Mindfulness is something that can benefit everyone. It’s a great way to ground yourself while shutting out all of the distractions in life. If you’ve never tried it before, mindfulness is just the act of focusing on what is going on both internally and externally at that VERY moment. There’s no looking ahead to the future, or remembering things from the past. It is merely you, there, in the moment. Now, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is about mindfulness. For one, it can help relieve stress. Taking a moment out of your day to just focus on the present is a great reprieve from life’s daily stressors. Many people who practice mindfulness are also less likely to be preoccupied with regrets from the past or worries about the future. Other benefits of mindfulness can include helping with depression, anxiety, and OCD. This got me thinking. How can one incorporate mindfulness with running? It seems like the perfect combination. Lucky for us, I didn’t need to look any further than Still I Run community member, Jennifer. She’s a clinical therapist that runs for her own mental health. After inquiring about mindfulness and running, Jennifer shared with me a variety of tips she learned from a book called “Run for Your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life“. These are tips she uses herself and also recommends to her clients.
Mindfulness Running Tips
Grounding: Find stillness before your run. Sit on a park bench or lay down on your living room floor – wherever you feel comfortable and do a body scan. Evaluate your body in the here and now – let go of anything in the past and do not worry about the future (not forever, just in the moment) Do a mental scan of your body from your head to toes and take several deep breaths. Notice how your body moves with each breath. Take note of where your body is touching whatever you are sitting or laying on and allow yourself to focus on that. There is nothing that is trying to be achieved with this exercise, it just brings awareness to the body.
Once you start running, find a comfortable pace (this may vary depending on the day/your mood/etc).
Take a moment to become mindful of the weather and your surroundings. Be aware of colors, smells, shapes, sights, etc.
Remind yourself that you set out with the intention to run mindfully.
Choose a foot and count each time it hits the ground.
Count ten steps (with the chosen foot) and start over at one once you have gotten to ten.
When invasive or unhelpful thoughts come, acknowledge them and let them go. Return to mindful running.
If thoughts come up saying you cannot run any longer, do a self-check. Ask yourself if these are coming from your mind or your body. If they come from your mind, remind yourself they are just thoughts and you can change those thoughts because you are in control of them.
If you find yourself in a zone where the world disappears and it is just you and your steps, then you are in a good flow.
Focus on a Question
Another variation is to focus on a specific question while running. So for people that deal with depression, good questions to focus on might be “Does depression feel like it is your fault? If so, do you think your friends and family would agree with you?” For anxiety, questions can be “In what ways is the anxiety you feel affecting your quality of life?” You don’t have to just focus on questions around mental health. It can be any sort of thing you want to focus on while running.
Develop a Mantra
Another trick is to develop a mantra. Examples include “I am confident”, “I am strong”, “I am resilient” or any other mantra that may be significant to you. When running while repeating your mantra, you can use each syllable with a step. For example: “I” (left foot) “am” (right foot) “strong” (left foot) REPEAT! Jennifer says this mindfulness technique can be particularly helpful on a long run when she doesn’t have the energy to use her mind to go through focus questions or other mindfulness exercises. The mantra is a great thing to fall back to without having to think too much about it.