What Actually is Mindful Running and How Do You Do It?
Part of the appeal of running is how mindless it is—just one foot in front of the other. But what if you could make it more mindful? It’s easy to talk about that in theory (people have been touting mindfulness for years), but it’s more difficult to do it in practice.
Mindful running is a vague term that means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but it really comes down to being present.
It’s purely about being mentally connected within your movement and not being distracted. Distraction can come in the form of other people, noise, technology, but it can also come in the form of cultural pressures. You know: ‘How fast do I have to go?’ ‘How far am I supposed to go?’ ‘What is the definition of a runner?’”
It’s important to differentiate between mindfulness and meditation. When we meditate, we’re taking ourselves away from everyday life, away from activities, to actually pray in an environment where we can train the mind in mindfulness: how not to be distracted, how not to get caught up in thinking, how not to be put off of feelings of discomfort. “Then, when we go out and run, we’re taking whatever we learned in meditation and applying it.”
People connect to different things.The breath is the obvious one, but some people connect with past memories or parts of their bodies with previous injuries, and those connections unlock the door for deeper connections within yourself.”
The point is to get out of the conversation you’re having with society and back into a one-on-one convo with your body, based on how much sleep you’ve gotten, how much you’ve eaten, how good that nutrition was, and where you’re at mentally. “The more connected to your running, the longer you’ll be able to keep running,”
How Do You Run Mindfully?
Staying present in an activity that seems designed to help you zone out is way easier said than done. But there are ways you can physiologically prep your body for zen, and tricks you can try on the run to stay dialed in.
Most importantly, there’s the cooldown before the warmup. The what now? Think about it: Ninety percent of people lead very busy lives, with lots of stress and lots of pressure. When they come running to the gym on their way to or from the office, their thinking about deadlines, meetings, their families. “They’re already in a stressed-out state, and then they’re going to enter the even higher stress state of exercise.”
To bring your body out of a stress state before working out, I good breathing position (legs against the wall) and focusing on the breath. I get my clients to think about deep breathing into the bottom of the lungs, really engaging their diaphragms. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it’s just about slowing down the breath—and every time your mind gets distracted, you want to bring it back to that slow breath.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing you can set your watch for; some people may chill out in five breath cycles, some might take ten minutes.Focus on your breath until feel the difference. “When you start to sense that calm feeling, that’s your internal chemistry shifting down some gears.”
Once you’ve shed those external distractions, stay present by focusing on two important questions: “How am I breathing?” and “Where am I looking?” It’s not about maintaining a certain breathing pattern, rather decoding your breath to determine where you’re at. Breathing too fast? Slow down. Feel like you could hold a conversation easily? Maybe speed up a bit. Try to breathe through your nose as much as you can. Mouth-breathing is a stress response, so focusing on nostril breathing keeps you in a more relaxed state. And keep your gaze soft and wide, toward your periphery, instead of focused, to stay in that chill zone.
You’ll start to notice more the more you stay in that zone. You definitely take in more around you; you notice more about your posture; you notice more about your technique; and you learn about your body. “And if we’re not learning, then we’ve learned something wrong.”