The Benefits of Meditation and Running
Meditation is a beneficial tool to improve running and allows for more joy with running.
Whatever your level of running is, meditation can enhance your performance, and your experience as well as provide more joy to your life.
Most runners training on a competitive level have training plans with interval training for speed days, long runs for endurance, and rest days to prevent injury. These days are necessary for improvement. But there is more to running than taking care of the body.
Runners can enhance the effects of a comprehensive training plan by practicing meditation.
Also,with meditative running, efficiency will improve as you will be running at a higher energy frequency. You will also experience better performances as you will have more control over your thoughts.
Other benefits of running and meditation include:
- More peace and enjoyment in your runs
- Reduced injuries
- Learning how to become detached from our thoughts and let them go (as they are just thoughts)
- Reduced worry, doubts, anxiety and negative thoughts
- Learning how to stay in the present moment
- Developing a relaxed body and a calm mind
- Deeper connection to mind body and spirit
- Awareness of body and the life force within
- More restful nights
It was a few years ago that I was signed up to run a half marathon in Boston over Memorial Day. I was well prepared with the training I had done prior to this race. Both my coach and I were pretty confident that my fitness ensured I was in shape to run a significant personal record in this race.
When I set out to leave to Boston I was already feeling anxiety and emotional detachment feelings, since I was leaving my family on a holiday weekend. I then began to feel all the anxious feelings with expectations to have a good race. I obsessed about the weather and humidity in the forecast. I felt alone and wished I had my family there to support me, so now I was feeling sad. So here I was flooding myself with negative talk and creating more and more anxiety throughout my body. By the time the morning of the race came, I felt so exhausted from not sleeping,cripled with anxious thoughts and self doubt. I gave into every nag or the tension I felt in my body.
I had a terrible experience and mid race when I looked at my time and realized I was way off my PR pace, I pulled out and burst into tears. I walked for a few minutes feeling sorry for myself and then I talked myself back into at least finishing the race.
After the race,I remember calling my girlfriend who is an accomplished competitive runner,because I knew she would understand, and sobbed to her as I declared I was completely done with racing! Although she tried to reassure me that it was so normal to have a bad race, I made up my mind and decided to completely give it up.
Not too long after that, I advanced my meditation practice and I was feeling more freedom within myself. As I promised myself I’d let go of competitive running goals, I still was running with the same training as when I was competing. As I set out to run without attachment to times or performance and just ran for the joy of it, my performances just so happen to improve significantly faster with ease and joy and less muscular skeletal issues than ever.
Because of this improvement I decided to give it a go, and ran the Chicago marathon that Fall. I wound up with a four minute personal record and had a smile on my face throughout the entirety of the race. This time around, my experience was utter joy.
I attribute this to incorporating my meditation practice to my running regime.
Meditation is very simple. It is a practice, just like a running practice or a strength training practice. It teaches you to be in control of your mind.
An untrained mind runs wild with thoughts bouncing around and popping up constantly without you doing anything to direct them. Negative experiences of the past and fears about the future play become noise in our busy brains. A trained mind puts you in control of what goes on in your mind.
Simple guide to Meditation:
Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
Let family members (and pets) know to give you this time of peace.
Use a cushion that’s comfortable for your body to sit on cross-legged, or you can use a chair.. Keep your spine straight and your chin slightly tucked in. Place your hands on your lap with your palms facing up. Sense your contact with the chair or pillow and the connection of your feet to the ground. Take a few deep breaths and then just focus on your breath as it moves in and out naturally.
Relax your shoulders and soften your eyelids, relax your jaw and face muscles.
Inhale for four counts as you expand your belly, pausing at the top for one count, now exhale for four counts as you deflate your belly inwards towards your spine and repeat.
You will most likely get lost in a thought.
It’s OK—be gentle with yourself and let go of judgement of thoughts but bring your awareness back to the breath. Developing this “muscle” of focus using your breathing helps your mind and your whole being relax.
Resting in this tranquil, quiet space, we make room for our true inner nature of openness, love, peace, and clarity to arise and expand. The layers of obstructions, in the form of attachments, hopes, and fears, slowly peel away, and our inner light becomes brighter and clearer. This is where we can let go of stress anxiety tension and fear. But it does take practice, so be gentle with yourself.
How to Meditate while Running
Running and meditation go great together but as in all forms of meditation, it takes practice to learn this skill. It takes practice to be able to detach from our thoughts but that is the goal of meditation — to stop our continuous brain chatter and listen.
With meditating we learn to listen to the silence and create the space that allows our inner voice to be heard. Meditation takes us more deeply into the body where we can access the connection between our minds bodies and spirit.
Begin your run as normal and after about five minutes, begin to focus on your breath. You can follow your breath as it enters and leaves your body or you can count your breath as you inhale and exhale if you find that easier, i.e. count to 5 and repeat.
Fully concentrate on your breath. If your mind begins to wander, just bring it back to the breath and accept that it is a learning process. Don’t get frustrated or get down on yourself. Accept everything as it is and become focused again. Thoughts will always arise. Just become aware of them as an observer and then let them go. You may notice that some thoughts keep repeating themselves. These are probably the ones that have been negatively affecting you and how you run.
As you are learning, try to concentrate for short periods of time, rest and try it again. It will take time and patience to learn this skill, but the many benefits you will experience in running and in life will be worth it. As you continue to practice, you will learn to concentrate better and become less attached to your thoughts.
Tips to enhance your running and meditation:
- While you are focusing on your breath, develop an awareness of everything — your body as it moves, how your feet feel as they hit the ground, the environment, all sounds — everything that is present in this moment. Focusing on the present is necessary to let go of all thoughts.
- When running becomes difficult and you feel tired, accept and focus on your temporary state of tiredness. Accepting it will help you to overcome it. Use this affirmation: This too will pass.
- If you feel pain during your run, it is a reminder to go back and focus on your breath. Pain can keep you present. Just as suffering in the world exists to bring us back to conscious awareness, running pain can be used to bring us back to our own awareness and breath. Whenever you experience pain, don’t resist it. Accept it to transcend it.
- During your running meditation, feel the overwhelming joy within as you connect to your inner body awareness strengthening your ability to remain in the present moment.
- Speed is not important to this practice. It doesn’t matter what how fast or slow you run, but it needs to be at a comfortable pace for you to allow you to move consciously keeping your focus on your breath, your body and the present moment.
- When your meditative run is completed, continue to allow the feelings of peace, contentment and joy fill you and overtake all other emotions for the remainder of the day and maybe even until your next meditative running session.
Keep practicing your running and meditation to enhance the joy of running and life — simultaneously!
Photos by Erik Borzi