By Holly Pennington, PT, DPT
Take a deep, slow breath and close your eyes. Imagine your ideal run. Go through all of your five senses. What do your surroundings look like? How do your legs feel? What scents are in the air? What do you hear that soothes you? How does a fresh drink of water taste on your tongue?
Whether you pictured yourself enjoying the flow of a fast run on a cool, fall morning or settling into the rhythm of an easy pace on a warm, summer evening, chances are that you are among the majority of runners who wish your “ideal” happened more often. You may start your workouts with high hopes, encounter unexpected cramps or fatigue, power your way through with a mix of determination and iTunes distractions, then settle for the satisfaction of checking a mileage and/or time goal off of your list.
But, what if your time spent running could be consistently enjoyable? What if the feelings associated with your ideal run could be experienced more often than not? Enter mindful running, a technique that may help you do exactly this.
The positive benefits of mindfulness meditation are practically endless. From easing physical pain to improving feelings of loneliness, mindfulness can play a significant role. Typically, it is performed seated with a still body and plenty of athletes advocate for the addition of this type of meditation to a training program. However, scientific research and running experts have started asking questions about the benefits of practicing mindfulness during exercise. So far, research suggests that those who intentionally focus on the feeling of movement and pay attention to their surroundings enjoy exercise more than those who do not, and feel less stressed, anxious and depressed.
Mindful running draws from this research and incorporate elements of mindfulness meditation into training, helping runners tune into the present moment and focus attention on the body, mind and environment during the act of running. Through training the mind, the full experience of the body improves, enhancing the natural, positive effects of the increased endorphins produced by running. Physical discomfort and pain are met with the nonjudgmental acceptance characteristic of mindfulness. Increased attention is placed on form, improving efficiency and flow.
There are many ways to begin mindful running and a variety of resources to help you do so (see my list at the end of this article), but here are a few tips to get you going:
Breathe before you begin: Before you start the clock, take a few deep, slow breaths. This signals your mind to become attuned to your body through breathing and shifts you into a less distracted mental state.
Set your intention: Before you start the clock, find your focus for this particular workout. This is different than an objective goal like distance or time, as it shifts the focus to form and flow. (If you have questions about your running form, see the resource list below.) To set your intention, ask yourself questions like, “how do I want to feel during my run?” or “what specific aspect of my form do I want to focus on today?”
Count something: If you are new to mindfulness, counting your breaths or footfalls as you run will help your mind and body stay connected. When you get to 10, start over and when your mind drifts from the count, simply return to where you left off and continue. No judgment!
Use a mantra. Choose a short phrase that is meaningful to you to repeat in your mind as you run, such as “be here now” or “breathe in, breathe out.”
Ditch the earbuds. To be fully present in your mind and body as you run, the elimination of distractions such as music and podcasts is a must. (exception: mindful running meditation apps!) If you can’t bear the thought of a device-free run, start small. Try 5 minutes of mindfulness before starting your playlist.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Direct your attention to the sights, smells and sounds around you for a fully embodied run. Try a 3-2-1 pattern where you name 3 pleasing sights, 2 soothing sounds and 1 pleasant smell. Or, focus on sights for 3 minutes, sounds for 2 minutes and smells for 1 minute.
Start small. As with building any new habit, start small and build incrementally. Try mindfulness intervals, where you focus on counting your breaths for 5 minutes then switch to your familiar running routine for 5 minutes. Or try alternating a 3-2-1 pattern for 6 minutes with a 4-minute return to your usual habits.
Mindful Running Resources
Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham
Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory by Deena Kastor
The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance by George Mumford
Headspace (Search for specific running meditations)
Running Form Assessments:
www.outpatientpt.com (contact a clinic near you to find a PT who specializes in running assessments)
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