Running IS Meditation
How to turn running into a mindfulness practice
Posted Jan 23, 2016
“Running is a mental sport, more than anything else. You're only as good as your training, and your training is only as good as your thinking.” – Lauren Oliver
When I first started running, I didn't think about why I ran. I needed to lose some weight, and I was too cheap to join a gym so I just ran. Honestly, I didn't feel good while I was running. Truth be told, I kind of hated it, but I always felt better after I ran. Over time I began to enjoy the running itself, and now, after many years of running I finally figured it out why running has become such a major part of my life. Running is not about running for me anymore. It's meditation. As I have matured as a runner, it allowed me to be present in the moment - fully aware of the here and now. I have learned to be in the zone, where all my activities were focused on maintaining presence in the present.
We all know that running has long been praised for its health benefits: it’s good for our cardiovascular health, general fitness, physical and mental resilience. It’s also one of the most natural forms of exercise for human beings. Because running has a centering effect, it is also meditation in it’s own right. After looking at the literature about meditation and prayer I have discovered that one of the key factors for effective meditation and prayer is repetition, and running is all about repetition. I have found that meditation and prayer can be hard for some people and so for my patients who have a hard time sitting still I often prescribe running and have seen amazing results.
Running as meditation offers you a few things:
1. Concentration. Believe or not, you can focus and meditate when in motion. In fact, the natural rhythm of running offers an ideal opportunity for your mind to concentrate on the present moment. Focus on your breath and stay attuned to your surroundings. As you are getting familiar with the process of breathing, you are essentially developing a beautiful relationship with the very aspect of being alive. Allow your body, mind and soul to start functioning in a harmony together.
2. Contemplation. Running is the catalyst for self-exploration. It allows you to connect to the space between your thoughts to discover your inner voice. Positive self-talk is one of the most effective tools out there to boost our mental health and foster life success. It helps you change your focus and see your actions in a bigger perspective.
3. Relaxation. A tranquil mind usually follows after each running session: our mind is calm, our body is relaxed and our nerves are cooled down. If you find yourself stressed out during the day, it can be very therapeutic to let go of all your daily clutter and just run.
If you have a hard time sitting still and the idea of taking 40 minutes a day to meditate seems like torture to you, or even if it doesn’t, running may be just what the doctor ordered. Give it a try and let me know what you discover.
Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan. He writes and speaks regularly about mental health,creativity, spirituality, and motivation. Dr. Michaelis is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and get Happy. You can get the first chapter of his book by signing up here.