Putting on your tracks, lacing up your shoes and going out for a run is probably one of the best feelings ever. Oodles of fresh air and glimpses of greenery around is like the icing on the cake.  

While you may prefer listening to some music or keeping an eye on your heart rate and calorie count, it is important to be aware of your breath, physical sensations and surroundings. Just like how meditation is all about focussing on the present moment without giving way to distractions, mindful running is about being mentally connected with your movement.

Illustration by Pratyush Thaker
What is your breath like? How fast do you feel like going? Which part of your body hurts or feels weak? Are your energy and stamina levels - these are some of the questions that might pop in your head if you listen to yourself. Sometimes, even aspects like your lifestyle, nutrition and sleep cycle may flash by as you dash through in the process.

How can you practice it?

All of us live in a fast-paced world where we are always in a rush to get things done. Transitioning from one task to another, manoeuvring through deadlines and constantly trying to balance work and life may seem like sitting in a pressure cooker. So, you wouldn’t want to stress yourself out even when you're engaging in a physical activity.

55-year-old Thomas Bobby Phillip has been running since 2009 and loves participating in marathons and events both in India and abroad. The Capability Development Manager at Nokia took to mindfulness within the first few stints itself and prefers running barefoot. He covers an average of 70 to 80 kilometers every week.

“Mindful running is all about figuring out the rhythm of your body as well your breathing pattern and sticking to it. It is just like dancing. Your rhythm and cadence can propel you to run for longer and make you stronger,” Phillip notes.
Thomas running barefoot at the Tata Mumbai marathon. 

So, if you want to get into the habit of mindful running, one of the best ways to start off is to get out of home, leaving all the gadgets behind. Although phones or fit-bits can be useful, they can become a distraction and dissuade you from focusing on your breathing, body, environment and state of mind.

Indulging in deep inhalations and exhalations while running is crucial to help you relax. Once you are comfortable with a certain pace of breathing, you can consider synchronizing your breathing with the footsteps: for example, taking three steps for the inhalation and two steps for the exhalation.

While at it, push all sorts of negative thoughts away. This does sound difficult, but comes with practice. In case you do wander off, gradually try to bring yourself back. Another important element of mindful running is engaging all of your senses and paying attention to how they are responding to your environment and movements. For instance, are you huffing and puffing if you increase your momentum or stride? If you are finding yourself to be tired or gasping, slow down or take a break. At this juncture it is good to ask yourself if you are done for the day or ready to challenge yourself a little more?

Once you are done with the run and cooling down, figure out how you’re feeling, listen to your heartbeat, stretch every part of your body and observe how it feels. You can even note down some of your observations so that it might come handy the next time around.

Does it really help?

In order to have a wholesome running experience, it is important to watch out for your body and mind. Training the mind not only helps boost performance, but also acquire a balanced state of mind and find joy in your movement. Whether you are an athlete, marathon runners or just somebody who likes to go for a run and unwind, mindful running is advantageous.

Image credit: Snapwire, Pexels
“Running in itself is the easiest, most economical and natural form of physical and mental fitness. It benefits everyone, immaterial of their objectives. And, if you are a regular or a marathon runner you’ll be able to maintain a consistently good running form, and also improve your stride turnover over a period of time,” says Phillip.  

According to a study published by the Human Kinetics Journal, mindfulness enables individuals to develop better acceptance and keep away their worries. Rather than thinking about how difficult it is to keep up the pace or the number of kilometres you have left, mindful running can make you realise the power of being in sync with yourself. So, whether it is providing relief from stress, helping recover from injuries, or improving your pace and endurance to cover longer distances, this is a practice that is utilitarian and worthwhile.


Some resources and links to help you learn more about mindful running:

Everyone’s Talking About Mindful Running—But How Do You Actually Do It?
With mindfulness more mainstream than ever, experts demystify the concept.
Meditations for Running
Running and meditation can each make a world of difference in your quality of life, but what happens when you bring running and meditation together? Well, that’s where the real magic happens.