“All good things are wild and free.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I love running. It keeps me sane.
My mind is empty and I can feel the energy and power of my entire body. My heart and lungs pumping with a smile spread across my face. I am in the moment, meditating and requiring little effort on my part.
But it wasn’t always that way.
As a child I ran everywhere I went, so eager to get to where I was going. Outside, I was free from the caged rules of indoors. I felt wild and free. I continued running in high school to satisfy my passion for movement, speed and competition. The release of pent up energy from sitting all day was necessary for my physical and mental well being; but I dreaded the mandatory training with the cross-country team, since practicing with them made me feel like I was fighting with my body.
I was a sprinter—not a long distance runner.
Unable to see the benefit of time on the trail, I could not follow my coach’s instruction to stay focused on my breath and my strides. My body was sore, especially my feet. My mind was forever somewhere else. It was now a constant struggle to finish each run.
My childhood passion for running was gone—or so I thought.
In college my sophomore English professor was an avid runner. I think if he could have gotten away with it, he would have taught class on the trail with everyone running along behind him chanting Thoreau quotes in a uniform stride. He was so passionate about how much you could learn about yourself and about life while running that he gave extra credit points for running 5K races. He was always at the finish line first, with a huge smile, an arm pumping overhead as he cheered his students across the finish line. He had that childhood passion I had lost, even though he was in his late fifties and I was inspired!
I began to run again, becoming aware of how my legs felt, how tense my upper body was when I ran and how I sometimes held my breath.
As I focused on keeping my body more relaxed, my breathing and endurance improved. I could talk while I ran with friends, instead of sputtering out one word at a time, in fragmented sentences. It was fun again. I always felt so good, strong and energetic when I was done running.
I decided to move on from 5Ks and train for 10Ks, triathlons, half marathons, and marathons. During this time as the runs grew longer and the training more intense, I was surprised to find a harsh negative voice inside my head that didn’t believe in me and set limits for what my body was capable of doing. My body was tight, my knees ached and I struggled with breathing.
Once again, it was a constant struggle to finish each run. With each new challenge the voice grew louder, my body weaker and I wondered how to stop this downward spiral. I began to believe that I really wasn’t a long distance runner after all.
But I was not ready to quit.
In my search for an answer, I began talking to experienced runners, reading everything I could find about running and soon discovered mindfulness training for runners. I incorporated the mindful running techniques, as well as a yoga for runners’ class into my routine. I hoped this would at least help me with the mental struggles and breathing. I could not have anticipated what happened next.
One day while on a long run, my endorphins kicked in, I found myself totally relaxed with a huge smile on my face at the realization that I could just keep going. I felt completely free. I had no boundaries, no finish line to meet; I was just in my stride, in my breath like I had been as a child. I was free from the caged rules of my mind, in a form of prayer, or meditation. This had to be how the barefoot Tarahumara Indians felt in Christopher McDougall’s incredible novel, Born to Run. I knew now why my college English professor was so passionate about running.
This form of moving meditation was what I was missing. Here are the mindful running techniques I use that you can easily apply to your running:
Quiet the mind. I take a few minutes to mediate before stretching. I had to stop bringing my mental anxiety; stress and daily issues onto the trail with me. Learning to differentiate negative thoughts from my body’s actual needs was instrumental in my success.
Relax the body. Listening to my body and being aware of how I felt in my warm up and stretching was important. Holding energy in the body restricted my stride as well as my breath. Learning how to release tension in my muscles from my head to my toes was difficult at first.
Breathe. My yoga practice proved to be of most benefit for managing my breath, creating long, deep focused breathing while moving.
Match your stride and breath. Keeping the same number of steps for each inhale and exhale provides a natural rhythm for your body. I found playing music with a beat that also matched my stride enabled me to stay in a rhythmic pace at length without thinking.
Running is great for your overall health, benefiting your body, mind and spirit.
I run to release and quiet my mind. It keeps me sane. Once I am moving and in a rhythm with my playlist, my breath and my stride, I am aware of the presence of nature and the most in touch with myself. I am happy.
Mindful running increases body awareness and calms your mind. Whether it is a long or a short run, you can stop struggling and become a more confident, energetic, healthier and happier runner.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
Runner’s World Magazine
Author: Tammy Novak
Editor: Renée Picard
Images: via the author