Why is it important to run mindfully? Mainly because it makes running easier and it prevents injuries. However, mindful running also provides many of the same benefits of a mindfulness meditation. When we become mindful while running, our mind and our body become synchronized. This helps us get in the zone and experience runners high more often.
In this state, running feels easier and more natural. It is more enjoyable and energizing. We let go of overwhelming negative thoughts and we avoid injury. Mindful running recharges the mind and body so you feel energized rather than exhausted after a run. When we run mindfully, it brings a meditative practice to our runs creating a healthier, more enjoyable way to run.
Mindful running helps us develop an awareness of our body, which helps us run better and avoid injuries. As we practice mindfulness, we gain insight into the way we run and we can recognize ways in which we can improve our experience. This practice helps us to become present so we can fully enjoy what is happening in the moment—which is running!
The following four steps will change how you run by bringing an element of mindfulness to your runs. You can practice each one separately or you can practice all of them during a run. However, you need to start with number 1 as it is the basis for all of them. So find whatever works best for you and let that will be the approach you take. Just make sure that you practice regularly.
1. Focus on Your Breath
Our breath is the most powerful tool in helping us stay present and peaceful. Our breath is always available so we can practice anytime. Our breath helps us to connect with our body and its movements which helps keep distracting thoughts away.
Become aware of your breath and how you breathe while running. Let it become the focus of your run. If you become distracted by thoughts, bring your attention back to your breath and repeat as often as necessary.
Then try inhaling deeply through your nose and down to your belly (diaphragm). This type of breathing calms the nervous system, reduces muscle tension and helps you access the oxygen rich blood in your lower lungs. Deep nasal breathing also helps lower heart rate and blood pressure. It is known to be the healthiest way to breathe so we should practice it all the time—not just when running!
Focusing on our breath while running helps us stay present and mindful and enjoy running more.
2. Focus on Your Movements
As we practice focusing on our breath and being present, we naturally develop our awareness of what is currently happening. We can use this awareness to improve how we move while running, making it more efficient and easier.
Let your awareness rest on your body and how it is moving. You may begin to notice ways in which you can improve movement so it feels more enjoyable.
Such as: maybe your stride needs to be shorter; maybe bending your knees would cause less impact; maybe swinging your arms more or keep them more in line with your body would help; maybe you are holding one shoulder higher than the other; maybe one leg feels more dominant than the other, etc. Just notice what you notice when you are moving. The more you practice this, the better you will become at finding movements that feel better and are most efficient for you.
The easier running feels, the less likely it is that an injury will occur.
3. Sync Your Breath and Your Footsteps
When we practice syncing our steps with our breath, we calm the mind and body, we can get into the zone more easily and we learn how to run using less oxygen.
Begin by counting two footsteps for each exhale and two for each inhale. When you have mastered this 2:2 ratio, gradually increase it to 3:3 and then to 4:4 if you can, but give yourself time to develop this skill gradually.
This method has a dual purpose. First of all, your mind will be fully engaged which leaves little room for distracting thoughts. Secondly, it helps you become more efficient with oxygen intake; and efficient running required less energy to run and to breathe.
From my experience in practicing this, I find it easier to concentrate on the exhale and let the inhale take care of itself. On the exhale I push all the air out of my belly using the diaphragm and count four steps while doing this. The inhale then just naturally happens without thinking about it and I count four steps for the inhale before I exhale again.
This way I only need to think about my breath on the exhale which really helps me coordinate this rhythm. It was also helpful to practice the breathing part before going running.
4. Let Go of Thoughts
As much as we practice mindfulness and being present, our thoughts still seem to find a way into our consciousness and sometimes we don't even notice them. However, the more we practice being mindful, the quicker we become aware of our thoughts and the sooner we can do something about them.
As soon as you notice a distracting thought, quickly acknowledge it and then let it go. You can do this effectively by using a visualization technique when you run mindfully. Imagine catching the thought and dropping it on the ground like a stone. You leave the stone (thought) there as you run along. Do this with each thought that arises.
On some runs you may need to do this many times and other times you will be able to control it very well. This is a normal part of the learning process. Remind yourself that you are building mental strength and the more you practice the better you will become.
When you run mindfully, you are gaining the same benefits of a mindfulness meditation practice. Such as:
- Being healthier and happier
- Better stress management
- More productive
- Greater clarity of mind
- More successful
- Increased self-esteem
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved sleep
Is there any reason not to run mindfully? It makes running easier, more efficient, you feel better during and after, and you can enjoy all the benefits of a mindfulness meditation practice.
I can't think of any reason not to run mindfully, can you?
So how about you? Have you tried to run mindfully? We would love to hear from you. Please share you comments below.
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