Sometimes it’s nice to be mindless when running, allowing the thoughts to wander. No phone, no work, no kids and no housework for a couple of hours. In a deadline driven world running is the gap in the fence that allows us time to get lost in a podcast or listen to some music while getting fit and sweating out the pressure of the daily grind. Between the aches and pains, and wiping the snot dripping from the nose – life is sorted out, plans made and moments relived. But it may be time to meditate on the move. A wandering mind is not a happy mind – people spend 46.9 percent of waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. We spend nearly half our lives being “not present” and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).
The benefits of mindfulness has been touted for years, the “mindful running” school of thought suggests that by focussing on the feel while running, unfettered by the pressure to set a new personal best in every run, that the performance will improve. Thereby living in the now and enjoying the journey, not just the finish line. Mindful running may help gain that extra edge, but what is it? One of the most common definitions of mindfulness is the consciousness that comes through “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Keng et al., 2011). In applying that to running it means being mentally connected to the movement without distraction. The greater the connection to running the better the times and the longer the distance that can be achieved. Mindful focus on one step at a time prevents fixation with times and results, it avoids preoccupation with regrets or worries; there is no planning or wanting for anything. There is no loss of power to thinking processes and so they do not dominate your awareness.
Running is the opportunity to be uninterrupted, nobody else’s thoughts or words invade. It is an assured space away from a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be unreachable. It’s pretty normal for the mind to wander when running, regardless of whether the thoughts are related to the running itself, or something more obscure. But maybe the best way to ensure the greatest performance and enjoyment is to leave the thinking behind and allow the body and mind to work together with a mutual physical and mental focus. The happiest people and the most content runners tend to live in the moment. In running constantly chasing, pressing or competing may be cheating you out one of your best chances to sit in the “now”. Rather than racing the clock, yourself or a competitor maybe chase some “zen” during your next run
Keng SL, Smoski MJ & Robins CJ. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev 31, 1041-1056.
Killingsworth MA & Gilbert DT. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science 330, 932.