Mindfulness is widely regarded as a helpful method for maintaining emotional wellbeing and managing difficulties such as depression and anxiety. It’s gradually made its mark in running circles too. Athletes of all abilities are implementing mindfulness to boost their motivation and performance.
Mindfulness is all about being focussed and authentically engaged in the present rather than ruminating on the past, or focusing on worries about the future. It can, and should, be practiced at any time during the day. The key to mindfulness is to focus on a certain sensation, such as your breathing, to anchor yourself in the moment. It requires deliberate effort and meditative concentration. By doing so, you clear your mind of thoughts and distractions, and simply focus on the here and now.
I know it all sounds a bit of a faff for those of us who like to be on the go, look ahead, and focus on our goals but mindfulness is beneficial for our overall wellbeing. Plus, it’s probably good to slow down sometimes.
While that all makes sense, how on earth does it apply to running?
Tune In To Your Body
One of the messages from mindfulness practitioners is the importance of tuning into your body when running. This could be your breathing, your cadence, or how your feet feel when they meet the ground.
To centre your mind on something you’re experiencing right now. By being mindful of your bodily experiences, your mind is resting on yourself rather than on someone or something else. Mindfully paying attention to physiological feedback is good too. You’re focusing on what sensations you’re experiencing and truly zoning into your body.
By running mindfully and attuning to yourself, you’re less likely to ignore any niggles and pains. This increases the chances that injuries will be prevented. Running mindfully means your posture and running efficiency will improve too. You could take this further and practice barefoot running. Surely there’s no better way to be mindful than to really feel your feet connect with nature. Take it easy though. If you’re not used to barefoot running, introduce it gradually.
I’m as guilty as the next runner for returning from any run or race and evaluating my performance. I question what went well, what I could I’ve done better, and scroll through Strava checking out goals, PBs, course records and segment times. All these things can potentially sap the joy experienced from running, and distract from the achievement of simply getting outdoors and covering some miles.
Mindful running involves accepting each run for what it is, without judgement of time or performance. That doesn’t mean you can’t train for a particular distance or have goals in mind. We can’t control our performance on any given day though. Mindful running is about allowing ourselves to connect with what we’re doing, in that moment. We can still run to the best of our ability but our best will inevitably vary.
By accepting each run or race for what it is and however it pans out, we’re remaining mindful of our progress and experience, and what feels right at any given moment of our run. Plus, mindfulness promotes the idea of running based on how you feel, rather than focusing on time goals and regularly monitoring our performance. This doesn’t mean you’ll run slower or less efficiently either. You may be surprised how mindfulness positively influences your performance.
Aside from connecting and attuning to our bodies, mindful running is also about connecting to our feelings and accepting those for what they are. I think we can be distracted by our thoughts and feelings when running, especially when we use every technique going to keep our minds off the discomfort that comes with running.
When did you last run without distraction? I mean without headphones, a mobile or your GPS watch? Just you and your surroundings (preferably with a smile on your face). I’ll be the first to say that I generally like listening to music or a podcast, especially on a long run.
Running without distraction allows us to take in surrounding sensory stimulation. Who wouldn’t find joy or graitiude from hearing the sea, birds, or rustling trees when running? What about the visual richness that meets us when we head outside too? Remaining mindful when running allows us to take in these experiences and truly connect with our environment.
Lose Your Head
Our mental state or beliefs about any given race, run or performance is massively influenced by the thoughts and messages we give ourselves at any given time. Mental strength is part of running, and it can determine our overall running experience. Mindful running removes these pressures and thoughts. We can’t control what thoughts we have but we can decide how much importance or emphasis to place on them. If you’re truly in the here and now, and connected with you body, any thoughts will pass without judgement or influence.
Aside from mental strength and mindset, how many of us feel less stressed following a run? By embracing mindful running you’re more likely to reap the benefits on your emotional wellbeing through feeling emotionally and mentally regulated.
Surely if there’s a goal to any run, it should be enjoyment? Mindful running will tap into the joy and pleasure we experience from running, which is such a motivator. Plus mindful running doesn’t mean your performance will slide. If anything, it’s likely to improve along with the richness of your experience.
Are you a fan of mindful running? If so, what benefits have you noticed when you use it?
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness, mindful.org have a good website. You can find it here.