“I can’t make my mind shut up,” Jim said, as he prepared to leave my office. “And it doesn’t matter how hard I try. The minute I start counting my breaths or focusing on my body, my mind decides go to last night’s movie or plan tonight’s dinner or a million other things. Every time.”
I almost laughed, not because Jim’s problem wasn’t important, but because at least he knew he’d missed the mark. Many runners are as unaware of that as they are of their bodies.
If I had a dime for every time one of my patients told me their runs were meditative, I’d be rich. If I had a dime for every time their runs were truly meditative, I would have maybe two cents if you averaged it out. That’s because many runners go into automatic pilot while on the track or trails. Their bodies go through the motions, but their minds are elsewhere.
That’s what the mind does…
I’ll tell you what I told Jim. Thoughts aren’t bad. After all, that’s what minds do. But it is possible to maintain your focus on an object, letting thought come and go without letting them take you with them. And that’s what mindfulness does.
Benefits of Mindful Running
Studies have shown that regular mindfulness practice can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve concentration, increase immune function and much more.
Mindful running – paying attention to your body and the present moment without judgment and without distraction — helps you maintain proper form. It lets you know when you may be overexerting yourself. It can tell you when your body is ready to go faster, run farther. It increases your focus and calms your mind. It can even lead you to that magical state of “flow” that every runner dreams about.
Marathon plans for runners should include mindfulness training; it’s that important to your success.
Practicing Mindfulness on Your Runs
Mindfulness is a flexible practice. You can choose to concentrate on one aspect of your run, such as your breath, or you can switch your focus to other areas of your body or the environment – as long as your attention is on the present moment.
Doing this consistently strengthens your powers of concentration and helps you become a better runner. After all, the mind is more important than the body when it comes to endurance; it’s your determination and focus that keeps you going long after your body wants to give up.
Here are some tips to help you be more mindful on your runs:
Focus on Your Breath
While running, notice your breath. Don’t try to change your breathing pattern, just notice the rhythm. Count each breath until you reach ten, and then count the breaths backward from ten to one. Repeat several times. When thoughts come, acknowledge them, let them go, and return your attention to your breath.
Notice Your Body
Each part of the body can be a point of focus. You can bring your attention to each foot as it hits the ground. Or notice the unique, perfect rhythm of both feet as you run. You can focus on your posture, becoming aware of any alignment issues or any discomfort. You can feel your heart beating, concentrate on the sweat dripping off your brow, or feel your entire body running – it’s up to you.
Focus on Your Surroundings
Tune into the sounds of nature. Smell the flowers, the exhaust fumes, or the approaching rain. Hear the excited screams of children playing on the merry-go-round in the park. Notice everything that happens. It’s amazing how we tune out most of our surroundings.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You can practice mindfulness before, during and after your run, and reap the benefits for your body and your mind. Sure, it takes practice and commitment. But the results will be well worth it.
Have you incorporated mindfulness exercises into your runs? Tell us about it in the comments below!