Mindful Running

We titled this article mindful running with the emphasis on mindful.  It’s important that we differentiate from meditation and mindfulness.  Meditation is removing yourself from all distractions; to be in a different place and present unlike any other part of your day.  Mindful running is applying those practices to the process of running.  As you are running, what does your breath tell you, how do your legs feel? Other physical queues are present that you may not always pay attention to. 

Many people will start with their breath, but there are many other connections to make while you are running such as the path you are running on, how a past injury may feel, the feel of your sneakers, the temperature outside, to name a few.  Being mindful includes a lot of things:  paying attention to our breath, thought processes, our responses to those thoughts and any emotions evoked.  

Meditation combined with running or walking have been linked as good partners in enhancing your health.   In one study,  B L Alderman found that direct meditation combined with running or walking helped in reducing symptoms of depression, participants by approximately 40%.  

To get into mindful running, it all starts with your setup.  Some experts refer to it as the cooldown before your warmup.  Many of us workout to de-stress.  We go right from doing a bunch of things right into our run.  You need to take your body out of that stress prior to running and prepare your mind and body for the workout.  Deep breathing is a great way to do this.  Taking 2-3 deep breaths and focusing only on your breath, then seating yourself against a wall and continuing that for 3-4 minutes.  Setting your phone timer can help you take your mind off of how long and really focus on your breathing.  The goal is to slow your breathing way down.  You will feel differently once your body has calmed down, so for some people 3-4 minutes may be just right, for others it may not be long enough.  Listen to your body though and as your mind gets distracted, bring it back to your breath, gently letting those other thoughts and worries drift away.  

Once you’ve started running, there are two important things to key on.  First is your breath.  Ask yourself what is my breath telling me? How is it adjusting with my effort?   The second thing to focus in on is the visual scenes around you.  What are your eyes seeing? Really open your eyes, even if this is a familiar running route, you will undoubtedly see some new things.  

In an article at Positive Psychology, Chevy Rough and Charles Oxley of ASICS provide some additional advice for mindful runs:

-permit yourself to be released from current day pressure and responsibilities

-lean on your breath where you need to.  Mouth breathing is related to stress responses so use your nose in a full breath.

- keep the conversation in your head between you and your physical body, not societal expectations

-try to avoid anchor points, timings and tracking devices — just listen to to your body

After your run, you’ll want to cool down with a similar process as your warmup.  There’s benefits to stretching after your workout while your muscles are warm, but there is also benefit to do 5-10 minutes of breath work after your workout as well.  Not only will it help you transition back to what you need to do next, but it will also bookend the mindfulness that you are applying to your exercise.  

Some final tips on mindful running to make it easier for you to include this in your routine:

1. Take your run off the treadmill or indoor track and go outside.  You’ll have a lot more things to dial-in on when you’re outside versus being indoors on a treadmill or track.  Running in nature provides a lot of opportunities to see different terrain, temperature and other interesting things.

2. Connect with your body contact.  Focusing on the physical sensation of how one heel hits the ground and transitions to the toe can be the ultimate distraction from negative thoughts or a wondering mind. Similar to how you focus on the breath, let your running form become the focus of your breath.  You can also use this as an opportunity to correct or work on anything that doesn’t feel right.  Avoid over-focusing or straining when you do this though. Keep things light and easy. 

3.  The cool-down before your warmup.  As we mentioned previously, this is so important to transition you to this mindful state. You may find your own way of approaching this, but it’s so important from a success standpoint.  Do this and you’ve built yourself a successful bridge to a mindful workout. 

4.  Try going low tech for a workout.  If you’re usually a headphone wearer, try ditching them. Use this as an opportunity to really signal to your body that you are focusing in on breath and surroundings.  Our two super-keys mentioned previously.  

5.  Pace is so important.  Starting slow gives your mind an opportunity to set pace with your body.  As you are keeping your focus on your breathing and surroundings, you can watch your body’s response as you ramp up the pace.  This will give you a better feel for how your body is reacting, as you up the pace does your breathing change (it should)? Where do you feel heat in your body? What are the changes in your breathing.   You can see the point but the idea is to be aware of all of these changes as things progress in your run. 

6. Give merit and consideration to your thoughts.  Witness what your thoughts are.  It’s best to do this after you’ve dialed into how you are physically feeling.  However witness than and acknowledge them, but do not dwell on them.  Release them and gently bring your attention back to your breath. 

7.  Reflect at the end of your run. Reflect on how you are feeling after your run. Focus for a moment on your breathing and feel your body attempt to cool.  Acknowledge any discomfort you may have, think about what it’s telling you and what you want to do about it. Nothing is ok. 

Being mindful during exercise is a great way to practice being mindful during times when you need it- stressful times, good times when you need to savor the moment, or just in a day-to-day situation 

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