Connecting With Your Body
Mindful Running Series #3
Much like breathing, the movement of our body is something we often take for granted when out for a run. The trainers are laced, the GPS ready, last minute panic about whether your clothing is right for the weather conditions (or is this just me?!) and off you go. One foot plants in front of the other, the arms swing in a contralateral motion to the legs, breathing starts to fall into a regular pattern; you may notice a twinge or the ‘first mile fatigue’ but you probably try to ignore this, focusing instead on your specific goal for that individual run.
Running mindfully gives us an opportunity to tune into our body, and focus on what it is actually doing, what shapes and movement our bodies make, and what our bodies are trying to tell us. But what’s the point? Why is this a useful exercise? The thought of focusing on our bodies while running may not appeal to some people, but it can be so beneficial in different ways.
An Act of Meditation
Firstly, performing a ‘running body scan’ allows us to practise mindfulness – intentionally bringing awareness to the moment we are in, without judgment. The benefits of meditation and the body scan in particular include reducing stress, aiding sleep and increasing focus to name but a few. The non-judgmental part means we are encouraged to be kind to ourselves, not to bring criticism to our running style and to simply notice, rather than to chastise ourselves for what we may feel is poor running form. You will be surprised how many times the thoughts that pop into our heads while running are associated with success or failure, pleasure or discomfort; when this happens, simply notice and let the thought go, continuing to pay attention to your body in a curious manner.
Listen to Your Body
The running body scan is a great check-in tool to look out for niggles and to prevent future injuries. From head to toe, consider where you may be holding tension and try to relax. As you move down your body, be curious as to whether you are experiencing any twinges or niggles, or even pain. It is tempting to try and ignore any feelings of pain while out running, but they don’t often simply disappear. A friend once described the sensation as a nagging child constantly pulling on your clothing (“Mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy…”) – eventually you need to turn your attention to the child and deal with it! At this stage we can consider how bad the pain is. On a scale of 0 to 10, where is the pain now? Is this a new pain? Or is it a common occurrence, and if so, is it at the same point as usual on the scale or is it worse? Should you slow down, or stop your run altogether?
Body scanning can also be useful during an event, or when trying to achieve a particular
time goal. Imagine the scene – you are approaching the final 500m of a race; or maybe it’s Saturday morning and you can see the parkrun finish funnel. Now do a quick body scan. How does your body actually feel? Do your legs feel heavy and tired? Perhaps today isn’t the today for that parkrun PB, why not slow it down and simply enjoy the run. Or do the legs feel energised – perhaps it’s time to push on and up the tempo? Listening to your body means knowing when we can push through, or when it’s right to pull back
Improve Running Technique
Whilst the principles of mindfulness are founded on the concept of not judging ourselves, the body scan can also be used to develop and improve running technique. This may sound contradictory, but mindfulness allows us to notice what is going on around us and our bodies, and encourages us not to make knee-jerk reactions. We may take our noticings and consider how we wish to change our behaviour or reaction next time something occurs, but the aim of being Mindful is to move away from an automatic reaction and instead allow time for a considered response. By noticing our posture and our bodily movements when running, we can then consider where, if at all, we want to make any changes. For those of us who run purely for social reasons or simply to enjoy the outdoors, this may not be a priority. But for runners who are looking to improve times, increase distance or prevent injury, focusing on technique is key. The body scan allows us to pay close attention to each element of our running form in turn, to get the most out of coaching advice and to improve over time.
Here are the Mindful Running tasks for you to try this week, check out the video as well for more details.
Try it out – pay attention, listen to your body and
enjoy your run!
Connecting With Your Body – The Body Scan
1. Start at the top of your head. What is your head doing? Are you staring at the floor, or leaning backwards and looking up? Focus on your eyes, forehead, cheeks and jaw. Are you holding tension in your face?
2. Move down to the shoulders. Are they low and relaxed, or uptight and near your ears?
3. How are your arms moving? Are your hands crossing the bodyline, or swinging forwards and backwards by your sides? Are your hands clenched or loose and relaxed?
4. Move down to your torso. Is your core engaged? Are you twisting at the hips? Is your back arched, or are you bent forwards? Is your pelvis in a neutral position, or tipping forwards or backwards?
5. Now consider your legs. Bring your attention to your quads, hamstrings and calves – any niggles, any fatigue? Do your legs feel fresh or tired?
6. Finally consider your feet. How does each foot strike the floor – heel, mid-foot or fore- foot? How do your ankles feel? Can you feel bring your attention to the ‘toe-off’ phase as you propel yourself forward?
Don’t make changes unless you want to – this is all about noticing without judgement and being in the moment.
Remember – when your mind wanders (which it will!) bring your attention back to your breath, then continue with your body scan.
To view the video, click here and then click on the video tab.