What is mindful running?
Anyone that knows me knows my feelings towards running. I hate running. And no it's not for any professional reason, there's a lot of evidence about why running is good for you. I just hate it because I find it hard, it hurts and being clumsy it's really hard to get in a rhythm. There are however two people in this world who have managed to get me to run. One was an amazing fundraiser who supported me through never having run to a half marathon training. He broke the task down into such manageable chunks that I achieved my goal. The other is today's guest blogger who is the only person who has managed to brain wash me into enjoying running. Let me introduce Mike and I will then share my top 5 tips for Mindful running. Mike is director of the TRiM project that helps university students to mindfully run. His contact details are below but you can follow him on instagram @thetrimproject
I first started running in 2008. Fast approaching 30 I felt a need to start paying more attention to my physical health and fitness, as well as needing a stronger sense of direction and purpose in life. Running was a way of doing something positive and literally moving forward, even when I didn’t feel my life was.
So, over the next 6-7 years I entered lots of events, ran 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, both in the UK and abroad, having fun, getting faster, setting PBs and generally feeling healthier and better about myself. Running with others and sharing experiences was a great way of building confidence, boosting my mood and improving self-efficacy. And improvements in time and pace motivated me to keep running.
Alongside this, running was a great way of being physically immersed in that place called ‘Flow’ or ‘The Zone’ – where your mind and body become synchronised through movement. You’re just in that effortless moment where you’re not thinking and there are no boundaries between you, the running and the run. Automating a mechanical and rhythmical activity like running always helped to free up my mind a little – allowing ideas to emerge, problems to be solved and generally clearing my conscious mind of clutter.
The more I ran the more I got into the mindful aspects of it. Spending time outdoors, away from distractions, being alone with your thoughts and emotions, continually putting one foot in front of the other, learning to tolerate pain and discomfort, dealing with cold weather and boredom, overcoming worry, and breaking down long distances into smaller goals, were all challenges I enjoyed. Sounds like hell for some but it was a kind of mental training for me. A great way of developing awareness, building resilience, training your intention, mindset and attitude.
So, over the last 4 years I have become increasingly interested in mindfulness meditation and combining it with my running. I love the idea of using running as a tool for developing that awareness and seeing it as a moving meditation. When I go out for a run now, I see it as much about taking my mind for a run, as my body.
In 2017, I came up with an idea for a project called TRiM, which stands for Transforming Running into Mindfulness. With so much research into the brain health and development benefits of aerobic exercise, running, and mindfulness, I started to think how running could be a tool for social benefit as well as personal. The idea was to build a movement of runners dedicated to running mindfully and using it as a tool for improving mental health wellbeing.
As a mental health mentor, I was very aware of the motivational and psychological barriers that many individuals faced with mental health difficulties faced when it came to adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours and habits. As well as the impact physical inactivity could have on their general physical health. So, I figured there may be call for more therapeutic approaches to running that used mindfulness to help individuals to deal with stress and discomfort of exercise better, and help them realise the psychological and health benefits, while increasing their physical activity levels.
With this in mind, TRiM successfully received some social enterprise start-up funding
from The Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start Up Programme, in partnership with School for Social Entrepreneurs, and jointly funded by Big Lottery Fund, to develop and pilot its business idea. Following successful completion of the SSE Start Up Programme, TRiM became registered as a Community Interest Company in October 2018.
At present, TRiM is currently part of a group of projects being supported by Warwick Sport at the University of Warwick, that have been given BUCS Active funding to use physical activity as an intervention for tackling mental health issues. The main strand of TRiM’s work is directly supporting the health and wellbeing needs of individuals and communities in Higher Education to improve mental health and wellbeing.
TRiM is currently piloting some structured mindful running sessions and courses for students at Warwick during term 3 of 2019. The aim is to bring the benefits of mindful running to young people and empower them to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle habits that build resilience and improve mental wellbeing – creating heathier and happier student communities.
If you are interested in finding out more
So as someone who hates running but is inspired by Mike's love of it here are my top 5 tips for running mindfully. I hope you can use these to in bringing mindfulness to your daily routine:
1) Grade the task.
It can take a while to find a pace that you can endure at so if you are new to running start with something like the couch to 5 k.
2) It's ok to notice that you are short of breath or don't have rhythm to your breathing.
This is the sympathetic nervous system preparing your body for action. By being aware of this you can start to find ways to regulate your breathing which with repeated practice will mean that you will be more practice at inducing the parasympathetic nervous system allowing your to relax, not just in running but to release stress and tension in other areas of life.
3) Notice your mood and let any judgement pass.
We label our feelings as "good and bad". Each feeling serves a purpose. If you are feeling bored tune into it. What is the boredom telling you. It could be that you spend most of your day in a driven or motivated mode and would benefit from practising letting go of that to allow our soothing system some time to kick in. Or it could be that you need to up the challenge or be more actively engaged in what you are doing.
4) Notice your environment
If you tend to run on automatic then take time to notice the world around you. What temperature are you, name what do you see, focus in on what sound you that you hear.
5) Bring your attention to the now.
During running we can become preoccupied (well I can) of the goal or the end point of not running. Draw your attention to what is happening in the present moment and how wonderful your body is at adapting to the challenges it is faced with.