Mindfulness has gained widespread attention and popularity over the past few years. Articles seem to be popping up daily on the concept, with recommended application to just about every aspect of life. With so much attention of late, it’s understandable how the ubiquity in mentioning the term mindfulness can lead to skepticism. But there’s good reason to think about adding mindfulness into your life, both in and out of your running shoes. Anecdotally, people tend to report increased focus and calm, with reductions in stress or rumination when implementing mindfulness in their life. And research articles show clear benefits for both our physical and mental health.

What is mindfulness?

Let’s start with identifying the concept of mindfulness which is the art and practice of paying attention. That idea has been extrapolated further, with the most widely accepted formal definition coming from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding executive director of The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. He is credited as one of the pioneers giving rise to the mindfulness movement in the United States. He defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

What is mindful running?

Mindful running is taking that concept and applying it to, well, running. It is defined as the ability to let go of distractions and become mentally connected with your body during your runs. If you’re anything like me, you probably use running for different things at different times. Sometimes, running (and exercise more broadly stated) provides an outlet and opportunity to disconnect and purposefully not pay attention. This is absolutely helpful and at times necessary. The beauty of running is that it offers us a chance to meet a variety of different needs, which sometimes means staying determined, while at others it means decompressing. Running mindfully is a deliberate, conscious effort at checking in, guiding your attention and focus throughout the process.

With so many potential options to maintain focus while running, mindfulness is a purposeful decision to pay attention to certain things at certain times. This could include the changing sensation of your breath, how your body feels gliding through space, or what you hear, see, or smell from the world around you. All the while, your mind is going to eventually wander away from you. But that’s okay. That’s what minds do. Running mindfully is about acknowledging this mind wandering (not pretending this doesn’t happen or thinking this means something is wrong with you when it does) and then gently, and purposefully bringing your attention back to the intended target of focus.  

How do I go for a mindful run?

I’m a big believer that every run offers us three different time stamps for paying attention, albeit in different ways. We have the pre-run, which involves getting ourselves mentally ready, changing our clothes, and lacing up our shoes to head out the door. We have the run itself. And then we have the post-run, which I often pose a question to athletes as “How do you put your run away?” Each facet of your exercise routine offers a unique opportunity to practice mindfulness skills.

You can check out the Run Mindfully Guided Workout in the ASICS Runkeeper app. Coach Justin will guide you through the basic mindfulness techniques and teach you how to incorporate them into your run.

Read more on the newest feature in the Runkeeper app: Introducing Guided Workouts

How to practice mindfulness

Before you run

Often, getting ready to get out the door is met with a sense of urgency and feeling rushed. But the minutes leading up to your run can be a valuable time to bring some mindful attention. This may simply mean being aware of the feeling of urgency as you check your watch to count just how much time you have before you need to be back for your next obligation or responsibility. You don’t necessarily need to change anything about your routine in getting prepared, but try to focus on the physical sensations of putting on and tying your shoes. Noticing, with intention, those physical sensations, even for a brief few moments.

During a run

It sometimes takes a few minutes to settle into the day’s effort. Those first few minutes can be a time of reflection and awareness about what has transpired in your day thus far, or to connect to your current thoughts and mood. Try to spend about 5-10 minutes of a run actively engaged in purposeful attention. You don’t need to spend the entire run being mindful, but taking a deliberate portion to focus on your breath, your body, and surroundings, all while watching the tendency for your mind to wander, and gently bringing it back which are key concepts to work on here.

After a run

Yet another time to practice mindfulness in which we can often feel rushed into the next part of our day. Just as you mindfully put on your shoes, bring deliberate attention to shifting your focus to the next part of your life. Can you pay close attention to the settling of your heart rate and breathing? Notice the physical sensations of grabbing a drink, stretching, or implementing your recovery routine.

Mindfulness benefits

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can add several benefits to your life both in and out of the sport. But the key is that you have to think about mindfulness as a skill that requires discipline and practice. Just like you become physically stronger with consistent exercise, the mind becomes better able to stay focused through regular flexing of this muscle. This need not be cumbersome or overly complicated; merely dedicating some small portion of every run to this practice is a great way to get started.

Please note: Although Dr. Justin Ross is a licensed clinical psychologist this blog post is not a substitute for ongoing mental health care, evaluation, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.