In our deadline-driven world, running has gained tremendous popularity recently as a means of getting away from it all and connecting with the outdoors, while getting fit and sweating out the pressure of the daily grind.
Meditation has also gained a huge foothold recently, as people turn inward to try and calm their racing minds, regain control, and let go of an overwhelming flood of thoughts.
The challenge with both running and meditation is that we're rarely skilled enough to truly let go of it all. No matter how much we run, we can't leave our troubles behind. And while meditation sounds great on paper, it's hard to find the time, and when we finally do, it's often incredibly challenging to get the body and mind to cooperate.
But what if there was a way to tame the mind, while simultaneously training your body?
That's where mindful running steps in. It helps bring a meditative practice to your movement, creating a healthier way to run, that's more enjoyable, with better results for body, mind and soul.
The term "mindful running" may be new, but the practice has existed for thousands of years. From the Tibetan lung-gom-pa runners, to the "marathon monks" of Japan, to the Incan messengers of Machu Picchu, humanity has a long history of pairing running with meditation.
Take the ancient lung-gom-pa runners. Initiates would spend three years in silent meditation, focusing solely on emptying their minds and controlling their breaths, before allowed to take a single step. Yet once they'd tamed their minds, they could run almost effortlessly incredible distances, up to 400 miles at a go, according to The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Anagarika Govinda and Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel.
By focusing on mindfulness and breath, these runners are said to have achieved a sense of enlightenment here on earth, and an almost superhuman state of fitness. But you needn't lock yourself up for three years to enjoy tremendous benefits. Instead, by focusing on three key elements anyone can do, you can bring more presence, peace and fitness to your walks and runs.
1. Run in sync with your breath.
The breath brings in energy, or prana, and is our metronome and guide. Moving breath-centered, we reconnect with our bodies, moving more efficiently and relaxed. Inhaling deep brings in more oxygen, calms our nervous system and reduces muscle tension.
How to begin? Start walking, and later, slowly running in sync with your breath. It doesn’t matter your pattern to begin, just get your breath and steps together. For instance, inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step, step, step.
Next, always breathe through your nose down to your diaphragm. Rapid mouth breathing triggers an inflammatory fight or flight response, while nasal belly-breathing does the reverse, slowing the heart while soothing and healing the body.
2. Watch your stride.
Most runners fight their bodies, pounding along, and struggling to breathe. The average runner’s stride has us hitting the brakes with each step. Yet the body gives us clues to move better. Once we gain awareness, we quickly lose the huffing and puffing, and pounding along.
How to begin? First, watch and listen to your footsteps, working to shorten and silence your stride. This means less bouncing, wasted effort and potential joint damage. Second, keep your arms up and high, never swinging side-to-side.
The higher your arms, the quieter you land, the less you swing sideways, the less torque on knees, hips, and back. Third, picture a silvery string, pulling upward through your head toward the sky. The taller you run, the lighter, with less stress on your shoulders, back and knees.
3. Practice Ten Count breathing.
When you’re focused on body and breath, there's little room left for extraneous thought, instead you focus 100% attention on the task at hand while running firmly in the now. This doesn’t just quiet the mind, but rewires you for greater concentration, awareness, and creativity throughout the day.
How to begin? The simplest way is the Ten Count.
- Begin with 5 minutes of walking or jogging.
- Simply count ten inhalations and exhalations, and then repeat.
- If a stray thought comes up, drop it like a hot potato, then go right back into your count.
By rewiring the mind, and improving our health, mindful running can be a life-transformative experience. It helps us get back in our bodies, let go of stress, get fit, and to heal. More importantly, it gives us the gift of silence, even on a busy street.
By slowing our racing minds, we have more room to think more clearly, be more compassionate, especially toward ourselves, connect with the earth, and to discover improvement in all areas of our lives.
So focus on your breath, drop those thoughts and watch those steps. Then, you too, can experience the pure joy of mindful running.
Photo Credit: Robert Randall