Anyone can start practising mindful running and active meditation immediately to balance your body, mind and spirit, no matter your fitness level or experience.
Only by looking at yourself as a complete set of body, mind, and soul can you learn to heal, become stronger and healthier than ever before. At the same time, bringing mindfulness to all aspects of your life and becoming more present and relaxed throughout the day.
Mindful Running Makes You Feel Empowered
Meditative running can help you rewire your mind, think more clearly than ever before, strengthen your soul, balance and connect all parts of your existence. Mindful running achieves the same health benefits as sitting meditation while you are on a road or trail.
It allows you to enjoy the full richness of running and notice how it improves your mood, revives your body and just makes you feel great and empowered.
If every time you run you focus on your physiology and physical conditioning, forcing yourself to see how fast or far you can go, you are neglecting the importance of conditioning your mind and soul. Focusing on how you feel while running, without the burden of setting a new personal record each time will have a greater impact on the way you exercise.
Mindful running allows you to experience more fun, playfulness and adventure. It helps you turn running into an enjoyable activity, is a win-win situation for the runners. This is what will keep you running month after month, year after year, and decade after decade.
Running Can Be A Source Of Good Or Bad Stress
Not every time running is an amazing and relaxing experience. I remember when I started regular running training for my ultra-endurance challenges, I couldn’t stop checking my watch and my phone. Thinking how far I need to run and how long it will take.
I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was helping me relax my mind, but most of the run I was thinking about what I will do when I back to my desk. With who I need to talk, to which emails I have to replay first. Rushing, and thinking about everything else what I should do instead.
Running was more about clearing my mind to better organise my to-do list. I was constantly repeating in my mind conversations with friends and my clients. Distracting myself with music to relax and get rid of my thoughts.
But here is the thing, when we’re too distracted, we lose that connection to what we’re doing, that magical moment of feeling our strength and power as we run. When we aren’t focused on what we’re doing, we lose that sense of satisfaction for a job well done.
Running was a stress reliever for me. But I shifted my behavioural patterns and expectations from work to running and it just became another source of stress.
Research On Running And Stress
“Studies have linked mind-wandering to negative emotions,” says Amishi Jah, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami.
You may not even know that meditation is the best tool for runners. While running you are doing a physically stressful activity; you are alone with your thoughts, sometimes for hours; and if you let your mind wander, it will be too easy to mentally beat yourself up.
This can come from running itself – when we tell ourselves it’s too hard today and we feel terrible – or, because we often use running as a cleansing agent, our thoughts may be obsessed with a problem from work or everyday life.
Professor Jha says that choking on these thoughts raises our heart rate, tightens our muscles and immediately makes it difficult to run. “Learning to control your thoughts and emotions makes mindful running a physical and mental workout,” he adds.
Mindful Running Frees You From Judgment And Self-Doubt
Running is a form of good stress that can boost your confidence, tone your body, and make you happier. Taken together, all of these benefits help you deal with life crises better.
Research into the physical effects of stress has shown that just the right amount of stress makes you better at managing life’s big, terrifying stressors. Mindful running makes you fitter and more resistant to stress than you are more exhausted, burned out or injured.
Mindful running is the practice of fully immersing yourself in the present moment with your body, mind, soul, and surroundings. This has an immediate impact on your mood and the way you view yourself and your life, it frees you from judgment and self-doubt.
It’s about knowing what your mind is doing moment by moment and being able to manage it to work more efficiently for you. Increasing your focus by practising meditation and mindfulness techniques will improve your results in any area where you want to apply them.
I teach these techniques during my university coaching programs, corporate training and online courses. It’s simpler than you can imagine, but hard to break to make it a daily habit.
12,000 Miles With Mindfulness
I credit the mindfulness practice for getting me through my both ultra-endurance challenges: making the 5 Million Steps in 101 days and running 7,000 miles through Asia.
During both challenges, the environment, weather, physical, spiritual and mental exertion were much more difficult than I could have imagined. And there was no longer any space for not being present. Thinking about past experiences or worrying about the future could cost me my life.
I was running with an 8kg backpack that scratched and annoyed me with every movement. There was no part in my body that I wouldn’t feel pain. The temperature was above 30 degrees almost every day.
Some days I couldn’t find food or even water on the way. And several times I manage to find a hotel late at night after a day of running.
I love Asians, they are incredibly nice and helpful, but running on roads with 8-year-old motorbike drivers is a very dangerous experience.
I have run through the jungle many times. Snakes were the norm not only in forests but also on main roads. And the dogs were a nightmare.
Mindful Running Enhances The Healing Process
I covered almost 12,000 miles on both challenges using only three pairs of shoes. At one point, I was connecting parts of my shoes with plastic straps to keep them on my feet.
To survive, I had to learn to focus all my thoughts on my body and surroundings and I made mindful running a central part of my healing process.
I ran an average of 40 to 60 km a day, but on some days I ran over 100 km. Instead of focusing on the physical pain, I felt almost constantly, I focused on my breathing and the road ahead, controlling where I took each step.
This approach worked especially during my 7,000 miles ultra-run across Asia. I couldn’t change my distance so I focused on the process, not the result. Using mindfulness to control my emotional response. Acknowledging what I’m feeling but focusing on my run rather than my thoughts. With that under control, I was able to enjoy my running and everything else I did all day long.
In The Zone
There’s a flow that happens when we pay attention to what we’re doing in the current moment. The physical pain hasn’t gone away, but I’ve learned to focus my attention on strong parts of my body. I was “in the zone” flow state for most of the days.
I have learned to stay focused, enjoy running and engage with it, even if I was running 100 km that day. Feel relaxed and in control of what I am doing without distracting thoughts from past experiences or worrying about the future.
Happiness Hormones On-Demand
In this state, you find that not only are you strengthening your body, but you are using your brain functions at the highest executive level. Build self-confidence, unlimited motivation and a sense of your own strength. Lower the level of cortisol – stress hormones and increase the production of happiness hormones on-demand: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and many others.
Scientists say exercise improves mood by stimulating the release of natural chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, that affect mood.
Other research has linked exercise to the growth of new neurons in the brain and an increase in proteins that support memory. This means that you are better at problem-solving and rational thinking after your run.
Endure Pain And Hardship
Lori Haase Alasantro, a neuropsychologist at the Southern California Neurology Center, says people who practise mindfulness have a thicker, stronger, and more active prefrontal cortex – a grey matter in the brain related to the regulation of emotions and perspective.
Steven Hickman, director of the UC San Diego Mindfulness Center says that people with a thicker prefrontal cortex endure pain and hardship more than they feel overwhelmed by them.
Mindful running helped me recognize the negative stories that I tell myself over and over; automatic and unconscious thoughts that arise just below our level of consciousness. Many of them have become an integral part of my identity over the years.
Since I remember, I’ve been telling myself that I can’t run because I easily have a knee injury or I don’t have time for it. But research has shown that running thickness articular cartilage, making the knees and hips less susceptible to wear and tear or to the development of osteoarthritis. Conscious running provides just the right amount of stress to strengthen your knees.
Mindfulness allows you to recognize these automatic thoughts and re-write your believing patterns, building you up as a stronger and more confident person. This way you become more relaxed, which is crucial for recovery and healing, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.
Trusting Your Intuition
More senses are involved in running meditation: movement, intense breathing, body trembling, etc. So it is less likely that our mind wanders.
It will help you stay centred, no matter what happens. I don’t find things as overwhelming as I use to. In a matter of minutes, I can detach myself from trouble, gain perspective, and sit down much stronger to fix the problem.
Active meditation helps us type into our gut feeling, also known as intuition, and focus less on the chatter going on in our brains.
I’ve learned to trust my body more than my mind. Mindful running helps us move our thinking process from our mind into our belly. We decide using guts, and we more trust our intuition.
The Power of Practicing Mindful Running
What started as a fight to survive has turned into many magical moments and a new chapter in my life.
During both challenges, I run through 8 countries and over 25 small and large islands. I became an ambassador of Wave Trust charity in the United Kingdom, helping people recovering from traumatic experiences. I conducted coaching workshops at universities and for businesses on the way. Teaching thousands of students and employees my techniques of mindful running and how to use them to break the habit of self-doubt and to build resilience and confidence.
I felt in love with life for the first time. Running became my passion, and teaching about it become my life purpose.
Get Started With Mindful Running
If you’re ready to race Zen on your next run, try using those simple steps to get you started today.
When you practice mindful running and active meditation, you pay attention to the moment you propel your body forward: physical sensations such as breathing, hitting your feet on the ground, arm movements, the situations you are in, soundings and more.
This focus distracts you from how far you’ve run, how far you have to go, what has happened in your life in the past, what you have to do later at work, etc.
Calm Your Body And Mind Before Running With Pre-Run Mindful Breathing
Are you running to relax after a stressful day or to soothe your anxiety, or maybe you’re just running because you want it to get out of your way? If you can relate, take two or three minutes to slow down and be present before putting on your running shoes.
Practice deep abdominal breathing before going for a run. It will help you relax and focus on preparing for the run. 4-7-8 is one of the most powerful relaxation breaths. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Inhale to a count of four through your nose, hold your breath to seven, and exhale slowly to eight through your mouth. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly to let your diaphragm (not your chest) inflate. Repeat four to six times.
If you’re running for an hour or two today, you don’t need to practice mindfulness all the time. Start by focusing for five minutes at a time. The easiest way is to focus on the movement of the legs. Notice how your foot lands on the ground. Note the sensations, is it a heavy step or a light step. Which part of your feet touch the ground first. Make it your focal point. If you start to wonder, gently get back into focus without judging yourself.
Surely your mind will wander at first. That’s okay. Over time, this focus will balance, and your mind will follow the rhythm of your body and you will feel more relaxed.
Left Your Headphones At Home
I know, this is probably the most difficult suggestion. I couldn’t imagine running without music, sometimes going back home to take it with me if I left without it. But for over two years I haven’t listened to music, podcasts, or anything else while running.
Remember, the goal of mindful running is to deepen your connection with yourself. Try it for a week and see what happens. Leave the headphones at home and use the time to focus on your breathing, the sounds of your body while you run, and your surroundings.
It will be much easier for you to focus and connect with your body, mind and surroundings. And you will be surprised how much easier and more enjoyable your run is.
Choose a mantra
A mantra is a word that is repeated in meditation practice to help focus. In fact, a mantra is a type of thought, but that particular thought helps to focus the mind instead of overwhelming it.
The possibilities are endless … but; according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, using the word “I” when talking to yourself can stress you out, rather than causing waves of self-love and acceptance. Try to replace “I” with “you” and address yourself as if you were talking to a friend.
Pro Tip. To find the mantra that suits you, I advise you to ask yourself how you want to feel right now.
I wanted to have fun and enjoy running; so my mantra for both challenges was a funny memory of my older son being a little boy and watching the same movie “Finding Nemo” over and over again.
There was another fish named Dory who forgot everything but remembered the song her parents sang, “just keep swimming.” Whenever I started to wander, I was singing in my head “just keep running, just keep running.”
If your goal is to work on strength, your mantra may include words such as “powerful”, “strong,” etc.
The above four tips are the basis for getting started. The next step is to focus on your physical reactions, become aware of the sights, sounds and sensations you are experiencing while running, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, soothe any discomfort, and end the run with mindfulness exercises.
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