If your running progress has hit the wall, it might be time to turn to your mind for a boost. Research shows that meditating before and during a run can help your flow – here’s the lowdown.
The all-round benefits of meditation are well known. From improving our gut microbiome to improving focus and resilience, carving out some time to meditate is great for our mental and physical health.
And now we can add making you a better runner as another string to meditation’s illustrious bow. Runners often extol the mind-clearing benefits of pounding the pavements – for some, there’s no better way of working through a problem – while elite athletes have long been fans of mindful running. Deena Kastor, the US marathon record holder, says that meditation has benefitted her throughout her career – and who are we to argue with a marathon PB of 2hr 19min?
And science agrees. There is evidence that practising meditation both before and during a run can improve performance. So, what’s the story?
“Meditation can be a great tool for runners, focusing the mind, aiding concentration and framing a positive mindset,” explains personal trainer and running expert Emma Bord. And while many of us do our best thinking on a run, allowing room for meditation and mindful running can be more about thought-stopping than working through things. If your usual internal monologue is ‘This is boring,’ or ‘I want to stop,’ then being able to turn these limiting thoughts off, or at least dial them down, can be really helpful – after all, nobody enjoys a miserable run.
So, should we be meditating before, during or after running? In a perfect world, we should aim to do all three.
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The benefits of meditating before a run
It sets you up for a great run
“One of the barriers to running is the fear of not being able to do it,” says Bord. “In taking a moment to reframe your thoughts and set positive intentions through meditation, the body is better set for what is to come. It can also help to clear any negative pre-run thoughts and focus on setting a positive intention for your running.”
It makes you more resilient
Think of pre-run meditation as the mind’s equivalent of strength training. Just as lifting weights will build muscles, regular meditation can strengthen your mind, making you more resilient and able to cope with stresses, strains and niggles, such as a sore hamstring or tight hip flexor.
It can be especially helpful when training for a race, when the slightest twinge can send us into a paroxysm of fear. Taking a moment and being mentally resilient will help to keep things in perspective.
And the benefits of a little pre-run zen aren’t purely mental, as Bord explains: “Physically, meditating before running can be a great tool to relax and stretch out the muscles, breathing into any aches and pains and relieving the body of tension.”
Why should we meditate during a run?
It relaxes our bodies
Many of us can tense up when we run, either in an effort to smash that PB or perhaps we are anxious about the run itself. Either way, being tightly coiled in your body is a surefire way to waste precious energy and can even lead to injury. Having a relaxed stance means that all that lovely energy can flow exactly where we need it to, rather than being wasted.
“Being relaxed during running can be beneficial,” agrees Bord. “Not only can it make a run more pleasant, but it can help reduce the risk of injuries and create a sense of calm and flow to the movement. When you run in a more relaxed state your breathing is also calmer, which will help blood flow around the body and to the muscles making the body work efficiently.”
It’s great for our minds too
In addition, if you’re prone to negative thoughts, meditation on the run will really help. “Meditation is a great way to refocus during a run, when negative thoughts may creep in at challenging moments,” says Bord. “Taking yourself back to that pre-run focus can get you back on track to complete your intended goal, no matter how distant it might seem.”
How to incorporate meditation into your regime
We get it – you’re busy. Sometimes it’s all you can do to carve out some time to warm up and stretching, but try setting aside a few moments before you lace up and go to mentally prepare for your run (and don’t even think about skipping your stretching afterwards). It doesn’t have to take long, but the benefits are well worth the time and effort.
Focus on your breath
“To incorporate meditation into your running routine, allow a few minutes before you set off to focus on your breath,” advises Bord. “Take a nice slow inhalation, breathing into your stomach and becoming aware of the air filling your lungs. Exhale allowing any negative thoughts out with your breath.”
Set your intention
“Once you have calmed your breath, you can set your intention for your run,” Bord continues. “This might be a certain speed or distance, or simply how you’d like to feel while running – strong or relaxed perhaps.”
Have a mantra
“Focus your intention by using a mantra that you can revisit throughout the run, such as ‘I am running strong’ or ‘I am running relaxed’ – keep these in the present so they are focusing on the ‘now’ throughout your run,” advises Bord.
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While a dose of mindfulness on your next run isn’t going to magically turn you into Mo Farah, it might just help you to enjoy the process more, meaning you’ll be more likely to have a positive mindset around repeating the run– and who isn’t on board with that?
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