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a guide to mindful running

During our ASICS Spring meet up, I had the pleasure of delivering a guided mindfulness session to my Frontrunner teammates. For this session, we took to the mats and focused on achieving inner peace after our run but mindfulness is a practice that can also be enjoyed during a run.

If you’re interested in learning more about how mindfulness can enrich your running, overall psychological wellbeing and provide a sense of calm, then read on...

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a type of meditation practice that involves bringing your attention to the present moment, without judgement or expectation. It’s about bringing awareness to the body and the mind, through intention, attention and attitude.

Practising meditation of any kind is a very individual experience incorporating internal and external connection, gratitude, acceptance and patience.

Does it always work?

It is good to remind yourself that mindfulness is a practice, therefore takes practice to experience its many benefits. Like training a muscle, mindfulness is an example of training the mind. Often, people become frustrated with mindfulness because their focus is on expectation of what they will see, think or feel and this does not always align with what they actually experience. Fixating on our belief systems instead of allowing things to ‘come up’ naturally prevents achievement of the true mindful state. I frequently hear people say “I just couldn’t switch off” or “I got distracted”. Both of these experiences are normal and common in early mindfulness practice as the mind is not used to holding focus in the present, however should not be reasons to give up on trying, simply acknowledge the distractions in your mind and gently bring the attention back to breath.

The outcome of a mindfulness session does not have to always be life changing or revolutionary but has a cumulative effect on overall mental wellbeing, in the same way as consistency of exercise benefits physical wellbeing.

Your prior expectations can influence your perception, so try to approach your practice with an open mind.

How can I run mindfully?

Ultimately, running is a blissfully simple form of movement. As humans, we are naturally inclined to run, our bodies want to move. During a run, our mind-body connection is enhanced as we gain awareness and control of physical and mental sensations and regulate our breathing. Simply put, our mindset automatically shifts into a more present state whilst running.

The difficulty comes in learning to disengage from the external distractions. Switching our attention away from our perceived performance, pace, distance or overall ‘feeling’ when running can be a tough ask. This, coupled with the notion that running can serve as an opportunity to have thinking time, means it's easy to be caught up in the past or the future. Learning to run mindfully allows us to utilise movement as a way of transcending to another headspace.

You can incorporate mindfulness into your run by:

  • Begin with a calm state

  • Focus on the breath

  • Acknowledge your feelings without judgement

  • Accept any discomfort and allow it to pass

  • Increase awareness of things around you, particularly by engaging your senses

  • Take internal cues from your body

  • Be purposeful in where you direct your attention

How does it help?

Mindfulness has an abundance of benefits. Meditation, in general, has a resting effect on the sympathetic nervous system, allowing your parasympathetic nervous system to activate to induce a sense of calm. Within this calm state, stress and anxiety are reduced. Being more present reduces the likelihood of rumination which is often a symptom of depression and low mood.

Soft fascination can be achieved through a gentle focus on sensory information around us, which contributes to attention restoration and combats mental fatigue.

Motivation can be improved through mindful practices of increasing acceptance and removing judgement. Initiation and maintenance are both thought to improve through practice of mindful running.

On top of all that, mindfulness can actually contribute to measurable changes within the brain. New neural connections can be developed with positive associations, through a process called neuroplasticity, and with repetition these associations strengthen, becoming easier to access and leading to improved wellbeing.

Mindfulness can help facilitate greater cognitive flexibility, mental clarity, emotional intelligence and self-control, as well as influencing kindness and compassion.

Hopefully you are inspired to give mindfulness a go on your next run.

For a simple starting point with mindful running, try purposefully bringing attention to your breathing during your next run. Reflect on how you feel during and after engaging in movement. Consider developing a regular practice, even if only for a few minutes at a time to build familiarity. Take things slow and prioritise connection with yourself and your environment.

Breathe deep and enjoy the present.

(all photo's by Andy Astfalck)


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