While it is fun to run in groups, running alone can be the perfect opportunity to practice mindful meditation. We can’t always run with friends. However, a solo run can be a great way to relieve the stress of a busy day. So, if your friends are doing other things, why not lace up your running shoes and go for a meditative run.
What is mindful meditation?
Mindful meditation is a mental training technique that focuses ourselves in the moment. It clears our heads of cluttering thoughts and helps relieve stress and tension. Mindfulness focuses on breathing, mental imagery and body awareness. By practicing these techniques, we take our attention off the general chaos and noise of everyday life. We focus just enough to calm our minds and our bodies.
There have been numerous scientific studies that support mindful meditation for patients with various conditions. It has helped alleviate pain, including back pain. Patients with mental and emotional disorders, including depression and anxiety have benefited from mindfulness. Cancer patients who practice mindfulness techniques have better treatment outcomes. People report improved quality of life, self acceptance, compassion and better relationships after practicing mindfulness.
Mindful meditation while running:
Going out on a solo run is the perfect time to meditate. However, we also need to be safe. Meditation while running doesn’t mean we are blind to our surroundings. Instead, we run with our eyes open, our ear listening and our minds aware.
Mindfulness means we are aware of our surroundings. Being aware of people approaching, of obstacles on the ground and of the traffic on the road allows us to be focused in the moment safely.
We also focus on our breathing. We feel our feet as they hit the ground in rhythm. Being mindful means we feel the wind and hear the sounds around us. We train our mind to notice these things, but only notice them. We exist in the moment.
In mindful meditation, we do this with our thoughts as well. It’s impossible to completely have a blank mind. Thoughts will creep in. This is normal. These may be good thoughts, worrisome thoughts, scary thoughts or other kinds of thoughts.
Mindful meditation teaches us to acknowledge these thoughts without reacting. We let them circle our mind. Then let them go. Just as we acknowledged the person passing by us during our run, we acknowledge our thought and move on.
If a thought won’t simply move on, we can use imagery to tuck it away to look at more closely at another time. I like to imagine myself writing that thought down on a sticky note and tacking it to a tree in a large forest. Or I will imagine putting that sticky note in a tiny boat and sailing it down a river into the distance. This helps me get rid of intrusive thoughts and allow me to refocus on the moment.
How to meditate during a run:
1. Run without headphones.
We want to be able to focus on our breathing. Listening to breath sounds can help. It helps to relax and calm a busy mind. Listening to music or an audiobook may not allow us to fully be in the moment and clear our minds. This may also add to the clutter in our heads.
2. Run outside.
The sun shine and the wind can help us focus on the moment. There is something about being outside in nature that is inherently calming. Listen to your surroundings. Feel the warmth of the sun or the wind on your face. Listen to the sound of your feet on pavement or the crunch of leaves or snow underfoot.
3. Warm up
Start with about a 5 minute warm up slow run. Notice how your body feels during this warm up. How is your breathing and heart rate? Again, notice your feet as they hit the pavement or trail.
4. Focus on Breathing
Next start to narrow your focus on your breathing. Be aware of the sensation of air flowing in and out of your body. Feel your chest expand and relax with each breath. Notice if your foot strike matches your breathing. Be aware of changes in your breath as you run faster or slower.
5. Focus on your body
Be mindful of your running form. You don’t need to correct your form or relax your body, just notice it. Do you feel any tension anywhere? Are your leg muscles tight or relaxed? Are your fists clenched or palms open. Is there any pain or discomfort in your body? You don’t need to do anything about the things you notice. You just need to make note of what your body feels like in that moment.
6. Notice your thoughts
Is your mind cluttered with thoughts or focused on your breathing? How is your mind responding to your body as you run? What are your thoughts as you run? Notice any thoughts you have. Acknowledge those thoughts and move on, without judgement.
7. Notice your surroundings
What is happening around you? Are there nature sounds? Is there a wind blowing in the trees? How do your feet sound as they strike the ground? Simply notice these things.
8. Bring yourself back to your breathing
Keep bringing yourself back to your breathing. Notice the rhythm and how it coordinates with your foot strike. If your breathing speeds up, slow down. Notice the difference in effort without making any judgement.
After your run:
After your run, notice how your body feels. Notice how your breathing and heart rate return to normal. Do some gentle stretches, noticing how your muscles and body feels with each stretch. How does your mind feel? Are your thoughts more clear, less cluttered? Do you have better focus?
Benefits of mindful mediation:
Practicing mindful meditation can
- reduce anxiety and depression
- reduces the effects of stress on our body
- increases mind clarity and focus
- decreases pain
- improves quality of sleep
- slows aging
- boosts our immune system
- lowers blood pressure
- decrease risk of cancer by protecting our genes from damage
- happiness and contentment
Running can be the perfect opportunity to practice this useful technique and bring us a little closer to happiness.
Other opportunities to practice mindful meditation can be:
- sitting quietly at home
- drinking your morning coffee
- waiting in line
- brushing your teeth
- in the shower or bath
- doing dishes
- going for a walk
- at bedtime
Even just 10 minutes of mindful meditation can make a dramatic improvement in your day.
Do you practice mindful meditation? If so, tell us about your experiences in the comments below.