Many people find that their biggest struggle with their run is in the mental aspect rather than the physical. And it’s for a good reason. Mental fatigue is a state of exhaustion that is caused when you have been engaged in long periods of demanding cognitive activity. More than one study has shown that mental fatigue can have a direct impact on your physical performance.
The drain from the mental activity of running can spill over to your run’s physical side and affect your running time and distance. While you might think that you have to be alert and aware of each step you take to keep your legs performing at their best, the opposite has shown to be true. Combining your run with a meditation session can turn it into a refreshing experience.
Making Your Run a Moving Meditation – How Mindful Running Meditation works…
Why Mental Meditation Works
Combining running with meditation can make you stronger while also making the experience more enjoyable. One study that was done that demonstrates this was done on elite athletes. The study was published in the Journal of Sport Psychology. This study showed that meditation and mindfulness could lead to an increased focus and allow you to perform at your best. A second study that was done in 2016 and published in Translational Psychiatry showed that meditation during aerobic exercise could lead to many benefits. Some of the most significant benefits can include reduced depression, improved cognition, and better decision making.
If you are interested in practicing mindful meditation, start with the following steps to help you get the most out of your run.
1. Pay Attention to Your Senses
Focusing on only one sense at a time, take note of the things around you that you can see, hear, smell, and taste. You might be amazed at what you notice around you. If you aren’t sure where to start, take note of the colors of the flowers and leaves around you. Or the pebbles you are running past. Take a deep breath and notice what the air smells like. See if you can hear birds, airplanes, or other people around you. Finally, take note of what the ground beneath your feet feels like. Though you can mentally move through the senses in your brain, don’t fight to try and notice the things around you. Just try to see what comes to you naturally. Over time, it will become more and more natural to you.
2. Notice How Your Body Feels
Starting at the top, bring your attention to each part of your body until you get to your toes. While you don’t want to get stuck having an internal dialogue with yourself about how your body feels, notice what each part of your body is feeling. If you feel any tension in your body, try to consciously relax that part of your body. If you feel any physical discomfort, take note of it, and then move on. You don’t want to get lost in the complaints and discomforts. Instead, try to be kind to yourself and keep your attention on your experience as a whole.
3. Focus on Your Breathing
When you are focused on your breath, you don’t want to get trapped in counting or controlling your breathing. Instead, you want to focus on the natural rhythm and feel of your breath as it happens. Doing this will calm your nerves and release any tension you might be feeling in your jaw, neck, or shoulders. Releasing the tension will also increase the oxygen that can get to your muscles. Your muscles use oxygen to get the fuel that is created by the glucose that the oxygen breaks down. Finally, letting go of any tension in your muscles will give your body more energy to put towards running.
4. Gain Control Over Your Thoughts
It’s easy for your mind to become cluttered with all of the things that are going on in your life. Take note, are you currently caught up in your thoughts, or have you managed to clear your mind completely? If thoughts are bouncing around in your head, acknowledge that they are there. For example, if there is a deadline at work that is on your mind, tell yourself, “that’s a worry.” Then, let it go and bring your mind back to the sensations you are experiencing around you. Being able to acknowledge that thought exists in your head and then move on from it is a crucial part of practicing meditation while you are running.
5. Find Your Anchor
Just like a boat has an anchor to keep it grounded, each of us has an anchor when it comes to running. This anchor is the thing that is going to bring your mind back to your run if you find yourself getting lost in your thoughts. This anchor is the area of your body where you most intensely feel the sensations of your run. To figure out what your anchor is, pay attention to what part of your body holds your attention the more frequently while you are running. Knowing where to bring your focus if you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts will ensure that you are able to bring your head back to your run no matter what is going on in your life
Although each of these steps might seem simple, making it stick is the more challenging part. Without making a point of practicing mindful meditation while you are running, you aren’t going to be able to make the habits stick.
Remember, the process isn’t about having a run that is perfect and breaks records. Instead, it is about knowing what to do when you get caught up in your thoughts. It is about noticing when your mind has started wondering and using your anchor point to release your thoughts. By consistently practicing your meditation, you will slowly increase both your physical stamina and your mental stamina. Coming out of your head and becoming fully present in your environment, and your senses will make your run more enjoyable.