Mindfulness. It’s become a buzzword over the last few years. I am certainly not opposed to that. Yet, it does get thrown around a lot. I'd urge caution as to why it's being used.
Much like Gluten-Free became equated to “healthy”, I think mindfulness has got that quality to it. If something is “mindful”, it must be good for you!
What does mindfulness mean?
Mindfulness is defined as “a quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”. Be aware of the present moment whilst acknowledging one's feelings, thoughts and body sensations.
A tenant of mindfulness is to do be in this process without judgment. Instead, there’s a curiosity as to what is there.
Extend our definition to running (or any exercise). It would be about being present on your run to what is going on within you. This will change moment to moment as your run progresses.
If this sounds tricky, then you are getting the hang of it. Being fully present is a challenge. There will be moments of presence, and then you’ll be taken out of the moment.
Many runners will get to a stage of being aware of what’s going on in their bodies. But those moments will be packed with judgment. If you are anything like me, then as soon as it gets tough in a run, I’ll be saying something along the lines of:
“It shouldn’t be this hard.”
“I need to get fitter.”
Instead of just being aware of the sensation of suffering and letting it go, we make a judgement about it and encourage that sensation to stick around.
Mindful Exercises to do on a run
If becoming more aware and present on your run is something you’d like to do, then you’ll want to do something to practice this skill.
When going about this, don’t attempt to do all these things at once. Take one skill and practice that. Then try another one on a different run.
Pre Run Set-Up
This one is done before your run. It’s a great way to just slow things down before you go out.
Get everything ready to go out for your run, including putting your shoes on.
Set a timer for 1 minute
Take a deep breath in, and on the out-breath, close your eyes
Continue to slowly breathe in and out
Just become aware of how you are feeling - I imagine many of them will be regarding your upcoming run
Let thoughts and feelings come and go
Recognise them without judgment
1 minute will absolutely fly by
Over time you can build this up to 5 minutes. Adding 1 minute at a time. Stop when you find your sweet spot of time spent just checking in with you. That might be more than 5, might be less. Make it your ritual.
On the Run Body Scan
A body scan is a great mindfulness activity. This would often be done either seated or lying down to allow you to really tune in to your body sensations.
However, we are going to do this on the run!
Starting either at the top or bottom of your body (your feet or head). All you will do is gradually scan through your body, noticing the different sensations.
Try not to get fixated on one area of the body when doing the scan.
This is a great activity to do during a warm-up and then a cool down. Noticing the difference between the two stages of your run.
On the run awareness
For a few minutes, take time to label what’s going on. Notice what’s going on in your mind and just mark it as either:
That was a thought
That was a feeling
That was a body sensation
Once you have labelled whatever it is, try and let it go. Don’t become all wrapped up in the thought, feeling or body sensation.
This process allows you to just see what’s going on when you are running and let things go.
On the run conversations
This could be considered less of a traditional mindfulness exercise, but one I feel is essential.
There are many times I have had conversations with myself on a run. I am sure you have the same.
The focus is making these conversations ‘mindful’. Being aware of the words you are using when speaking to yourself. Trying to remove the judgement that you are making about how you are feeling.
Think of having “Quiet Conversations” with yourself. You are removing some of the noise of panicky chats.
How will it help?
Becoming more mindful will allow you to become more aware of yourself. In running terms, you’ll be in a better place to know what your body is going through, and you can listen to it. Becoming in tune with your body allows you to listen to what it’s asking of you and reacting to it. You’ll learn to trust it when it’s saying you need to rest.
It will, in time, help you work harder. You’ll be able to control that internal chatter that encourages you to slow down.
This won’t be something you do and immediately notice the changes. The change will be subtle. Just stay with it. It’s a practice, after all.
Be Curious and Give it a go
These mindful exercises might already be something you are doing on the run. Now you have a name for it and a skill to practice.
There is no perfect mindfulness. There’s no wrong way to do this either. It’s your process. It is a practice and not something that you just are.
Can it make you a better runner? Maybe. It’ll make you a more present and aware human being.
You may even take this practice into something you do day to day. Something we'll look into in the future.