Running is my meditation.
I’ve said this many times when trying to convince myself that it’s ok I didn’t stick to my resolution to sit for 5 minutes a day. But I knew there was likely something more to it and that’s why I dove headfirst in to the Run Mindful retreat in Malibu a few years ago.
I wanted someone to get me to sit, to FEEL the value of that time.
Throughout that week, I realized that while running is certainly a time to get my mind right, it wasn’t mediation.
It was mindfulness and sometimes it was purely zoning out.
Mindfulness it turns out could be one of the best tricks a runner can learn. After all we know running is 90% mental, right?! Let’s dive in to what all these terms mean, why you should care and where to start.
What is Meditation?
Focus. Truly for all our hopes about how to do it, where to sit, how long to do it, the end goal of meditation is allowing us to focus our minds.
Meditation allows you to bring yourself in to the current moment and let go of overthinking about the past or future.
It’s usually done with a controlled posture in a controlled space and time. This last piece is why devotes of meditation might say it cannot be done while running. But you can use meditation to then run mindful.
What is Mindfulness?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand the difference because everyone who talked about meditation said it “makes you more mindful”…so therefore wasn’t mindfulness just meditating?
Mindfulness is often the result of meditation. It’s how you are better able to show up in your daily life. To not react so quickly to things that might make you mad or sad.
Allowing yourself to be in the middle of a really bad run without judging it or speaking harshly to yourself.
Here is a good breakdown of different states:
Relaxing is when you zone out watching Survivor or find yourself engrossed in a book so intriguing you forget the time. It’s when your mind shuts down and you let go…but that’s not meditating.
Mindfulness is when you’re aware of the present moment. You don’t judge it as good or bad, you just breathe and accept it for exactly what it is.
Meditation is sitting with intention and focus. You’re learning how to let go of the monkey mind and find the space between your thoughts.
Now we know the difference, so what’s the big deal? Why is everyone suddenly talking about mediation and mindfulness?
Benefits of Running Meditation
A few benefits as described by Elinor Fish, creator of Run Wild Retreats which focus on helping us learn mindful running or meditating during physical training.
Allows Us to Drop Comparisons
Mindful running shifts your focus from how you compare to others to how you compare to yourself. You replace external success measurements (like race results) with internal rewards, like deriving confidence from your own evolution as a runner.
Enjoy the Endorphins
Running triggers the release of hormones and endorphins that are known to bring about feelings of happiness and a sense of well being.
However, it’s possible to miss these effects entirely when your mind is elsewhere and you’re disconnected from the running experience.
Being mindful of whether your back is straight, core is engaged, elbows are driving back (instead of outward) can make running feel far easier… running without tension requires less energy to propel you forward.
Finding Flow State
One of the things that endurance athletes often need during the marathon is a flow state. It’s the point where you’re able to let go of the effort, the goal, the pain and simply keep moving forward. Having mindfulness training in your program will make this easier to achieve.
Of course there are truly a million more reasons that apply to your situation, but in general being mindful is going to help you enjoy the run more and focus on the right things.
Benefits of Meditation
Here are just a few more reasons that mindfulness practice is beneficial from INeedMotivation.com list of 100.
5- Leads to a deeper level of physical relaxation.
8- Decreases muscle tension
9- Helps in chronic diseases like allergies, arthritis etc
12- Enhances the immune system
14- Enhances energy, strength and vigor
15- Helps with weight loss
30- improved performance in athletic events
31- Normalizes to your ideal weight
32- harmonizes our endocrine system
33- relaxes our nervous system
39- Helps control own thoughts
40- Helps with focus & concentration
41- Increase creativity
49- Develops intuition
50- Increased Productivity
56- Develop will power
61- Increased job satisfaction
66- Helps in quitting smoking, alcohol addiction
69- Require less time to fall asleep, helps cure insomnia
71- Reduces road rage
72- Decrease in restless thinking
73- Decreased tendency to worry
78- Grows a stable, more balanced personality
80- Helps keep things in perspective
81- Provides peace of mind, happiness
95- Helps living in the present moment
98- Experience an inner sense of “Assurance or Knowingness”
With all of those benefits, why not take the time we’re spending putting in the miles to get some additional mental and health benefits?
How to Meditate While You Run
The goal of our time is learning to focus our attention. So don’t get too worried about that it looks like, just try some of these tips as a guideline to start.
Just like a sitting meditation, start with a short duration and build over time.
This is not to say you can no longer chat with a friend, listen to Eminem during speed work or dial in a podcast. Consider using mindfulness as you start the run or throughout to help you reconnect.
Option 1: Self Guided Meditation
- Pick an easy run day and start your run like normal
- At some point, shut off the music and start to simply let go
- I often focus on the ground 30 feet ahead. That consistency will help you start to get in to a zone.
- Keep your gaze there.
- You could choose to focus on your breathing, but I find this often leads to overthinking about it while running. So instead, I recommend counting your footfalls.
- Count to 10 and then start over.
- Eventually let go of the counting and just keep your gaze softly focused in front you.
- As your mind starts to wander to things you want to solve or worry about, just let it go.
- Don’t have a goal for the meditation, there is no winning at this.
- Just keep yourself focused
Option 2: Self Guided Focus
If you feel like every time you try to let go of thoughts it backfires, then instead try working on a focused meditation. Another tool you could try is “noting”.
- Instead of blocking out your surroundings, make them part of the process.
- They are no longer distractions, but simply things you notice.
- Don’t focus on any particular thing, but note it.
- Truck, fire hydrant, random shoe on the road.
- Nothing holds your attention it just comes in and goes out.
- As you find yourself starting to hold on to any specific thing, simply thing about letting it go.
- Continue coming back to your body in this comfortable pace.
Option 3: Guided Running Meditation App
David has long told me he likes the coaches talking to him in the Nike Run Club App. But it only got my attention once they partnered with Andy Puddicombe the Founder of Headspace!
Now you can pull up a run and have Andy quite literally help guide you through a meditation on your run. His voice is delicious, and he does a great job of balancing the talking with time that’s quiet so you can get in to your own headspace.
Tips for Beginning Meditation
As with training for a race don’t expect to be perfect on day one or even to hit 20 minutes immediately. Instead, think of it like running…you start with one minute and build on that.
If you want to improve your run meditation, then you really need to spend some time sitting in true mediation.
Use the following tips to get started with less frustration.
In order to get in a place where you can let go of thoughts, it helps to have a routine or something that creates a break between your activities and simply being.
#1 Set a Timer
Set your timer for 1 minute on Monday, 2 minutes on Tuesday and so forth. The idea is to keep you from breaking your mediation to check the clock!
Maybe at the end of a week you find that you can’t handle more than 5 minutes, but that’s ok. In those 5 minutes you will have made a difference already in your mindset and physiology.
#2 Focus On Something Across the Room
This tip helped me tremendously! Instead of just closing your eyes, start by focusing on a point across the room. Slowly let your gaze soften and then your eyes to eventually close.
#3 Focus on Your Breathing
When you start out one of the easiest meditations is simply to think “in” and “out” with each breath.
Start out by breathing deep in to your belly to start out and then let your breath normalize.
#4 Let Your Thoughts Go
Meditation is thought of as a process of NOT thinking, but it’s more about letting go of the thoughts that come through and not hanging on to them.
Ways to let go include imagining your thoughts in a bubble that is floating away or taking a broom and sweeping away thoughts as they come up.
#5 Chant A Single Word
Consider chanting OM like you would in yoga or picking a specific word like love, happiness or freedom.
It’s impossible to be thinking and focusing on a single word at the same time. Starting your meditation this way can help you to stop the initial chatter in your mind.
#6 Use Guided Meditation
Instead of trying to go it alone, use a free tool like the Headspace App. You can figure out what type of mediation works best for you this way. Maybe you like visualization or chimes or simply complete silence.
How to Handle Ideas that Pop Up During Meditation?
If you find that amazing ideas keep popping in your head then keep a pad of paper nearby and write them down. Try not to turn your meditation in to a to do list, but it’s not uncommon for it to help your creativity flow. Without being hindered by tasks your brain is able to tap in to other areas.
It might be uncomfortable. But I know all of you can handle discomfort because you sign up for races, you hit the gym and you make choices each day that may not be the easiest, but are ultimately in your best interest.
While you could skip the meditation and just focus on the mindful running, the truth is the two go hand in hand. Each one will make you better at the other and both will make you better at life.
Have you ever tried meditation?
Do you feel mindful during your run?
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