
Shifting the focus from the external to internal.
Saremi recognizes the difficulty in advocating for feeling good over looking good, especially as a practitioner operating out of the Los Angeles area, where fitness is heavily ingrained in the culture. "My approach to movement is geographical. In LA, movement fixates on extreme limits and punishment—manipulating your body to look a certain way. It’s all results-driven." Her hopes involve shifting the conversation of fitness to one of intention. "Run Walk Talk is about creating capacity to feel joy and to move slower."
Another big reason to champion running as treatment for mental health? Accessibility.
"Running is very democratic, affordable, and independent. All you need is shoes — which isn’t true of a lot of other activities."
And when it comes to community and camaraderie, she thinks you’d be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming sport. "Runners are the most generous people—in terms of encouraging others."
Even when asked about the representation of people of color in running and the wellness world at large, Saremi, who is Iranian-American, views running as the great equalizer of sports. "It’s a true exercise of meritocracy."
While she recognizes the therapeutic benefits other forms of movement can have, such as yoga and boxing, Saremi has her eyes set on capping the full potential of running therapy, as she’s already begun to train other therapists interested in adapting the treatment to their own practices.
"It’s a powerful thought to reorient your relationship with your body to not always perform."
She hopes to bring the work to community health agencies where therapist burnout is typically high. "As research develops on the mind-body connection, my efforts are focused on developing running therapy as an approach."
In the end though, Saremi promotes all kinds of movement—for wellness, pleasure, and health. "Movement—it’s not dogmatic. You don’t have to do any one thing. It’s a powerful thought to reorient your relationship with your body to not always perform."
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