We all run for different reasons. Running can be extremely therapeutic, helping people to de-stress or separate from the busy thoughts of the day. Running can be a great way to practice meditation during your day. Mindful running can help to reduce anxiety, help you to relax and calm your mind and can help bring about greater self-awareness. As a competitive runner, you will realize even more benefits, including reduced injury, improved focus and the ability to better control your performance on race day.
In the last few years there have been numerous studies on the benefits of mindful meditation and how it helps to improve the ability to focus. In a study led by Giuseppe Pagnoni, Zen monks were asked to meditate and focus on their breathing. They were then purposefully “distracted” by a flashing screen with random words. The same was done to a group who never meditated. All participants were given an MRI on their brain. The results showed those who meditated had more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex, the area of the brain that controls spontaneous thoughts.
When running, you may find you become distracted by all the other things going on in your life – which may lead to risk of injury. If you are distracted and not focused on your body and breath, you may become tired more easily. You also increase your risk of running with poor form, or accidentally taking a “weird” stride. By focusing on the present moment, runners will be much more in tune with their bodies. If something is off, like your pace, or your breathing, a mindful runner is more likely to take note and adjust to improve their performance.
Before heading out for your next run, try this quick mindfulness practice:
- In a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath
- As you inhale, begin counting until you count to 5, then exhale and count to 10
- Continue counting to 10 as you inhalf and exhale
- When your mind wanders, try bringing your focus back to your breath
- Continue this activity for 4 or 5 minutes
You can also practice mindfulness meditation during your next run:
- Begin your next run at a comfortable pace, attempting to run with ease
- Once you find your pace, let your attention settle on your lower legs and your feet
- Notice how your hip and thigh pick up your power leg and foot
- Notice how with each stride your foot connects to the ground
- Bring your attention to your breath, is it short? Fast? Deep? Shallow? Begin counting to 3 on your inhale, then 3 on your exhale
- Once you feel a connection to your body and breath, allow your attention to settle back to your legs and feet noticing the sensations in your full body with each stride
Remember, there is no “correct” way to feel or practice mindfulness meditation. The goal is to bring your attention back from being busy and focus on the way you feel and the way you experience your run.