Running is an exercise in both physical and mental strength. Sure, you have to physically put one foot in front of the other, but your mind also has to come to the party to keep you going.
Mindful running combines both of these to create a more meditative experience.
“It’s purely about being mentally connected within your movement and not being distracted,” Chevy Rough, a mindfulness and performance coach on the ASICS Sound Mind Sound Body team, told Runner’s World.
“Distraction can come in the form of other people, noise, technology, but it can also come in the form of cultural pressures. You know: ‘How fast do I have to go?’ ‘How far am I supposed to go?’ ‘What is the definition of a runner?’”
Maintaining mindfulness during running can completely change the experience.
“Not only can mindfulness have a positive influence on performance, it also makes running a whole lot more enjoyable,” coach and journalist, Mackenzie L. Havey, told HuffPost UK.
Practising mindful running means ditching apps and fitness trackers that measure your distance, pace and time so you’re solely able to focus on the activity itself and not the performance.
While this might seem like a drastic measure, the benefits of mindful running are real.
A study published in the Translational Psychiatry journal found that using meditation with aerobic exercise resulted in a 40% decrease of depression symptoms in depressed patients.
Mindful running has also been found to lower your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, while also increasing your pain tolerance as it allows you to relax through the pain and grind of running rather than fixate on it.
While having a running goal might motivate you, it could feel unattainable to someone else. Journalist and author Bella Mackie hits the pavement daily and she even wrote a book about how running helped her manage her anxiety.
But, for Mackie, breaking her own records isn’t why she continues to run.
“I don’t go any faster than I did when I completed my first 5k six years ago,” she wrote for Stylist. “I’ve found my rhythm, and enjoy running because I’m not breaking my back trying to beat my own records.
“It’s great if you want to get faster, or go for longer, but if it adds unwanted pressure, then forget timers and try and listen to what your body feels comfortable doing.”
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Everything is fucking mental. But today is the first day of 2020 where I will be running in SHORTS. My legs look like they’ve been in deep freeze. Not the normal one in the kitchen. The one your dad keeps in the garage and stocked with meat 6 years ago and hasn’t defrosted yet but he’s telling everyone how his planning paid off now huh. Huh? What I’m saying is, GO FOR A RUN.
When people tell Mackie that they give up on running because it feels hard, her advice is straightforward.
“The simple solution is to SLOW DOWN,” she wrote. “Take in the view, lift your head up to the sun.”
While it’s mostly about forgoing all distractions, here are a few ways to help you get in the groove of mindful running.
- Use your breath as an anchor: An anchor gives you something to focus on and helps you to stay present in the moment. Establish a breathing pattern while running and tune into it.
- Look around you: Many runners focus on dodging cars and other pedestrians, while also checking their stats via a watch or fitness tracker. Instead, try noticing the sights and sounds around you. Headspace recommends making a mental list of what you’re seeing and feeling while running.
- Use a guided meditation: If mindful running is a new experience, you might want some help in the very beginning as running without listening to music or a podcast can be jarring. Headspace has guided meditations specifically for running, so it could help to give them a go.
Happy (mindful) running!