Fashion

Racing Toward Enlightenment

The yin and yang of mindful running.

“Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice.”
— Haruki Murakami, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”


THE MORNING I
drive up into Topanga, it is wrapped in silence and fog. There is a solidity to the lack of man-made sound, like an atmospheric weight pushing at the senses. Fuzzy golden mimosa trees reach out alongside the narrow road as I drive higher into the canyon. The GPS goes wonky: no signal. My full attention is engaged in locating the markers that lead to my destination. I pull onto a steep incline, arriving at the home of Max Vallot, co-founder of outdoor brand District Vision.

The cottage is airy and inviting. Every object and piece of furniture is deliberate in its simplicity, with pops of decorative color giving off an ascetic yet chic vibe. The space also serves as the brand’s de facto spiritual HQ. Vallot and his counterpart, Tom Daly, are waiting for me. I have come for guided meditation, breathwork, and a “tuned-in” trail run — intentional self-exploratory practices that are at the heart of the brand’s offerings.

What if our view of distance running included contemplation and pause? Nobody would argue that the sport is not an action of force and stamina, but what if its meditative steadiness was brought to the fore, if it was understood as a vehicle to mental balance? District Vision was founded to do just that, to yoke mindfulness with high-endurance movement. The point of entry: an athlete’s need for a clear and focused gaze. Deep into a healthy way of living, Vallot and Daly, friends since college and self-described “gear nerds,” saw a void when it came to performance eyewear that also looks good. They took two years to develop their first made-in-Japan eyewear, blending sleek design with science and technology. Their objective was to solve the real-time annoyances of a runner. Frames are featherlight, and the hardware titanium and nose pad are adjustable. The design of their standard D+ lens is informed by neurological research, with technology that minimizes the strain on the optic nerve during physical exertion. The Calm-Tech lens is porous and absorbs moisture from sweat, rain, and tears, a feature Daly assures me is necessary because “every runner and cyclist gets pissed off when they can’t see.”

My eyes are unfocused and soft. The only sound is Vallot’s gentle voice ushering my attention inward, then outward, to the subtle sensations in my extremities. I feel the diligence in his practice through the balanced rhythm of his guiding words. We visualize ourselves outside, on a sun-drenched mountain, limbs moving forward with confidence. The saffron-colored, buckwheat meditation cushion I am perched on is embroidered with the brand’s hieroglyphic-like eye logo. Every touchpoint across District Vision is a response to the duo’s “intuitive investigations into their own growth,” as well as feedback from their running and meditating friends. They view their products as tools to facilitate mindfulness.

Less than a decade ago, both Vallot and Daly lived in New York City and worked in fashion. A breakup and a job loss led them to the path of “self-inquiry and exploration.” Daly immersed himself in the blossoming "movement of creatives coming together in the urban space of running,” and Vallot discovered yoga and meditation. They dove in. Attuned to their surroundings, it didn’t take long for them to notice an unexamined cross-section between their chosen outlets. As Vallot puts it, “runners, seriously committed to their physical training, were becoming more interested in the mental slash spiritual dimension of the sport, wanting also to train the mind.” Their idea: to bridge the practices and bring meditation to runners. It might sound obvious, but there were fewer intuitive connections being made at scale even five years ago.


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The Taoist concept of yin and yang lies at the heart of this alliance. Its principles maintain that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, fitting together seamlessly and working in perfect harmony. Where yang is power, yin is pause. In the case of District Vision, yang is the action of running and yin is the inner silence that occurs during a long run or in its mental preparation. To absorb this outlook is to already be curious and interested. Daly concedes that, “we cater to people who have already found the recipe for themselves in other parts of their lives, and found us as a complementary facet for running or working out.” The guys are savvy, tapping into the zeitgeist of conscious living, but they are also genuinely sincere. Daly sounds almost apologetic when he explains that “it sounds quite logical, like we have the perfect marketing story, but [the brand] is just us exploring what we care about. And we knew if we care, there were probably five people who knew five other people who care about these things too. We are making things our friends need, and things we feel we need for our own explorations.”

This spring, District Vision will diversify its offerings with the release of a complete women’s running kit. A collection for female athletes was always a part of the plan but “as two guys we lacked the perspective to do it in a meaningful way.” They worked closely with a female-led design team and tested over a period of six months with runners from LA-based Good Vibes Track Club. The result is a 10-piece wardrobe that prioritizes comfort and ease of mobility, incorporating technical shapewear into the construction. With an ethos of constant improvement, Vallot and Daly strive to innovate and “achieve specialized fabric solutions,” the goal being optimal health through their materials. Skin is an important consideration: as the body’s biggest organ, the materials it absorbs and rubs against can influence our well-being. Pockets, the most astute design feature, are incorporated in each style of apparel — an answer to my (and arguably all runners’) most pressing outdoor need for unobtrusive places to put both snack and phone. To complete the look, the brand has just launched a long-term partnership with New Balance for footwear.

At the summit of Topanga State Park, I listen to my ascending breath; I hold it in, slowly release, then repeat. We are standing in a circle of three, practicing nasal respiratory exercises, Vallot directing our breath pattern in preparation for a run. Before our feet hit the trail, he hands me a pair of earplugs to block out all external noise. The only sounds I hear will be generated by my breathing and my tread. The technique, which Vallot picked up from the running coach at the Esalen institute, is meant to bring one’s total awareness to the actions of the body, and to tune into the quality and efficiency of the breath.

Teaching has been a pillar of District Vision’s mission from the outset. Since 2016 they have hosted a meditation pop-up for race participants at the New York City Marathon. And from lockdown emerged a video series of training methodologies available on their website. In-person retreats and online workshops are also in development. The duo has begun the process of republishing out-of-print books from the 1960s on mind expansion and the mental health benefits of living in closer connection to nature. Ultimately, District Vision is a temple to learning. Their content includes methodology that Vallot and Daly have implemented in their own lives, lessons that have worked for them that they wish to share with others. As we’re parting, Vallot tells me in earnest that the goal is simply to “follow our heart by looking close to people around us with interesting takes, and find entry points to a more introspective and examined approach to life.”

Sources for Mindfulness

Books, places, film, and audio for mental presence.

BOOKS

  • “The Book of Joy”

    Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are two titans coming together here — hard to not take away some golden nuggets.

PLACES

  • Nakashima Foundation for Inner Peace

    The hour-long drive from New York City is a small price to pay for a bit of creative enlightenment. The owner’s son and daughter oversee the tours from their childhood home in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

  • Spirit Rock

    I have sat most of my silent meditation retreats at this meditation center. If you want to learn about mindfulness, this is the place.

  • Nakashima Foundation for Inner Peace

    The hour-long drive from New York City is a small price to pay for a bit of creative enlightenment. The owner’s son and daughter oversee the tours from their childhood home in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

  • Spirit Rock

    I have sat most of my silent meditation retreats at this meditation center. If you want to learn about mindfulness, this is the place.

MEDIA

  • Pacific Vibrations

    This surf documentary shows how surfing can be a teacher for life — an exploration of consciousness if you have the right tool kit. Psychedelics informed a new generation of mind-surfers in the 1960s that inspire us to this day.

  • Organic Music Society

    An album by Don Cherry, a famous 1970s trumpeter.

  • Huberman Lab

    This podcast shares digestible information on neuroscience, with hacks for a more examined life.

  • Pacific Vibrations

    This surf documentary shows how surfing can be a teacher for life — an exploration of consciousness if you have the right tool kit. Psychedelics informed a new generation of mind-surfers in the 1960s that inspire us to this day.

  • Huberman Lab

    This podcast shares digestible information on neuroscience, with hacks for a more examined life.

  • Organic Music Society

    An album by Don Cherry, a famous 1970s trumpeter.

PEOPLE

Mountaineer Conrad Anker, boulderer Ashima Shiraishi, ultramarathoner Rich Roll, philosopher Charles Eisenstein, and neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris.


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Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

Skye Parrott Writer

Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.

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