It’s the perfect way to manage stress and anxiety. Here’s everything you need to know about mindful running.
Mindful movement – aka tuning into your thoughts and surroundings as you exercise – is the workout of the moment. The latest science reports that its benefits include less stress and anxiety, as well as improved sleep, mood and general wellbeing. It’s already taken the world by storm, with the NHS recommending mindfulness practices such as yoga and t’ai chi for mental wellbeing. And now running boasts its own path to mindfulness through the increasingly popular form of mindful running.
‘The levels of stress that people face today mean that it can be almost impossible to really switch off, relax and unwind,’ says Melissa Weldon, personal trainer and instructor at SoulCycle. ‘Mindful running can be a great way to combat this because it enables you to put worries aside, disconnect from anxiety and revel in some “me-time”. It also encourages you to pay attention to your training and learn how to be more focused.’ Which, in turn, could translate to better running economy and faster times. How’s that for an added bonus?
What is mindful running?
The concept of mindful running is a simple one – rather than run with gadgets and a keen eye on your pace or distance, you run with an awareness of your breath, form and the scenery surrounding you. ‘Mindful running is the practice of immersing yourself in your physical experience of the world around, substituting thoughts of the past and future with the sensations of the here and now,’ says William Pullen, psychotherapist and author of Run For Your Life (Penguin Books, £9.99).
‘Mindful running is effective because the process of running keeps your mind involved in a way that sitting often doesn’t. You’re not left with that extra brain power that can leave you ruminating when you’re at rest. Instead, when you run, your body/mind is kept occupied at just the right level, leaving you free to fully focus on the changing environment around you.’
The reaction to this meditative form of running has been exciting. Nike led the way by partnering with mindfulness app Headspace to offer Nike Run Club app users audio-guided mindful runs as part of the NikePlus membership.
The runs feature Chris Bennett, global head coach of Nike Running, Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, and Colleen Quigley, Olympic American steeplechaser. ‘What sets them apart is that the training instruction is combined with motivational components, making them ‘a little more active and upbeat than a sitting meditation’, says Andy.
Benefits of mindful running
Nike purports that mindful running produces performance benefits, such as better running technique and quicker recovery. ‘When we are running mindfully, we are actively creating the conditions for that sense of flow, meaning everything is enhanced, from technique and motivation to focus and recovery,’ explains Andy.
Of course, you don’t need brand inspiration to head out on a mindful run – you simply lace up your trainers and go. ‘Mindful running teaches you to disengage from stress and focus on the act of running,’ says personal trainer and lifestyle coach David Weiner. ‘It can help improve motivation because approaching a run with an attitude of “I want to give my mind a rest and offer myself time” presents a run as a positive opportunity. It can also reduce injury risk by allowing you to focus on how your body is moving and adapting your run accordingly.’
Want to try mindful running? Follow these essential tips from David Wiener.
CHANGE ROUTE: For your first mindful run, take a different route compared to usual, or run your normal route the other way around. This run will be refreshing and enable you to think about the different sights and sounds with which you’re coming into contact.
GO FOR GREEN: Trails are usually an ideal place to practise mindful running, as you’ll need to focus on the undulating terrain just to avoid tripping up. There’s also a lot of natural beauty to observe when running on trails. If you’re running on a treadmill, use the Freeletics Mindset Coach audio courses (freeletics.com), as these will enable you to focus on your body and help to boost your motivation.
LISTEN AROUND: Leave your headphones at home – while listening to music can be beneficial for some runs, if you want to practise mindfulness, you’ll want to avoid the distraction of music. You’ll find it much easier to focus and connect with your surroundings and thoughts when you don’t have music blasting in your ears.
YOUR FIRST MINDFUL RUN
‘Mindful running is a fantastic way to throw off the concerns of the week and just become one with where you are right now,’ says psychotherapist William Pullen. ‘Try the following exercise on a nice day, if it’s your first time.’
- Before you begin to run, take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself why you’re here.
- Focus on the sensation of the world carrying your weight. Try to plant yourself where you are.
- Begin to run slowly – remember, this is not about distance or speed.
- Look around you, especially up and down.
- Once you have a nice pace going, bring your attention to your senses and scan through them. Try to stay with your senses and away from thoughts of the past or future.
- One way to do this is to listen to and count each footfall (pick your right or left foot) or count each breath. In both cases, count to 10 and then start again.
- If you find your mind drifting into thoughts about the past and future, this is perfectly natural. Gently start to count again, starting from one. This practice is designed to help you become mindful of how you operate in the world, and noticing your internal process is a big part of that.
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Words: Sarah Sellens. Images: Shutterstock.