If you can get into the flow of running meditation, it can do wonders for your mind. The effects of mindfulness on our mental health are well established, but sitting meditation is not easy for everyone, so this offers a good alternative with added health benefits.
Running meditation may sound like an oxymoron to some, with stress relief at the top the benefits of running for our mental health. But running to clear your mind and running meditation are two separate things.
The key difference is intention, says the personal trainer Lucy Cowanwho works with Third space. “While both practices can reduce stress, running meditation involves physical movement that complements the mental aspect of meditation. There is a dynamic mind-body connection when you run. Focus on your breath, the rhythm of your steps, and the sensations in your body, encouraging a holistic experience.”
Researchers offer us new information every day about the important connection between meditation and movement with reference to National Taiwan Sports University as the strongest proof of the benefits of incorporating the two. To explain how to get the most out of the experience, before you take your own sneakerswe talk to two certified experts in fitness and meditation.
What is running meditation?
As the name suggests, running meditation is a form of moving meditation where you combine running with the practice of clearing your mind and connecting with the present, says Derek Aidoo, meditation coach. “The goal is to bring your undivided attention to your physical body as you run, which includes connecting with your breath, observing the journey of your thoughts, and continuing to think about the desired outcome of your run when your mind starts to wander.” “
It is especially useful for those who are looking for another way of learning how to beat stress and avoid burning. “It can help you release the tension of the day, help you let go of worries and reduce anxiety,” says Aidoo, who works with the audio-fitness app, With you. “By bringing your mind back to your intention, you give your mind space to briefly disconnect from the things that cause you stress, and this allows your body’s cortisol levels to lower.”
You can also start meditating running indoors if the benefits of cold weather exercise haven’t taken hold yet. “Treadmill running meditation allows you to enjoy all the benefits of meditation in a controlled indoor environment, making it a great option for those with limited hours in the day or adverse weather conditions,” says Cowan.
Lucie is the head trainer for classical group exercise at Third Space London. She has developed her knowledge and skills in the fitness industry over a number of years alongside working in the scientific sector and holds three medical degrees, a Bachelor (BSc), Master (MSc) and Doctorate (PhD). Her role as Master Trainer combines her love of teaching while supporting and training other instructors to excel in their passion and inspire their own class members.
How to try running meditation as a beginner
1. Set an intention
Before you do anything else, ask yourself why am I practicing running meditation today? Ask yourself why you’re going out, Aidoo suggests. “Is it for your mental health to release the tension of the day, relieve anxiety or help you sleep better? Is it for your physical health? To help you feel fitter and healthier? Either run to work towards a goal such as improving your time or train for a marathon?”
Whatever the reason, he says, this is the intention to come back to and remind yourself of when your mind wanders during your run. “Say your intention or mantra out loud before you start cementing it in your mind,” he says.
Derek Aidoo is WithU’s world-class meditation coach. He has been practicing meditation for over 10 years, born out of a passion for helping others develop a foundation of positive thinking to cope with stress and gain a deeper understanding of themselves. Dedicated to helping others realize who they really are, Derek teaches people how to develop the tools they need to face life’s ever-present challenges.
2. Focus on the present moment
To experience the true benefits of running meditation, you need to enter a ‘flow state’ – the optimal experience where you are fully immersed in the activity, with skill and challenge in balance.
“Pay attention to your breath, the rhythm of your steps, and the sensations in your body” to get into this state, Cowan says. “Avoid listening to high-energy music or watching TV (if you’re running indoors) and instead listen to soothing, instrumental music or a session at one of the best meditation apps.”
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3. Set up the right environment if you run indoors
With winter fast approaching, you may find yourself running more indoors than outside. That’s fine, says Cowan, but you’ll need to make sure your environment is conducive to a meditative state.
“Treadmill meditation requires creating a conductive environment,” says Cowan. “Choose a quiet, clutter-free space where you won’t be easily distracted, and ensure adequate lighting, good ventilation, and room temperature to make the experience as comfortable as possible.”
4. Don’t force advancement
The whole point of running meditation is that it’s a conscious activity, one you do for your mental health, with physical health benefits as a happy side effect. So when you’re starting out, don’t push yourself too hard.
“Start at a comfortable pace and duration, gradually increasing the intensity as you become more accustomed to the practice,” says Cowan. “This prevents overexertion and helps build a sustainable routine.”
5. Be kind to yourself
If your mind wanders during your run, allow it to, says Aidoo. “The purpose of the mind is to generate thoughts, and experts estimate that we think between 70,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day, which equates to a lot of thoughts during your run.” It’s completely normal.
“The practice of meditation is not to stop your mind from wandering, but to consciously direct it back to your intention when it does. And remember, this is something that takes time and practice,” he says.
Benefits of running meditation
- Running meditation can help reduce stress: “Running releases endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers,” says Cowan. “These neurochemicals help reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being. In addition, running offers a productive way to deal with stress, as physical exertion and rhythmic movement can be a form of active meditation, calming the mind.”
- It can bring you to the present moment: “Runners often describe reaching a ‘flow state,’ in which they lose track of time and become completely engrossed in the activity. This flow state can be a powerful stress reducer, as it shifts your focus from the stressor to the present moment,” says the personal trainer.
- Running meditation can improve your mood: “Regular running is associated with improved mood and reduced symptoms depression and anxiety. It increases the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which plays a key role in mood regulation. The act of running also allows individuals to clear the mind, providing mental clarity and an opportunity to process thoughts and emotions.”
- It can help you get out into the fresh air: Running outdoors can help you take advantage of all the benefits of nature and fresh air. As researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in their review, there is a long-term association between exposure to nature and reduced risk of depression and chronic disease and better cognitive function.
- Running meditation can help you fall asleep: “All forms of meditation help calm your mind, which is especially valuable when it comes to better sleep, which is key to boosting your mental health,” says Aidoo.
- It can be easier than sitting meditation: “Running provides an outlet for excess energy and pent-up emotions, which can be difficult to achieve in seated meditation,” says Cowan. “This active release can be especially therapeutic for those who find it difficult to sit still during traditional meditation.”
Running isn’t the only sport that offers meditative benefits, Cowan says. “For example, yoga exercises combines physical postures with controlled breathing and meditation. It is known for its ability to improve awareness, flexibility and relaxation. Swimming as exerciseespecially in quiet and controlled environments such as lap pools, it can also be a meditative experience as well indoor cyclinghiking in nature and certain forms of dance.”