To Keep Moving: How to Bring Mindfulness to Your Running
Written by Baiba Šustere
When you start running it might be hard, and you might struggle to motivate yourself to carry on. To keep moving. However, if you keep moving, you might get lucky enough to enter a beautiful state of flow and ease. When the only thing that matters is putting one foot in front of the other. No other activity really boils down to this pure simplicity – one foot in front of the other. Keep moving forwards.
There are quite a few ways to make your running more mindful and present, and it might bring a little bit more ease to your step. As well as offer some rest to the mind. So, let’s begin with the simple idea of putting one foot in front of the other. To keep moving.
Awareness on the feet
When you run, focus on your feet. Notice how you land on your feet and whether it is the heel, midfoot or ball of the foot that touches the ground first. Notice which part of the foot is the first one to lift again and feel the way the foot moves away from the ground. Observe how long each foot is fully on the ground. Is there a moment when both feet are in the air together?
There might be changes taking place as you observe your movement. However, try not to analyse it, instead acknowledge that they are there. See how long or short your step is. And when you get tired, again, bring your awareness back to the feet, and concentrate on that simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. To keep moving.
Awareness on the breath
During your run notice the quality of your breath. Is it fast or slow, shallow, or deep, smooth or coarse? Perhaps sections of your breath are coarse, and parts feel smooth, notice it. Note whether you are breathing through the mouth or nose, or maybe you are inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth or vice versa. Don’t change anything. Instead, acknowledge and observe your breath.
It is well known that a comfortable running pace is the one where you can easily hold a conversation with someone without losing the breath. As you run, see if you can find this comfortable running pace, notice your breath in this running pace. Observe what happens if you speed up or slow down.
From time to time keep checking in on the quality of your breath. Notice when you struggle during your run, you might tend to hold your breath. See if you can release the tension and allow your breath to come and go, even when you start to struggle physically. At the end of your run, once again check in on the quality of your breath.
Notice whether the inhale is longer than the exhale or whether the exhale is longer than the inhale. Acknowledge where in your body do you feel your breath the most before, during and after your run. As you run, remember, that your body knows how to breathe, trust your body.
Awareness of the body
There are many theories and perceptions of the most efficient running posture. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that all our bodies are unique, so an efficient running posture will look different on different bodies. The best way to discover your own most efficient running posture is to get to know your body.
At the beginning of your run notice the way your body feels. Notice how you carry yourself. Be fully aware of the way you position yourself as you keep moving. Be aware of each part of your body. When you start to feel tired, observe the changes within your posture and the way your body moves. What happens if you consciously come back to that posture that you started your run with? Does it bring more ease to your movement?
Try and speed up. How does the body feel and respond? When you open your chest and relax through your shoulders, do you feel more ease in your body? Check the position of your head, are you leaning forward? You might bring your head back above the shoulders, how does it feel now? Try and consciously bring ease to your body and your movement. Allow your body to soften, let go of the tension, and notice what happens.
As you get to know your body, and discover the most efficient way to run, it might be useful to create a mental check list. Thereby, when moving forwards gets challenging, you can go through your mental check list and bring back ease to your run. To keep moving.
Notice nature around
It doesn’t matter whether you run in an urban area or you are surrounded by all the abundance of Nature’s beauty, it is beneficial to be aware of the landscape around. Acknowledge the various sounds as you run, don’t try to name them or associate whether they are pleasant or not. Just acknowledge that they are there. Acknowledge the soundscape.
Then move to your sense of gaze. Look around, what do you see? Look above, left to right and below. Become aware of your surroundings through the sense of gaze.
Now move to your sense of touch. How does the ground beneath your feet feel? Is the air cold or warm? Observe, take in the landscape around through the sense of touch.
Bring the awareness to your sense of smell, take a few deeper breaths through the nose. What scents can you smell? Again, don’t try to name them or associate whether they are pleasant or not, just gather the information. As the sense of smell is directly linked with the sense of taste, what do you taste? Is it the salt on your lips from perspiration or food that ate before you went out for a run?
Possibly you are already tasting the food you will eat once you are done with the run. See if you can keep all your five senses awake throughout your run. Become fully aware of the landscape around you through your senses. As you awaken your senses, the well-trodden running route might become new and filled with the unknown.
The question that most runners struggle to answer is: What did you think about during your run? Sometimes one might even go out for a run to solve a problem, to think about something, only to come back and realise that it didn’t happen. These awareness practices are mental reminders to become more in tune with your body and Nature; to bring your mind back to the present moment and each step. To keep moving.
About the author: Baiba is a meditation and forest therapy facilitator, writer, runner and creator of Run to Plant Trees initiative. Baiba is also experimenting with rather extrem events for body and mind, like meditating 10 days in a row for 11 hours per day without speaking with someone or seeing somebody. Or running 24 hours on a 400 m running circuit. www.baibasustere.com