One of my more concerning character flaws is that I am deeply impatient. If I have a free hour to do something, I will choose running over sitting 'doing nothing' and despite all I have read about the benefits of meditation, I am simply not comfortable just ‘being’ without thinking about all of the other things I should be doing.
However, I have always thought of running as my meditation. As a predominantly solo runner, I use it as me time, to think things through or not think at all, to quietly wait for revelations and inspiration to come to me. My mind is always calmer after a run, so I started thinking, “does this count as meditation, are there ways to make running my meditation?”
The answer apparently is yes, it just takes a little conscious work. First up - why should we consider running as meditation? I spoke to Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, an app that teaches mindful meditation. He highlights that training the mind is every bit as important as training the body, “When our mind is strong, fit and healthy, we can stop obstacles like tiredness, or the weather, from getting in the way of getting out there for a run.”
The reason running can be considered meditative is that it is an “established and habituated action” that doesn't require much brainpower. It is monotonous, but this quality is what makes it therapeutic. The repetitive nature of running can be harnessed and become something that isn’t boredom at all. Essentially, it’s about “bringing the mind back to the present” whilst we run, says Puddicombe.
“It sounds so obvious when we talk about it in those terms and yet how often do you apply any of those ideas to your exercise routine? It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to improve your discipline, mental endurance, spatial awareness, concentration, pain management, or even your ability to perform under pressure. All of these factors rely on the mind. If your mind is present, alert and focused, yet with a sense of ease and relaxation, then you’ll see progress, no question”.
The simplicity of this makes it sound too easy. I think of meditation as something Buddhist monks have devoted their lives too and are still ‘working on’, but it is a simple concept. Puddicombe even suggests that you don't have to give up listening to music as you run to do it; in fact, he suggests it can help runners “get into the zone.” As long as you are still aware of the simple actions of your body; your feet hitting the ground, your breath, the weather on your face, you are living in the moment. It sounds peaceful doesn't it?
There are also benefits to your running to be had with this. Firstly, Puddicombe explains that getting to know your mind can help prevent you missing a training session. Meditation is something that helps with this, “You can acknowledge that tendency to give a training session a miss is just another kind of thought, not an imperative.”
Additionally, tuning into your mind will in turn help you to tune into your body. This helps with making improvements to your technique or style. Becoming mindful in your running is just the first step to becoming mindful all of the time through all aspects of your life. There’s a lot to be said for that.