Most avid runners can attest to the fact that they don’t run simply to stay physically fit — they do it to stay mentally fit as well. That’s because running can be more than a workout. It can be therapeutic for your mind, hence the idea behind mindful running, which is essentially a state of awareness during movement. “Just like in yoga where you aim to be present and focused on your breath, you can do the same when you run,” explains Samantha Clayton, personal trainer and senior director of Worldwide Fitness Education at Herbalife.
As a former competitive runner, who represented Great Britain in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in both the 200m and the 4x100m relay events, Clayton truly appreciates the mental benefits that running provides. “It’s like meditation in motion to me — the rhythm, the breathing, the sound of the footsteps on the ground beneath me.” Oddly enough, that does sound relaxing. So, to help you tap into mindful running, we asked pro runners to share their best tips for incorporating it into your lifestyle.
Establish a routine
As humans, we crave routine. It helps keep us in line and on track toward our goals. To start, Clayton suggests establishing a routine for running. “Habits essentially allow the mind to stop worrying, because your body knows what movement is coming next,” she says. “Like yoga has a set of sequences that are repeated, a routine approach allows you to focus on your thoughts, feel in control, and get the most out of your running program.”
Focus your breathing
While this is a helpful tactic no matter what kind of exercise you’re doing, it’s especially beneficial when your goal is running mindfully. “Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is the perfect place to start with mindful running, as it not only warms up the air on a cool day, but it also slows your breathing pattern, giving you a feeling of control,” says Clayton. “Controlling your breath also allows you to have your breathing dictate the rhythm and efficiency of your session.”
This might seem impossible to do, especially when you’re dealing with work deadlines and relationship drama, but it’s an important element to mindful running. Not only does it allow you to be present during your run, but it helps you maintain a positive flow of energy. Since “turning off stress” is challenging for most of us, Clayton recommends being prepared with an affirmation or positive thought to focus on. “As you learn to use running as your daily therapy session, consider writing out a small note with your quote and use it as your mantra as you run,” she says. “Allow your special phrase to center you when you find your mind wandering.”
Cut out distractions
If you’re running on a popular path or in a race, it’s hard not to be distracted by other runners, but this is where you lose sight of your own body and pace, warns Melis Edwards, MS, running and triathlon coach and author of Deep End of the Pool Workouts. “As a coach, I would call this weak focus; you’re no longer mindful of your run and turn it into something else,” she says. “Staying tuned into your body and its movements will allow you to run for yourself — no one else — and then you’re able to train based on your intentions of that day.”
Find a sound that works for you
If that’s heavy metal or 90s hip hop, crank up the volume up. Or, if it’s simply listening to the sound of your feet hitting the pavement and the birds chirping in the trees, that’s fine, too. The goal here is to find a sound that works for you and that helps motivate you to keep trucking. Clayton recommends keeping it consistent and positive so that the sound makes you feel even more invigorated.