What Is "Mindful Running" & Should You Try It?

photographed by Caroline Tompkins; modeled by Fransheska Perdomo; produced by Julie Borowsky; produced by Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez; produced by Yuki Mizuma.
If you're anything like me, your go-to running playlist is full of bops and bangers that are so loud and obnoxious that they practically propel you forward on the treadmill or jogging path. Sometimes an extra-hype playlist is absolutely necessary to get you motivated. Lately though, I've been foregoing my playlist and listening to guided meditations on my Nike+ Run Club app while I run.
These guided runs are meant to help connect your mind and body, and they're led by Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of the meditation app Headspace, who is an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk with a degree in sports science, and Chris Bennett, one of Nike's running coaches. For 20-30 minutes, you can listen to Puddicombe and Bennett calmly talk about what you should be feeling in your body, thinking about, or letting go of. It's like listening to a podcast while your work out, only the podcast is tailored exactly to you and your workout.
Now, if you're not into meditation, or if you're not into running, then you may be slightly turned off by the concept of doing these two activities together — and that's understandable. But mindful running is more attainable than it may seem to skeptics. "Mindful running is the ability to run with a clear intention, fully connected in body and mind, free from distraction, and with an equal balance of focus and relaxation," Puddicombe says. Research has shown that a consistent mindfulness meditation practice can help reduce anxiety, depression, stress, and pain. While lots of runners claim that simply running can be meditative, if you can tap into the mindfulness aspect of it, then the benefits can be even more pronounced.
Many people get distracted while running, either by physical sensations, thoughts, or the environment, Puddicombe says. "As a consequence, our form suffers, we are more likely to get caught up in to-do lists, more likely to feel overwhelmed by the physical exertion, and perhaps most important of all, we don't get to enjoy and appreciate the run," he says. But if you're able to be more mindful during the run, you're also able to think about form, soak in your surroundings, and not get overwhelmed by your thoughts. "We are also much more likely to experience the illusive 'flow state,' where we are applying exertion, but in an effortless way," he says.

Mindful running is the ability to run with a clear intention, fully connected in body and mind, free from distraction, and with an equal balance of focus and relaxation.

Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of the meditation app Headspace
So, mindful running sounds nice, but how do you do it? Using an app like Nike+ Run Club is one easy way to start, because you simply let the recordings guide you. But you don't have to use your phone at all. Before you get on the treadmill or head to the park, you just have to decide why you're going to run, says David Siik, creator of Precision Running, a treadmill running program at Equinox. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Do you want to unwind from a busy day? Are you training for a long race? Do you just feel like running? "Having more of a structured plan thought out before you do it engages the mind in such a unique way," he says. If you don't have to think about where you're going, for how long, or how fast, then you're free to be more meditative about your run.
Then, be aware of how you're running, Siik says. Some people find that checking in on your body and form can help your body find a natural cadence, rather than feeling forced, Puddicombe says. For example, for five minutes you can think about how your foot strikes the ground. Then, for five minutes think about your shoulders and how you're holding tension. "The interesting thing is, as soon as we bring our attention to that area, free from judgement, the tension naturally releases," he says.
I'm definitely someone who likes to use a run as a way to think about all the things I have to do during my day, but with mindful running, I actively let these thoughts to come and go. It may not feel as productive in the moment, but I do feel better at the end of the run knowing that I took time for myself. "The moment we realize we are getting distracted, caught up in those thoughts, we are choosing to let them go, to step back from that thinking," Puddicombe says. Basically, the key is deciding to deal with your thoughts and worries when you're done running. "The important thing is that we don't get consumed, overwhelmed, or distracted by these many thoughts."
Like meditation, mindful running is not for everyone. But who knows? You may find that a chill recording of a former monk talking is more motivating than your Beyoncé playlist.

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