How can a blood-pumping, heart-racing activity like running possibly be meditative? We tend to think of meditation as a still activity, usually performed in a lying position, sedentary at most. The less you move, the more relaxed and mentally present you are, right?
Meditation is a state of mindfulness, conscious living in the present moment that can be adopted at all time.
Contrary to popular belief, exercising is great for relaxing your mind since it triggers certain chemical reactions and increases blood flow in your body which influences the functioning of your brain. The better your respiratory and cardiovascular systems work, the more focused and sharp your mind gets. However, in order to switch to meditative running, there are certain things to keep in mind if you want to turn a basic morning jog into a tranquil mindful experience.
It’s surprising how beneficial jogging can be for practicing mindfulness and making it part of your everyday life.
WHAT EXACTLY IS MINDFULNESS?
Being mindful basically means being able to fully live in the “now”, achieving complete mind presence and awareness of what we do and experience, while not being very much influenced by what’s happening around us. Although it’s considered a basic human ability, this kind of thinking has become extremely challenging, mostly since we live in the world of constant distractions and mental stimuli. No wonder it’s become so hard focusing on what you’re doing and truly living what you experience.
What’s more, our mind clings to stressful situations and problems as fast as it can, making our brains a beehive of anxious and depressing thoughts. This is why learning how to put these mental pressures aside and live in the present is very important for staying healthy and achieving mental bliss and serenity.
BE AWARE OF DISTRACTIONS
If you are new to meditative running, you’ll want to help yourself a bit in the beginning by simply getting rid of possible external influences and distractions. It’s hard enough emptying your mind and narrowing your thoughts, now you have to deal with all the noise and fuss on the streets that make you wander away and lose focus.
The best way to start meditative running is to try morning jogging in nature. That way you can avoid a bunch of other runners distracting you, whilst enjoying the beauty and benefits of serenity, peace and quiet that is at its best during sunrise.
There is something magical about being up before the rest of the world – finding the “me time” when there’s no one around to interrupt your peace and train of thought. Mornings are the perfect time when it’s not too hot or too dark, and you get to experience the gradual awakening of nature and life.
Another important aspect of avoiding distractions is always being comfortable and safe during your runs. Nothing is more diverting than a painful blister or irritated feet caused by inappropriate footwear. Make sure to have everything fit you just right and cozy. The less you are aware of your equipment and conditions, the more you’ll be able to focus on your thoughts and actually meditate. There are plenty of resources like Jogging addiction and others that are very informative about appropriate gear and footwear for different types of runners and personal preferences.
THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING
The first step to successful meditation is mastering your breathing technique. It’s also the best thing you can do to access that elusive zone or where runners experience the runner’s high feeling. Deep, diaphragmatic, nasal breathing (breathing deeply and slowly through the nose and down to the belly) has a calming effect, it stabilizes the heart rate and creates a consistent, rhythmic pattern in the movement that gives the brain relief from ruminative thinking ( obsessively thinking negatively).
As soon as you learn how to consciously breathe, you will be halfway through to a truly meditative experience.
FOCUS ON YOUR FORM AND MOVEMENT
When you’re focused on your breathing and movement in tandem, there’s little room left for extraneous thoughts. Start by counting your footsteps, then timing them with your breath.
For example, you might take three steps for every inhale and three for every exhale. Create a rhythm of your own and take control of your thinking. The key is to concentrate on the subtle movement of each body part.
Start from your shoulders and arms, feel the tightening of your abdomen and leg muscles, observe how your feet and joints move, feel the lungs expand and contract as you inhale and exhale. Practicing this for a few runs will prove to be beneficial in the daily grind.
You’ll be surprised how a week of mindful running can influence your performance and mood in other areas of life.
Imagine greater patience, compassion, creativity, focus, and clearer thinking, all coming from your runs! You’ll begin to experience this, plus more relaxed running, reduced tension, and a better ability to see obstacles on your path before you step on them.
DROP YOUR THOUGHTS AND LIVE IN THE MOMENT
This is the most important and at the same time the most difficult part of mindful living. It’s only brief snippets in life where our minds aren’t racing and we’re truly present in the moment. Running helps in practicing how to let go of random brainstorming and get centered.
By focusing on what your body is doing while you run, you gain control over your conscious mind and attention. If a thought does sneak up, practice catching it, letting it go, then going back to your breath. Over some time you will enjoy the benefits of mindful meditation and never look back.
The healthiest way to take care of your mind is to put some conscious effort into achieving full awareness of the present. Awaken your conscious self and live every moment of your life. You’ll see that nothing in the present is horrible and irreversible and that lingering in the past and the future is the main problem. Make a firm decision and find your will power to introduce positive change in your thinking process for good.
Sofia Alves is an avid runner, conveyor of messages, sunshine addict. Guided by the belief that health is a choice, she recently started sharing her knowledge as a contributing writer at Jogging Addiction. In her free time, you can usually find her sharing stories with friends over a glass of dry wine and a plate of her favorite pesto spaghetti.