When people think about meditation, the first thing that often springs to mind is how difficult they find it to sit down in an uncomfortable position and try in vain to shut out their mental chatter. But meditation is so much more than this, and the good news for all of us who run is that it can be practised in many different ways — including during a run!
Running itself can be a very meditative activity for some people, and the benefits of meditation are well known and supported by many studies:
- Reduces stress.
- Reduces depression and anxiety.
- Enhances self-awareness.
Techniques such as mindfulness and focusing your thoughts on a particular sensory input can help achieve a state of mental clarity and calmness, especially beneficial in long runs and races. When your level of discomfort increases, meditation can provide a welcome relief from your physical struggles and a way to reverse the negative spiral that inevitably sets in at some point during endurance events.
It need not be complex or long-winded. Simply focusing on your breath, counting your footsteps, or repeating your mantra can shift your attention away from the discomfort you might be experiencing in your body. Don't worry if your thoughts start to intrude after a few seconds - simply keep bringing them back to your meditative focus without berating yourself. If you keep practicing, you should find that you can remain in a meditative state for an increasing length of time. Set an intention at the beginning of each session such as "Today I am going to meditate on gratitude", or try setting your watch to beep every 15 minutes as a reminder to bring yourself back to a meditative state if your mind starts to wander.
If you are out on the trails for your run, it can be especially nice to focus on a particular sensory input, such as the sound of frogs or birdsong; the beauty of the light at sunrise or sunset; the smell of wildflowers or damp undergrowth; the feel of the breeze or the sun on your skin. You can also try doing a top-to-toe body scan where you really tune in to each part of your body in turn and note how it feels. All this can be done while remaining alert to your surroundings, just as you would on a regular run.
If you prefer to meditate seated in a quiet and comfortable space in your own home or in the open air, you might find other meditation techniques based on Buddhist spirituality very appealing. We have found the information on the website and app Plum Village excellent, but there are many others on the internet that you might like to explore. Classes and retreats are also offered if you would like to participate in group meditation sessions and learn how to meditate from experienced and knowledgeable practitioners.
Guided meditations can work well for some runners who are not sure how to get started on their own, and there are a number of apps available which contain guided meditations that you can listen to during your run or afterwards:
We encourage all runners to give each meditation technique a try; keep an open mind and let yourself be led by your own curiosity. You never know - it might open a whole new world for you! :-)