If you’re a frequent runner, you might find the sport more difficult mentally than physically, and for good reason. Studies have shown that mental fatigue, a state caused by prolonged periods of demanding cognitive activity (like running), can directly impact your physical performance. The mental drain can spill over into your run, affecting how successful you’ll be at logging miles. And while the thought of meditating (i.e. quieting your mind in order to completely clear your thoughts) may seem like a surefire way to put your legs on “snooze mode,” the opposite may actually be true.
“Pairing your run with meditating can be transformative, turning it into a revitalizing experience,” says Jamie Price, a meditation and wellness expert and co-founder of the guided meditation app Stop, Breathe, & Think.
Aside from making exercise more enjoyable, combining meditation with movement can also make you a stronger runner. A 2016 study published in Translational Psychiatry found that meditating during aerobic exercise can help reduce depression and improve cognitive control, leaving you more able to make decisions based on your goals and ignore impulses that might lead you astray. According to another study on elite athletes published in the Journal of Sport Psychology, the act of meditating and being more mindful can also help you get laser-focused and perform at your peak ability.
Want to learn how to meditate during a run? Start here, with these steps from Price to help maximize your miles:
1. Focus On Your Senses
Home in on only one sense at a time, take a mental note of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations happening around you as you run. “I love to focus on the beauty around me — the bright orange flowers next to the stairs, the purple leaves of the Japanese maple, the blue color of the sky, and the pebbles on the ground,” says Price. “Breathing deeply, I’ll take in the smell of the leaves and flowers and try to notice the difference in subtle details, like the smell of the air in the sun and shade. I’ll listen for birds, planes in the sky, or the sound of other people running or talking. Then I’ll move to the feeling of the ground beneath my feet, feeling the difference between concrete and grass as I change terrain. I’m not chasing after my physical sensations or evaluating them, I’m just letting them come to me as they are.”
2. Do A Body Scan
From head to toe, bring your attention to each different body part. Notice what you’re experiencing without getting caught up in the internal dialogue about it. “Make sure you’re treating yourself with kindness,” says Price. “The shift to a friendly inner voice will open the door to a more joyful experience.”
Consciously relax the areas where you feel tension. “When you notice any physical discomfort, just note it: — ‘yup, there it is, that soreness in my legs’ — and bring your attention back to what you are seeing or hearing. Don’t get caught up in complaints. Instead, keep your attention expansive and on your whole experience.”
3. Tune Into Your Breathing
Pay attention to the rhythm and feeling of your breath. Become aware of your breath and breathe intentionally. When you do this, you’ll notice you have more energy and any nerves or race jitters will calm themselves.You’ll also release unnecessary tension. “Runners often hold tension in the jaw, neck, and shoulders,” says Price. “When you can consciously relax these areas, you free up energy that would otherwise be spent holding the tension. You’re able to breathe more deeply, increasing the flow of oxygen to your cells. Oxygen is used to break down glucose, which is fuel for your muscles. When I consciously release tension in my body, I feel more open, and enjoy the physicality of running so much more.”
4. Check In With Your Thoughts
Is your mind busy or is it clear? Take a mental step back and observe what is going on in your head. Don’t get wrapped up in side thoughts if you do have them. Instead, acknowledge that they are there, and bring your attention back to the physical sensation of running. Start to do this by naming your thoughts. “If you’re thinking about a looming deadline, for example, you might think, ‘oh, that’s worry,’” says Price. “Giving thoughts a name helps create a little distance between you and what’s going on in your head, allowing you to observe thoughts rather than being swept up in them. Once you name your thought, it’s easier to draw your attention back to what’s happening in the moment, whether that means focusing in your senses, your breath, or the motion.”
5. Pick An Anchor
Use an aspect of your run to come back to if you find yourself getting swept up in your thoughts. “Each one of us has an anchor, an area in our body where you can feel the sensation of your run most easily,” says Price. Maintaining that focus will help recenter you each time your get distracted. As you run, notice the place in your body that holds your attention most. “For me, it’s the feeling of my feet as they make contact with the ground. You might instead feel the rise and fall of your chest with every breath, or the muscles in your thighs as you lift your leg with each step.”
While these steps may seem simple enough, making it a point to practice and stick with meditation while running is an important part of the process. “This process isn’t about having a perfect run, but rather knowing what to do if your mental wheels start spinning and your mind wanders off,” says Price. “It’s about noticing when your attention wanders and going back to your anchor point.” You shouldn’t expect to ace meditation after a couple of runs, but by consistently practicing it, you’ll slowly strengthen your mental stamina along with your physical stamina and endurance. “When you become fully present and engaged with your environment and the internal world of your senses, it takes you out of your head and can make your run more pleasant,” says Price.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.