There’s a number of very good reasons why running remains an all-time fave on the fitness scene. It’s a great workout for building endurance, torching those calories, and conditioning your muscles. And, because it requires zero equipment other than a pair of running shoes (and maybe some great tunes!) you can literally do it anywhere, at anytime.
But, it’s more than just it’s physical benefits that keep people hitting the pavement year in and year out. Running can also provide you with many emotional and mental benefits, too. In fact, many people believe that running can be as good for your wellbeing as meditation.
Running offers many of the physical and psychological benefits of meditation such as producing endorphins (those feel-good chemicals), releasing stress and anxiety, and pushing yourself to overcome a challenge is very good for confidence. There’s also the ‘zone’ people get into with running, which is a very similar state to what is known as the ‘gap’ in meditation – that place of feeling where you seem to be flowing through an experience. When your mind is calm. Seasoned runners will attest that connecting to that space while running leaves them feeling recharged, balanced, and more ready to face challenges in their day.
So, how can you get the most mindful benefit from your run? One of our favourite meditation apps – Headspace – offers a fantastic meditation and running program, which talks you through the process of meditation and running.
Concentration. Try to do it for as long as you can, bringing yourself back to the present moment every time you find yourself wandering. When you find yourself thinking about something that isn’t right in this moment, don’t try to stop the thought. Just be aware of it, acknowledge it, and allow it to leave gently. Then return to the moment.
Breathing. A good place to start, when you’re practicing concentration, is breathing. By concentrating on your breathing, you can monitor how hard you’re exercising, and adjust your running up or down accordingly. Try to ensure that you’re not breathing too hard.
Make time for it every day. Find some time every day to practice this form of meditation. It doesn’t have to be running every day though – you could walk on alternate days, using the same mindfulness techniques. Making it a can’t-miss appointment at the same time every day is a good idea.
Contemplation. When you tire of trying to concentrate, allow yourself to contemplate. Think about your day, about your life in general, about what’s important to you, about your goals, about the people in your life.
Stress. If you find yourself stressed during the day (and who among us doesn’t?), it can be very therapeutic to run at the end of the day, in the early evening before it gets dark. Again, focus on concentration and contemplation, alternating the two, and you will notice the stress melting away.
Journal. During contemplation, if you review your day and think about what’s important in life, you’ll often have thoughts that you want to remember later. A journal is a great way to get those thoughts on record and make the most of your contemplation.
Be in the moment. Once you get good at concentration, you can focus on more than just your breathing. A useful method is to open your mind up to your environment, both outside of yourself and within yourself. Be aware of what’s around you, of the sights and sounds, and be aware of your breathing, the aches and pains of your muscles and joints, your muscles as they work during your run, your feet as they hit the ground, the wind as it hits your skin, your hair rustling in that wind, your thoughts as you run.