Feeling stuck in a rut, unmotivated or discouraged when you think about running? Are you longing for more moments when everything clicks and your body works in perfect synchrony? In her new book Mindful Running, author Mackenzie L. Havey suggests that the first steps to barreling through these perceived obstacles and achieving greater meaning in your runs are to “focus in on the body, mind, and environment and then take a leap of faith.” The act of “dropping in” helps you focus on the present moment. Connecting your mind and body with the environment makes it possible to fully integrate mindfulness practices into your running routines.
There are many benefits of mindful running practices, including increased neuroplasticity, enhanced running performance and simply finding more enjoyment in the sport. Here are some of my favorite mindfulness techniques to use while running:
Set An Intention
I set intentions for my runs by focusing on why I am running and what I want to gain from my run. I decide before I leave the house (usually while I’m lacing up my shoes) what I need for my run: fuel, energy, breath, strength, insight, space, and so on. Instead of focusing on time or distance, I try to focus on quality and effort. I allow less structured expectations to prevail and let myself “just run.” This mentality changes how I experience running. Zeroing in on my intentions helps motivate me by reminding me why I love the sport. Understanding the intentions of my run before I start helps me stay attuned to the complete experience, rather than the immediate achievement of a single run.
I count steps, breaths, stop signs, crosswalks, anything! I try to focus on counting to 10 without losing my concentration. If I notice my thoughts drifting or if I lose count, I start over.
I synchronize my running with my music or my breathing. The feeling of matched efforts helps me set a pace that feels natural. Instead of fighting my body, I align my efforts with my body movement or my music so I can feel motivated, consistent and strong.
Repeat A Mantra
I repeat mantras to help myself continue moving and stay focused. I like words and phrases like “finish it,” “breathe” or “relax.” I’m an auditory learner, so speaking these words in stride is an incredibly effective way to connect my body and my mind.
Havey describes mindful running as “running with a wide open, present-moment awareness of physical sensations, cognitions, and emotions.” Mindful running starts with the need to be fully present in a chaotic, results-oriented world. My present-moment awareness requires me to focus on my breathing, my body or my observations of the world around me. I try to notice three things that I am feeling, hearing, seeing and thinking while I run. Sometimes just the act of paying attention to these things helps ground me during my run. When I’m present, I notice what hurts, what feels strained and what feels strong. I don’t attribute meaning to what I’m recognizing or the choices I am making; I just allow myself to notice the details, adjust if necessary and keep moving. If I get distracted and my mind wanders, I allow myself to notice that, too, and refocus by giving my attention to the sensations of my body. This takes practice, but it’s worth it!
Mindful running lets us acknowledge that we have the opportunity to run another day and recognize running as “something we get to do.” Gratitude and a non-judgmental mindset give us permission to accept that “Things didn’t go as [we] had hoped they would, but it doesn’t define [us] as runner[s] or as a [people],” and that at the end of the day, “it is just running.”
As Saudi Arabian Olympian Sarah Attar explains in Havey’s book, “When you’re grateful for even just the opportunity and ability to run, it opens up the space within you to become more connected to everything.” I wish you very many mindful miles along your running journey!