Alongside our love for runny poached eggs, Australians love to run. We’re running and jogging more than we were a decade ago, with active participation rates growing over 50% based on reports, and gyms closing during lockdown fuelling even more of an uptake in the sport.
The Instagram-perfect yogi image of meditation may seem like the opposite of pounding pavement, but science backing the parallels between the two disciplines is mounting—a 2016 study published in Translational Psychiatry found combining directed meditation with running or walking reduced symptoms of depression by 40 per cent for depressed participants.
Mindful running as a school of thought that outlines a way of running which focuses on being present, and mentally connected to your body’s movement. A sentiment that doesn’t factor in noise, technology or personal bests, mindful running is another technique for shedding daily stress and anxiety.
While we’re partial to an overly enthusiastic power walk ourselves, the health and mental benefits of mindful running have been widely credited for stress relief and natural endorphin highs. It’s partly why some major brands are so keen to align themselves with the mindful running bandwagon.
In 2018, ASICS launched their Blackout Track—a 150 meter, indoor structure designed in a large warehouse just outside of London. The difference was that the track was completely dark, aside from a small travelling spotlight to let runners see a few feet in front of themselves.
The experiment found psychological factors (such as sight and sound) have a significant effect on how athletes perceived performance and output. On the darker track, runners felt less pressure to perform, while the external feedback from the normal track significantly increased the temporal demand of running. In layman terms—the dark track was ideal for runners that run for relaxation purposes. Nike also recently partnered with Headspace to launch a guided meditation and mindfulness app, complete with audio-guided mindful runs.
But reconnecting the one-on-one conversation between your mind and your body is easier said than done (or rather, run). If you’re interested in staying hyper-present in an active activity that’s usually associated with zoning out, there a couple of easy ways to reconnect with your body on the track.
Deep, slow breathing that engages your diaphragm is a great exercise to try before you run out the door. Shedding anchor points—including your GPS watch, phone and music can also help with minimising distractions. If a music-free run sounds like a torturous experience to you, even incorporating five minutes of silence can be beneficial.
Checking in with yourself mentally with mantras or questions is another good way to keep on track. Asking yourself, “how am I breathing?” or “where am I looking” can help decode how your body is feeling. If you’re breathing a little too fast, and your legs are straining a little too much, maybe slow down. If you feel like you could easily carry a conversation, and your posture is strong, try speeding up a bit.
The more you practice mindfully running, the better you’ll become at tuning in and connecting with your body. And if all else fails, there’s always the treadmill-and-blindfold option.
Not a runner? Try these mindfulness podcasts instead.
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