Running Meditation: A Beginner’s Guide
Meditation while running is about enhancing that feeling of being “in flow” while at the same time training your capacity for attention and your ability to remain in the present moment.
Here’s something you hear a lot from runners: “Running is great for clearing my head.”
And it’s true. The emotional refresh provided by a run can often change the course of the rest of your day.
But it’s also true that even while running, it’s just as easy to slip on being into “autopilot mode”.
If you’ve ever been running and noticed mental tension, you’ve entered autopilot mode with your mind busily generating thoughts about the past and the future.
You’re no longer thinking about the rhythm of your run, watching your breathing, or noticing the feeling of your feet hitting the ground. Instead, you’re caught up in whatever thoughts float through your mind.
Running meditation is a way to stay present with the running experience, helping prevent the stress and anxieties of the day from seeping into your running practice.
By meditating and practicing mindful running, you’ll be more in tune with your body and more likely to finish your run physically and emotionally refreshed.
Let’s explore how to meditate while running, the benefits of meditation, and the best ways to get started.
Why meditation and running go together
As Leo Babauta, founder of the blog Zen Habits, explains, running intersects with mindfulness in a couple of interesting ways.
First, it’s a chance to practice being present in your headspace through concentration meditation. And second, it’s a chance to let your mind wander and think about your life and the important things to you.
If the benefits of running for you include that rare “me time” in your day where you don’t even want to think about any other goal on top of getting your miles in, that’s okay! There’s no reason you have to add meditation to your running routine.
But for most people, running meditation is worth experimenting with.
That’s because meditating and running already have a lot in common. There’s a certain amount of meditation and running mindfulness already baked into the experience of running.
Many runners describe the feeling of running as an escape from the stresses of everyday life. The physicality and rhythm of the activity mean your mind can’t focus solely on chasing whatever thoughts wander by.
Instead, you have to reserve some attention for what you’re doing (at least to make sure you don’t trip and fall over!)
This is exactly what meditating while running involves: focusing on what you’re actually doing rather than what you’re thinking about.
You can imagine how this comes in handy.
With one mile left on your run, you might typically face thoughts like, “I’m exhausted, and breathing is getting hard. This is uncomfortable. Maybe I should walk the rest of the way.”
But if you’re practicing running meditation, you’ll notice your thoughts and then bring your focus back to your breath and the physical experience of running.
As a result, running meditation can be a powerful tool in your arsenal to enhance your training while leaving you even more refreshed after the run is over.
Should you meditate before, after, or during a run?
Most people envision meditation as something that happens while sitting still on a cushion, legs folded and hands curled upwards like Buddha or when Buddhists meditate.
And while this is certainly meditation, other forms of meditation involve movement. Walking meditation is a well-known version, for example.
When we talk about running meditation, it’s important to clarify that there are a few ways you can incorporate meditation into your running routine.
Meditate before your run
This would look much like the seated meditation described above. The advantage here is that you could couple this together with any pre-run stretching or warm-up activity you have and prime yourself to experience your run more mindfully.
Meditate after your run
Meditating after your run could be a part of your cool-down, although the endorphins and adrenaline may make it hard to settle into a seated meditation flow.
Meditate during your run
Of course, this form of meditation looks different from the seated forms of meditation described above. But meditating during your run can go a long way towards keeping you present, helping you reach a state of flow, and finishing your run in a refreshed state.
Let’s dive more deeply into what it looks like to meditate during your run.
How to meditate while running: our 10 tips
The basics of meditating while running are pretty simple:
Notice when you’re getting lost in thought. When that happens, bring your attention back to the point of concentration, like your breath or the feeling of your feet hitting the ground.
While the basics are simple, everyone responds best to different strategies.
So here are a few that you might try for the first time on your next run:
1. Take a moment of calm before starting your run.
Sit still for a couple of minutes before starting your run to move towards a state of presentness and relaxation. This is a good time to set an intention for your run if you like (for example, “When I get distracted, I’ll come back to my breath”).
2. Focus on your breath.
Focus on your breath as an object of concentration, just as you would in sitting meditation. When you’re running, you might count your breaths or say silently to yourself, “inhale, exhale.”
3. Focus on your steps.
Unique to running meditation is the ability to focus on your steps and foot strikes. Try counting each step until you reach eight steps, and then start over. When you get distracted, bring your attention back to counting each step.
4. Do a body scan meditation.
Move your attention towards other sensations, like the beating of your heart, the wind on your face, or the sun on the back of your neck. Note the sensations you feel that normally, you wouldn’t have noticed.
5. Set your watch to beep mid-run as a mindfulness reminder.
Sometimes, it’s so easy to get distracted that you can forget you were even supposed to meditate! That’s where your running watch can come in handy. Just set it to beep 10 or 15 minutes into your run. When you hear it, gently pull yourself back into the present moment.
6. Meditate in short “sprints.”
Concentration meditation can take a lot of focus, so it’s okay to let your attention drift after attempting to meditate for a while. If you usually run the same route, you might consider using certain landmarks to remind yourself to meditate and then cut yourself some slack between them.
7. Notice everything you see.
Being fully present while running is fascinating because you see so much more than you would on a normal run. As you run by houses, birds, dogs, and other runners, notice as much as possible. Make a mental list of what you see as you pass.
8. Notice your posture.
Watching your posture while running can be an interesting act of being present, especially if you’re working on your running cadence or form anyway.
9. Practice non-judgment.
Whichever of the above practices you choose to use, remember to avoid judging yourself. Meditation is a practice, and inevitably, you’ll get distracted or forget you were supposed to meditate. That’s okay. Try again, and make sure to show yourself compassion.
As you finish your run, you may find that it’s a good time for gratitude and appreciation for your health, fitness, and anything else you feel inspired to give thanks to.
Starting your running meditation practice
Running can be an excellent active meditation practice, especially since some runners already find themselves in a near-meditative state of flow on runs.
Meditation while running is about enhancing that feeling of being “in flow” and well-being while at the same time training your capacity for attention and your ability to remain in the present moment.
Especially for those who struggle to make time for both exercise and meditation, a running meditation practice could be the perfect way to take full advantage of the time you have.
If you feel inspired to experiment with running meditation, remember:
There’s no one right way to do it, and whatever happens, be sure not to judge yourself.
Just pick a running meditation technique and experiment until you find what works for you.
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