mindful running

Mindful running can be particularly beneficial in urban environments

Incorporating mindfulness into your run can help you nurture and care for your mental health at the same time as keeping your physical health in shape. Most people imagine mindfulness is all about sitting crossed legged with your eyes shut; this could not be further from the reality.

Running specialists Sportsshoes.com and psychotherapist Michelle Shanley (BA (Hons) SW inc DipSW.) have teamed up to explain how adding just a few tweaks to your running routine will ensure your workout nourishes your mind as well as your body, and why this approach to running is crucial to urban and city runners.

What is mindfulness?

We’ve become used to looking at a screen, scrolling through social media and concerning ourselves with the business of others and using it to feel better or worse about ourselves. We spend time reviewing the past, worrying about things we may have done differently, and other times we feel anxious about what has yet to come.

Mindfulness is all about the now, the moment you’re in right now. It is the psychological process of accepting our surroundings, experiences and ourselves in the present moment without judgement.

Running mindfully can improve your performance and increase your overall enjoyment of your run. Some people may consider that mindful exercise needs to be practised in wide-open green spaces, but actually there are a lot of benefits to be gained from tuning into yourself and being more mindful when you’re regularly running in an urban environment.

Why mindfulness is important to urban runners

1. Mindfulness improves your running motivation

People often struggle to find the motivation to get out for a run, approaching it with a view that they would rather be doing something else, or that they are only doing it because they think they should for the physical benefits. This negative perspective isn’t motivating at all.

Instead, approach a run with an attitude of “I want to give my mind a rest, connect with my body, improve my well-being and offer myself time to appreciate my surroundings. That sounds very different, and presents a run as a positive opportunity, rather than an obstacle.

2. Mindfulness reduces risk of injury

Do you obsess over your performance during your run? Do you give yourself a hard time if you’re not going fast enough after the first mile? Does this discourage you from trying harder or drive you to risk injury by picking up your pace? For a more mindful run, don’t run with a tracking app and instead listen to what your body is saying to you. When it feels easier, go faster. Feel a niggle in that hamstring? Slow down for a while.

Going with the natural ebb and flow of your body will reduce the potential for injury as you run. If you practice mindfulness when running you will become increasingly astute of noticing your body and listening to its signals. Combining this with being more compassionate of yourself means you are less likely to ‘just keep going’ for the sake of reaching a distance and putting yourself at risk of injury. This holistic approach also pertains to quicker recovery and the true sense of ‘train smarter, not harder’.

3. Mindful runs ease the stress of city living

We are all obsessed with notion of ‘the next chapter’, waiting for the next thing in our lives to come along, the better job, the bigger house, or the longer, faster run. Practising mindful running provides an antidote to living in city-mode. Just because you live in a busy urban place doesn’t mean you have to soak it in at every opportunity.

Calm your mind when running by noticing when your thoughts are veering into the past or future and gently bring your awareness back to your breathing, the pavement beneath your feet and in doing so notice how you feel. The sense of well-being you achieve is one you can practice at all times when you need a moment of peace within the whirlwind of life.

How to start mindful running

Change your route

For your first mindful run, take a different route than usual, or run your normal route the other way around so that you constantly reminded this run is different, and think about what different sights and sounds you’re perceiving.

Be aware

Before your run take a minute to become aware of the colour of the sky, the sounds around you, the ground beneath your feet. As you become aware of these things tune in to your body, what physical sensations are you are experiencing? How rapid is your breathing? What emotions are you feeling? As other thoughts enter your mind, become aware of them then gently bring yourself back to the present again without self-punishment and with kindness.

Use the right app

Headspace and Nike have collaborated on a new app, that is created from research by top sports psychologists as to how exactly athletes can benefit from mindfulness. They found that training mindfully will ensure an athlete is preparing, performing and recovering in the most efficient and effective way possible. The app will help provide guidance on how to make your run mindful.