Two ways to reduce stress include exercise and mindfulness. There’s evidence to suggest that both can do amazing things for your mind and body. But what about putting them together for even better results?
Mindful running is an excellent way to build both mental and physical strength and reduce stress. It may even improve your running, too!
Wondering how to achieve mindfulness while running? With some focused effort, practice and consistency, it’s not difficult at all. Here are some of the top tips for becoming a mindful runner.
What is mindful running?
Mindfulness is the art of close, dedicated focus. Apply that to running, and you have mindful running. But what does “focus” mean when running?
Mindful running comes down to being present while you run. If your mind is on other things like work, the fight you had with your spouse, that stupid thing your friend did, your running stats or something else, then you’re not present in your run.
When you can clear your mind, make a mind-body connection and get in the zone, that’s when you’re practicing mindful running.
Why run mindfully?
Running mindfully has both physical and mental benefits. When you commit to running mindfully, you’ll find that over time, your awareness of your body increases. Improved awareness of how your body moves and feels means you can work towards more deliberate movement—for example, improving your running form and turning that into a habit. Plus, it’s a great way to take a break from staring at your watch or distracting yourself with music, and instead, run for the pure enjoyment of running.
If going for a run is starting to feel like a chore to you, then it’s time to start practicing mindful running.
What are the benefits of mindful running?
When you’re training for a race or working towards a goal, you need to pay attention to your running data and stats. But if you can get in at least one mindful run a week, you’ll see different benefits. Various research indicates that running mindfully can:
- Lower your stress levels by reframing your mind.
- Improve your mental well-being by lowering anxiety and depression.
- Boost your performance by strengthening the mind-muscle connection.
- Reduce injury risks by making you more aware of your movement.
- Accelerate your recovery time as your performance improves.
When should you practice mindfulness?
One of the great things about mindfulness is that you can practice it anytime and anywhere. It’s all about becoming present in the moment. With that in mind, practicing mindfulness before, during and after your run can be beneficial.
Before the run
Preparing for your run is often hurried. Throw the shoes on, grab some water and rush out the door. But spending this time more mindfully can be positive. You don’t have to meditate on your run or visualize your running form, but simply slow down consciously.
Also, be mindful of your movements during your warm-up. Instead of rushing through it, slow each movement down and feel how your muscles move while connecting your mind to each motion. Do some “belly breathing” here as well. It’ll help centre you, give you something to focus on and get the oxygen flowing through your body so you’re ready to run.
During your run
It’s important to understand that not every run needs to be a mindful run, and not every moment of every run needs to be mindful. While it’s a good idea to do an entire run every week that’s focused on mindfulness, you can still get five to 10 minutes of mindfulness into your other runs.
All you need to do is spend a few minutes focusing on your body. Concentrate on the cadence of your feet or your breathing. You don’t need to count; just focus on it.
If you find your attention wandering, gently bring it back. Try to avoid thinking about your pace, your route, your work or how well—or not—your run is going. Clear your mind and just let that mind-body connection take over.
After your run
As you cool down, pay attention to how your heart rate slows down, how your muscles twitch and how your breathing becomes slower. Notice the sensation and the refreshment of taking a sip of water or stretching your muscles. Feel.
How to get started with mindful running
Ready to start mindful running? Here’s how to get started. It’s best to try a separate mindful run at least once a week so you can truly remove all distractions. Once you’re used to that, you can start implementing mindfulness into your normal daily runs, even when training for a race.
Go light on distracting gear
One of the best ways to achieve mindfulness while running is to leave your watch and phone at home. It’s tempting to check your stats, but that glance can ruin your state of mindfulness.
If you usually listen to music or a podcast while running, take a break from it. Eliminate anything that could distract you from being mindful.
If you prefer to carry your phone for safety reasons, you might want to put it in airplane mode to avoid distractions. A minimalist run offers the best kind of conditions for a mindful run.
Focus on your body
Once you’ve disconnected from your tech devices, you might wonder what to focus on. The best way to run mindfully is to focus on your body.
Concentrate on things like the feeling of your feet hitting the ground and pushing off, your arms pumping, your posture or your breathing. Try to focus on one thing for an extended period of time instead of cycling through all of the above constantly.
Another good way to be mindful is to do a “body scan.” Notice if there’s tension in any of your muscles. If you find tension—often, the neck or jaw might be tense while the rest of the body is relaxed—focus your attention on relaxing it. Or pay attention to if there are any small aches in muscles or joints.
You can also focus on your running form. Is your posture good, or are you leaning forward as you run? Is your foot landing underneath your pelvis, or are you overstriding? Focus on getting it right, and you’ll not only have a mindful run, but you’ll improve your form as well.
If you do notice that your mind has wandered off to something else, gently guide it back to what you were focusing on. Don’t worry if you have to do this multiple times per run—it will get easier over time!
Establish a mindful running pace
You shouldn’t be aiming for a PR (personal record) on your mindfulness runs. Find a pace that’s comfortable for you and stick to it. As difficult as it may be, try not to worry about how fast you’re going. If you’ve left your watch at home, you won’t be able to check anyway!
Try to focus on keeping your pace consistent. Feel your pace, and if you’ve slowed down, increase it a little until it feels comfortable again.
Pay attention to your breathing
This can help not only your running but also your general health. When you run, it can be tempting to breathe in through your mouth, as you can take a bigger gulp of air. But, in reality, mouth breathing can overstimulate the nervous system.
You can focus on your breathing in order to help you get into that mindful state. Breathe in deeply through the nose. Try to breathe right down to your belly—not just a shallow “chest breath.” Then, force the air out through pursed lips.
Just like in regular meditation, focusing on your breathing can help you to enter that state of mindfulness. Keep your attention on the steady, deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Take in your surroundings
When running outdoors, rather than zoning out, try to pay more attention to what’s around you. Of course, you still need to make sure you don’t trip over anything or run into anyone, but soften your focus to a wider area so you can take in your surroundings.
This is good to try once you’re in a consistent running motion and you’re feeling comfortable with your stride. Don’t analyze anything—just notice what’s around you. It could be nature, a cute dog or some pretty flowers. Or maybe you’re in an urban area and there’s an interesting-looking building or a pretty house. Let falling leaves catch your eye, or notice how the sun breaks through the clouds.
Enjoy the moment
Being present is about enjoying the moment. Whether you’re focused on your running form, the beauty of nature or your breathing, it’s about relaxing into the moment and truly being in it.
Mindful running should be enjoyable. You should enjoy clearing your mind of distractions, taking your thoughts off the difficulties and stresses of everyday life, and tuning into your body.
If you aren’t enjoying mindful running, you may need to find a different way of doing it. Mindfulness does look different for everyone, so it’s about finding something that really works well for you.
Any runner can do this
Anybody can practice mindful running, and when you consider its benefits, perhaps every runner should be doing it! Once you get the hang of it, you’ll start to look forward to your mindfulness run every week, and then, perhaps you’ll start to incorporate moments of mindfulness into your training runs and races as well.
If you’re just starting, consistency is the biggest thing to focus on. Even if your first few mindful runs are tricky, don’t give up—stick with it, and you’ll eventually find that you can achieve this state whenever you want.
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image 1 Maciej Cieslak; image 2: Irina L; image 3: djedj; image 4: Mircea – All in collections
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