So you’ve heard the phrase ‘mindful running’, and you want to know exactly what all the fuss is about.
We can certainly clear this up for you, and do away with any myths that may be in the way of you gaining insight into running mindfulness and reaping the benefits from it.
What are you waiting for? Carry on reading to find out everything you need to know about mindful running!
Interested in turning your passion for fitness into a career? Check out our range of personal trainer courses first.
What is Mindful Running?
Mindfulness is a bit of a misunderstood topic in itself, so it only makes sense that the phrase ‘mindful running’ is something that many people are confused about. That’s why we’re here to clear things up!
If we take a look at the official definition of the word mindfulness from the Cambridge Dictionary, it goes as follows:
The practise of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.
If we’re honest about what this means, it isn’t some alien feeling that takes a certain amount of humming or an unnatural sitting position to achieve. It simply means to focus on the moment that you are living in rather than worrying about the past or present, and to expel any anxious thoughts from your mind.
In a nutshell, this means that mindful running is running whilst experiencing this feeling. Not worrying about the miles ahead of you, or how hard those behind you were. Just focusing on the mile that you’re in.
You’ll aim to focus on how your body and mind are reacting to the exercise in the present, and how to dismiss any negative thoughts or emotions.
In fact, if you follow our tips for mindfulness when running (which we're about to go over), you’ll soon pick up on how to connect to yourself when running, and on how different mindful running is to meditation, which is where most people get confused.
Mindful Running Benefits: How Can It Help Me?
We don’t blame you for asking this question, especially since mindful running is such a vague term and concept when you first learn of it.
Not to worry; we’re going to give you some quick points on how it can actually help you along in your running routine, or ease you into one if you’re not already running on a regular basis.
#1 - Breathing
This is often overlooked by newbie runners, yet it’s something that is undeniably important.
No one wants to be out of breath on a run when they don’t have to be, and this is where having a proper breathing technique comes into play!
Focusing on your breathing falls under mindful running, as it’s something that requires patience and practise, yet benefits your overall health and performance when running. It uses your mind rather than just your body, which is what a lot of people don’t realise when they start the exercise.
When you incorporate mindful running into your exercise routine, you will focus on deep breathing before your run as well as after to cool down.
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As well as this, you’ll practise building up the pace gradually as part of your mid-run breathing technique, as this will prevent you from breathing in too quickly and in a way that is uncomfortable during your run.
Breathing is actually one of the first things that you work on during meditation or relaxation and will help you to stay calm in the height of exercise (and prevent your body from entering a stress state). It will help you to relax in general and make the exercise more therapeutic both during and afterwards. It counts as mindfulness meditation while running!
#2 - Form
Do you struggle with your form when running? We certainly had this issue when we started out, as many runners do.
If you find yourself Googling ‘how to run correctly’ or ‘where should my arms be when I run?’, which are both frequently asked questions on the search engine, then you’ll be glad to know that mindful running will help you to eradicate this problem.
By partaking in the process that we’ll go through in the ‘how to practise mindful running section’, you’ll gain a greater awareness over your own body. This heightened awareness will allow you to better connect your mind to each part of your body during your run, and therefore control it with precision.
You will be able to optimise your form in a way you haven’t been able to do before, all thanks to some patience and a new outlook.
#3 - Focus
While this can be viewed as a pretty holistic benefit to practising running mindfulness, it’s still one of the best in terms of improving your running technique and overall experience during your run. It can also allow running to boost your mental health when you nail it!
Training your ability to focus is beneficial in many areas of life whether its for sports, your career or just in general. It can help in technical situations where you literally need to focus to do well but also has some good implications in terms of mental health and well-being.
Elyse J. Dolde in her theses on ‘The Effects of Yoga and Aerobic Exercise on Concentration and Feeling-States’ writes that:
Aerobic exercise and yoga both produce positive changes in concentration, stress, energy, and well-being.
It may sound simple, but this statement makes a lot of sense when put into context. The more we can concentrate on whatever activity we’re doing, the less stressed we’ll feel.
Training focus with mindful running will allow us to focus deeply on one thing at a time, rather than multitasking or thinking about hundreds of other things during a run. This is great for well-being as well as for the activities that we wish to complete, so it’s like killing two birds with one stone.
We can conserve energy spent worrying and focusing on multiple things at once by training focus, so it’s a no-brainer. Mindful running trains focus by default, so you should definitely consider giving it a try for this reason!
#4 - Physical Tension
In a perfect world, all kinds of running would reduce physical tension. However, some people find that running actually increases the stress state of their body, especially when they’re pushing themselves to their absolute limit to try and reach a new goal.
Mindful running doesn’t necessarily involve meditation or running at a slow pace, as we’ve hinted at before, but it does involve running in a way that encourages you to set realistic and reachable goals.
There’s nothing wrong with doing this, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t reach the miles you need to reach before you compete in that big event you’re training for.
In fact, if you take the time to listen and connect to your body then you may be more likely to reach your goals faster when thinking about mindfulness when running!
It’s about listening to your body and acting on what it’s telling you. The hardest part is taking action, and not being afraid to take a step back in order to look after yourself before trying to move forward.
When you take this approach to running, you’ll find that your physical tension decreases both during and after your run when you get that endorphin boost or ‘runner’s high’.
Next time your body is in a stress state during a run and you’re gasping for breath, give mindful running a try and take the miles a little slower. Try some deep breaths and focus on what your body is telling you; it’s much better than burning out and having to stop altogether for that day!
#5 - Anxiety and Depression
If you’re suffering from anxiety, depression or any state of poor mental health then taking up a running mindfulness routine could be the thing that helps you to turn things around for the better.
Sometimes when we’re suffering from a mental health condition, the last thing we want to do is exercise. We tell ourselves that it can’t possibly help or take away the things that we’re dealing with, and that there’s no use in trying.
We’re here to tell you that it’s definitely worth a try, even if you only do it once.
While the post-run ‘runner’s high’ is extremely rewarding, it’s definitely not the only thing that alleviates your mood and softens the blow of anxiety or depression when using mindfulness and running.
One example of how running doubles as anxiety therapy would be the repetitive rhythm in the strides that you take.
If you’ve looked up exercises that you can do to lessen anxious symptoms, then you’ll be familiar with the breathing mindfulness running exercises that focus on a familiar rhythm, which helps you to feel a sense of calm.
Running has a similar effect to these exercises and possibly helps even more; not only does it provide a familiar rhythm that takes your mind off other things but it also allows you to achieve a sense of power over your own body and mind.
Katy, a volunteer at Anxiety UK details what we’re trying to get at in her article on how mindful running creates a happy life:
Action and movement are the opposites of powerlessness and indecision. By locating change, growth and decision making in the body, it becomes a tactile, measurable, “doable” way to address symptoms of anxiety, like fear and powerlessness.
Hopefully, this sheds some light on how you can overcome some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression through mindful running, and you’ll be more likely to give it a try!
#6 - Motivation
Another pretty holistic point on the list of mindful running benefits is that the process can work wonders for your motivation.
Ever found yourself putting away your trainers in favour of watching TV or going out for dinner? We’d be lying if we said we’d never found ourselves in this predicament. It’s pretty normal to wonder what else you could be doing rather than going out for a run, and this is what we call a loss of motivation.
So, how exactly can running with mindfulness get rid of that feeling?
It’s quite simple, but it does take a change of mindset (which can sometimes be easier said than done, but certainly not impossible).
To use mindfulness to boost your running motivation, you need to take a look at what the run actually is. Don’t view it as an obstacle, see it as an opportunity to connect with your body and to feel at peace.
It doesn’t have to be gruelling, and it’s certainly a case of mind over matter when it comes to finding your running motivation again!
How to Practise Mindful Running
While it can be interpreted and practised in various ways, there is no black or white answer to the question surrounding how to practise mindfulness when running.
However, we can certainly point you in the right direction! After taking the time to research the different ways that the running community chooses to practice mindful running, we can give you suggestions based on the various ways that they have approached this.
To make things easier and a little more concrete, one popular approach that many take to the concept of running mindfulness is to focus on ‘running in the moment’, which we’ll delve into first.
Running in the Moment
To practise this method of running mindfulness, you don’t need to be on some advanced spiritual level or into meditation (although mindfulness meditation while running can be very beneficial and doesn’t have to be spiritual at all).
All that ‘running in the moment’ means is that you prepare yourself pre-run to focus only on what your body is doing in the present, and on your surroundings. You connect your mind to your body in a way that allows you to expel any worries that you would otherwise have.
Ever found your mind wandering to other things during exercise, or caught it trying to talk you out of carrying on?
Perhaps you struggle to push through the physical strain that exercise has on your body, and have even found yourself giving up prematurely. If this is the case, then running mindfulness will be your saving grace.
When learning how to practice mindful running, the following tips are brilliant for learning how to ‘run in the moment’ and truly ground yourself/get rid of any anxious thoughts:
- Have a good warm-up and a stretch before you set out
- Take deep breaths and focus on the air as it fills and leaves your lungs
- Notice where your body is/your environment
- Use your senses
- Notice every stride you take and how you take it
The key to mindfulness and running is to become hyperaware of your environment and what your senses are communicating to you.
What can you hear? What do you feel? How is the temperature? What do you see around you? Is there a certain smell?
Ask yourself these questions as you set out, and for the duration of your run. They will help to ground you in your environment and help you to draw your focus back in if you feel your mind slipping into other thoughts.
As well as this, simultaneously focusing on your breathing and each stride that you take is another great way of running in the moment. The more you train your brain to work this way, the more mindful running benefits you’ll receive.
Your breathing, focus and running form will vastly improve, as well as your chances of alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Changing your Mindset
One huge hurdle when it comes to creating a sustainable running routine where you complete most of your routes is your mindset.
Do you ever talk yourself out of running when things get difficult, only to find yourself flooded with disappointment afterwards?
We’ve all been there before. Facing hilly terrain or hitting a wall during your run can be terrible, not to mention painful when it leaves you breathless and wondering why you’re putting yourself through this in the first place.
Think about it this way: if there was a way of avoiding these thoughts during tough times, before they even got the chance to attack your motivation, things would go differently.
Learning how to practise mindful running is changing your mindset. Not only by leaving behind negative thoughts about your life in general, but also by ignoring the thoughts that persuade you to give up on running.
This all ties into the previous point of running in the moment, but also stands on its own.
First, focus on your body and your environment. Listen to your body, but don’t let it sway you into submission! When the exercise is painful and you’re out of breath, simply slow down and focus on your breathing.
If your legs are aching, drop your pace and focus more on your strides and how you’re running, as it could be a matter of shifting your posture and form.
After this, think more about your mindset as a whole. Remind yourself that you should be grateful to be healthy enough to run, that every stride counts towards improving your health and reaching your goals and that slowing down is better than quitting altogether.
If you’ve managed to make it through one entire run then give yourself a huge pat on the back. You’re on the way to starting and sustaining a great running routine! This is the first hurdle to jump, and you should certainly reward yourself for making it to the end.
The truth is that mindfulness and running shouldn’t stop when you’re done running. In fact, it should never truly go away.
You should always take time to reflect on your run once you’ve completed it, and be grateful for what you’ve achieved.
In terms of the ‘running in the moment’ mindset, you should also be reflecting on your run as soon as you come through the door. Ask yourself questions like:
- Are you happy?
- Do you feel thirsty?
- What is your body temperature like?
- Has your body released any tension?
- Are you in any pain?
Once you’re winding down from being so in touch with your body, you should also enjoy the ‘runner’s high’, the euphoric feeling you get after a run. This is especially good for those who have anxiety or depression and is quite addictive.
Remind yourself of this feeling throughout the next day, and treat your body well. Stay hydrated and eat healthy, so that the feeling will last for longer. The next thing you know, you’ll feel encouraged to tie up those running shoes again and get back out on the road!
NOTE: physical reflection is just as important as mindfulness here. You should complete post-run stretches to cool down properly and avoid DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and ensure that you have no injuries.
Before you go
Hopefully, now you’ve got a good grasp on what mindful running is, and how you can use it to build a promising and sustainable routine.
Alternatively, give our team a call on 0800 002 9599, and we’ll happily talk you through our range of courses.
Try your hand at these exercises!
If you enjoy running, you’ll definitely be up for giving these exercises a go as well as the mindfulness running exercises you've been doing!
Here on the OriGym blog, we’re pretty passionate about finding new ways to work out, which is why we create exercise tutorials on a regular basis. Have fun trying them out!
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Kick-start an exciting new career in fitness!