Reasons to be Mindful......
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Mindful Running Series #1
These are really, really strange times. Worrying, frustrating, unprecedented times. We find ourselves ‘locked in’, but are allowed to go out once a day for exercise, but must make sure we do it in accordance with government guidelines – i.e. either on our own, or with people from the same household, and if we do see other people while we are out, we must stay at least two metres away.
It’s hardly appealing is it, knowing we can’t meet up with our usual running buddy or running group, can’t attend our usual exercise class or take part in a regular team sport. And when we are out, we have to avoid anyone we see, crossing the road to ensure we give each other enough space. Some of us are having to self-isolate completely, not leaving our homes at all.
I don’t know about you but I am finding staying active a particular challenge at the moment. Partly because unlike some people, I don’t find myself with hours of time on my hands. Like many others I spend my days trying to juggle working from home with this newly acquired role of being a teacher to my three children, all of whom require assistance and attention at various times of the day! Whilst I actively push the children outside into the garden to play football or jump on the trampoline, I then use this time to catch up on work with no interruptions, until they come back in for the next ‘home school lesson’. For two days in a row I have gone to bed and realised that I haven’t actually stepped foot outside my front door, and I can feel my mood has become affected as a result.
Without the nudge of a running friend, or the draw of my running group, I am seriously lacking the motivation to go out, knowing I will be on my own apart from the voice in my head telling me to quit. I could put my headphones in and listen to music, or maybe an audiobook I suppose, but I don’t usually advocate this to the runners I coach - for any runner (particularly female), running alone and not being able to hear what’s going on around them isn’t necessarily the safest way to run.
So I woke up today determined to sort myself out, to try and relocate the mojo that disappeared at the same rate as the toilet rolls on the supermarket shelves.
Running on your own is a great opportunity to connect - not to other people, but instead to yourself and to the world around you. When you run alone you have the chance to be fully present in the moment, and instead of a run being boring, painful or full of negative self-talk, with practise we can use it as an opportunity to be mindful.
Mindfulness in running, and indeed in sport in general, is not a new concept. Many elite sports men and women use mindfulness to get ‘in the zone’, to visualise the finish line or a particular move on the basketball court. Most recently it has been adopted by the NBA, after coach Phil Jackson introduced the basketball players to mindfulness in a training camp, eventually bringing it on to the court on match days. They would do a form of meditation before the match and use mindfulness to re-centre themselves in timeouts.
Footballer Wayne Rooney would ask the kit man exactly what kit they would be wearing the next day, then he would lie in bed that night visualising himself wearing the kit and scoring goals. So how can we use these techniques favoured by the sporting great, and what is the benefit to us mere ‘recreational’ runners?
The benefits are plentiful. Being mindful (in life, not just in running) can improve thinking skills, memory and concentration, can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, can increase levels of empathy and communication, help us master our emotions, boost self-esteem and improve relationships. This all happens through actual changes in the brain, and with all forms of exercise, the more we practise, the better we become.
And in a running context, particularly for recreational runners, there are two more areas in which we can benefit. Firstly, incorporating mindfulness into our exercise can enhance our running experience. It allows us to enjoy the process of running without worrying about speed, pace or distance, and reminds us why we started running in the first place. Secondly, we can use it to focus on our running technique. We can use these skills to really tune in and listen to our bodies, to identify what our bodies are trying to tell us, thereby avoiding potential injury and improving technique generally.
In this series of ‘Mindful Running’ blogs I will focus on different mindful running techniques in turn, showing you various ways to tune in and connect - to yourself as the lone runner, and to the world around you. These techniques will provide you with ways to enhance your solo run, not dwelling in the past, or worrying about the future, but instead focusing on the present, on what is happening right here, right now. These are indeed worrying times, and while we all know that running, walking, or exercising generally is beneficial for our mental health, sometimes we find ourselves with a mind that constantly wanders to sad thoughts and dark places. Mindful running allows you to focus on the present and bring your mind back and your thoughts under control. I look forward to sharing these ideas and techniques with you over the coming weeks.
In the meantime I leave you with your first mindful mission, should you choose to accept it.
Take one minute to focus on your breath. We breathe in and out around 20,000 times a day, and how often do we think about it? We do it automatically, without giving it any thought at all. But our breath is a very powerful tool - we can use our breathing to send messages to our brain. A few long, slow breaths will tell the brain that all is well, triggering the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, the part of our nervous system that helps restore our bodies to calm.
Just before you set out on your next run, take five deep breaths at the door. Shut your eyes, place your hands on your chest and your belly, and try to fill your body with air all the way down to your lower abdomen. As you feel your chest and belly rise, focus on the air going in through the nose and out through the mouth, and if your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath.
Then go and enjoy your run.