Going for a run is as simple as lacing up our running shoes and heading out. In our busy lives we like things quick and easy, right? But often we all get so caught up in all the ‘doing’, that we often forget about the ‘being’. Applying the principles of mindfulness to a run can be a game-changer for those who wish to empty their heads and gain more energy.
Enjoy the present moment
If during our run, we think about things that happened in the past or things we need to do in the future, we may forget to sense what’s going on right now! That’s such a pity because when our minds are “somewhere else” instead of in this present moment, we miss out on many things. We might not notice important body signals, for example. Signals that warn us of overtraining. Or we don’t see the obstacles on our running surface or dangerous traffic situations. But we also miss out on nice things such as the change of nature along with the seasons, or a beautiful bird that is singing for us.
When we are distracted from what we are actually doing (running), our minds and bodies are not co-operating properly. Even before we’ve started our run, our bodies and minds are already stressed sometimes. And that’s such a waste of energy. Try to calm down first. Start with a breathing exercise followed by a proper warmup, at the start of your training.
Better Body Awareness
While we are running, we can deliberately shift our attention away from the daily stress. For example by consciously shifting focus to our body posture: is my head upright? Are my neck and shoulders relaxed? How do I move my arms, and my legs? How are my foot landings? We can “scan” different movements and body parts to check how they feel.
Observe our breath
When body posture and running technique are alright, we can shift our attention to our breathing: Are our inhalations deep or short? Do we breathe in a specific rhythm? How many footsteps does it take to inhale, and how many to exhale? Are we breathing heavily or is our breath regular and relaxed?
Awareness of the world around you
Now it’s time to enjoy your surroundings. Activate all our senses one after the other while running slow and steadily. First, focus on your eyes for a few minutes. Try to really take notice of what you see! After your run, you should be able to name and describe specific things (or people) that you saw along the way.
Now shift focus to your ears only. What kind of sounds do you hear? Do this for a few minutes as well. Then continue with the other senses separately: What do you smell? Do you recognize any tastes in your mouth? What do you feel?
While activating your senses one by one, you may even notice things along the way that you wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t focused on them. That singing bird, the smell of blossoms, the touch of the wind and the sunshine, or that funny little dog that carried an enormous stick. These little things make each outdoor run unique and fun!
More Energy + Less Stress = More Fun
What I described above will make your run a Mindful Run. When we run mindfully, we are fully aware of what we are doing right here and right now. We observe and accept things as they are, without any judgment. Doing so helps us run more energy-efficient and clear our heads.
7 Pillars of Mindfulness
Many people associate mindfulness with meditation and sitting down on yoga mats. But that’s a misconception, really, because mindfulness is known for very practical characteristics that are instantly applicable to daily activities, such as running!
Mindfulness recognizes 7 pillars. They often overlap and mutually reinforce each other:
- Beginner’s mind
- Letting go
On a mindful run, we embrace and apply the 7 pillars of mindfulness during our run.
1. Don’t judge
What happens, should be perceived without “good” or “bad” labels, but simply as what appears. We try to avoid inner comments and judgments as much as possible.
During our run, we just focus on what we are doing right here and right now. We shift our minds to our body posture, running techniques, and breathing. With each step we take, we are moving forward, and that’s all that matters. There is no need to judge our current running level.
2. Be Patient
The urge for achievements, improvements, or solutions can be difficult to avoid. The thoughts and feelings that we may experience, cannot immediately be switched off. But with patience, we can initially let things be as they are at that very moment.
There is no such thing as a failed run! With patience, we will overcome difficulties or challenges during our runs. Step by step, things will change and we will improve ourselves.
3. Beginner’s mind
Many of us have pre-formed ideas about who we are and how things should be. With mindfulness, we encourage the willingness to see every start as a new beginning.
Should we experience unpleasant moments during our runs, we will shift our minds to recovering our body posture and breathing, and from there we simply start over. Let’s look at every stride as a new beginning.
Observing what our bodies have to tell us, can sometimes be painful, boring, or even annoying.
If we trust that our bodies will guide us in a positive direction, we can obtain the motivation to continue. Knowing that each run will rewards us with a clear mind, nice and fresh air, and improvement of fitness and health will give us new energy!
5. Don’t strive
Almost automatically we compare ourselves with what we find desirable. And quite often we want to change and improve. During Mindfulness we don’t aim to achieve anything. Mindfulness is the subtle art of observing and doing nothing.
During Mindful Runs we do not aim for specific running goals. We don’t push ourselves to the limit. We run for the joy of running and being outdoors, without targeting personal records or long distances. Mindful Runners go with the flow with a controlled and easy breath. They run by feel, not by sports watch data.
Acceptance is different from approval. We might sense physical discomfort (stiffness, pain, itch) or we notice unpleasant feelings or thoughts. This does not mean we should be happy about that. The art of mindfulness is to perceive and accept it. Instead of pushing it away, just let it be for that very moment. Later we may want to do things about it, but not right now.
At this very moment, we just observe and accept things as they are. We cannot influence everything. The weather may be less pleasant, or the road bumpy or hilly, but we know that every step matters. We listen to our bodies and accept our (physical) limitations.
7. Let go
Every experience is unique. Unfortunately, our minds sometimes cling to negative experiences and feelings. Letting go of them may require daily practice. Try to accept that thoughts and feelings come, just as waves roll onto the beach. And then let them go again. We are not our thoughts!
Negative thoughts are not helping us: “I can’t do this. I am not fit enough. I am tired.” Often they lead to “excuses” for quitting our run earlier, or not going at all. During Mindful Runs we will accept that these thoughts may appear. We let them come….and then we let them go again.
Go Slow – Put your ego aside!
It is easier to apply mindfulness during a run at a slower pace than usual. When you are doing interval training or a time run, there is a running goal that you’re aiming at. A Mindful Run is non-striving. Just go slow, at a very relaxed pace. It should be an energy-efficient run with easy and controlled breathing to keep the heart rate stable.
The joy of running and being outdoors
A Mindful Run is about lowering stress levels in the body and mind. Doing so you will (re)discover the joy of running and being outdoors. If you are a regular runner, I recommend adding one slow, Mindful Run per week to your running schedule. It’s perfect for recovery in between more intensive training sessions and it will boost your energy level.
Benefits of Mindful Run
- Better body posture, better running technique, less waste of energy.
- Recognizing body signals, which will help prevent injuries
- Awareness of our breathing. When we control our breath, we control our heart rate. This will make our run easier.
- Being more alert on the surface we run on will prevent injuries (missteps)
- Activating our senses and trying to really see, smell, hear, taste, or sense things along our track will make our run more enjoyable: More Fun 2 Run!
- When we shift focus to this run at this very moment, away from the daily stress and worries, away from home, work, and the problems in the world, it will clear our minds.
Focussing on the run will result in Less Stress, More Energy, and More Fun 2 Fun!