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  • The Mind Runner

Connecting with your Environment

Mindful Running Series #2

Evidence suggests that society is currently experiencing ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, an inability or disinclination to spend time outside in natural surroundings. With the advances in modern technology meaning that there is often no escape from work, and with many children choosing to spend their free time indoors in front of a screen, we are spending less and less time outdoors.

Research has shown that being outside in nature is hugely beneficial for our mental and physical health, as discussed in my previous blog ‘Why I Like to Bathe in the Forest’ (Oct 2019). This was prior to the Covid-19 lockdown however, and it will be interesting to see whether habits change, and whether more people are now choosing to go outside once a day, those who perhaps would not previously have felt so inclined.

Most runners love the idea of exercising outdoors so I am probably preaching to the converted, but how many of us really notice our surroundings in detail? How often do we focus on the nature around us, rather than running in a blinkered fashion either pushing on with gritted teeth to get back to your front door or trying to block everything out for the sake of enjoying some ‘me time’? Mindful Running is not about clearing our minds, in fact it is about paying attention, in an intentional way, to the moment we are in and without judgement. One of the easiest ways to practise mindfulness is to scan our environment, but it also acts as a great technique to distract the tired, bored or disheartened runner!

The video that accompanies this blog gives you some ideas of how to do this when out running. By following these techniques you can submerse yourself in your environment, noticing things that would previously have passed you by, and this applies equally in a town setting as much as the countryside. It doesn’t always have to be nature that you are connecting with (although there is plenty to be found in urban settings) – it’s all about making that connection to the world around you; e.g. patterns on buildings, rooflines, differing terrains, noises, smells and weather conditions.

Remember the breathing exercise I mentioned in the last blog? Throughout all our Mindful Running sessions it is your breath that is your anchor. An anchor is something that you can always come back to, and something that I will explore further in a future blog.

But for now just remember your breathing. Start your run with a few deep breaths before you set out. Really focus on the air going in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on your breath travelling all the way down to your lower abdomen and pushing your belly out (belly breathing). Now try to remember your anchor while out on your run.

Below is a summary of the techniques I mention in the video. When you are out on your run you no doubt will set off with great intentions, but inevitably the mind starts to wander and before you know it you are planning what you will cook for dinner, making a shopping list in your head, worrying about something that happened in the past or might happen in the future, or even cogitating over something completely random. Our wandering minds will be the subject of another future blog, but in the meantime just bring your awareness to your mind when this happens. Spend a few seconds identifying the thought (what is it I am thinking about?) and any attached emotions or physical responses (that has made me feel angry, I can feel my heart beating faster) and then let the thought go. Return to your anchor – focus on your next few breaths. And then return to your task – connecting with your environment. Here are the Mindful Running tasks for you to try this week, check out the video as well for more details.

Try it out – connect to the world around you, notice more and enjoy your run!

Connecting With Your Environment – Engaging Your Senses

1. Pick out three sounds you can hear – you can repeat this several times throughout your run; try and listen for nearby sounds as well as sounds in the distance.

2. Pick out three things you can feel – it might be something you can reach out and touch, or it could be feelings in your body caused by your clothing or the weather conditions for example.

3. Can you identify a particular smell or even a taste?

4. Look for a colour. Decide on a colour before you set off and try and spot as many different things as you can. Look for things nearby as well as in the distance.

5. Look for a pattern. Natural or man-made, look for as many patterns as you can in a section of your run.

Remember – when your mind wanders (which it will!) bring your attention back to your breath, then continue with your environment scanning tasks.

To view the video, click here and then click on the video tab.

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