On Friday’s podcast, SBS and Dimity talked with Mackenzie Havey, whose book Mindful Running is about savoring where your feet are. We asked her to pull some tips for how mindful running can help us all get through the upcoming holiday season.
Take it away Mackenzie!
As Judson Brewer, neuroscientist and director of research at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School, said in his popular Ted Talk, “You’re already awesome, just get out of your own way.” This quote embodies what mindful running is all about and it served as great inspiration as I was researching and writing my new book, Mindful Running.
We all have great potential for personal growth, happiness, and success, but we throw road blocks in our own way—and we often do it without even realizing it because we are disconnected from what’s going on directly in front of us in the moment. In our rush to get the kids out the door to school, check our workout off the to-do list, answer that barrage of emails, and make sure there’s food to eat in the house, we spend much of our time ruminating about the past or planning and worrying about the future. One study done at Harvard estimates we spend 47 percent of our waking hours mind wandering. That means almost half of our days we are missing out on what’s happening in the moment.
What’s the big deal if we’re lost in thought? Research suggests that we tend to harbor a negativity bias—that when we aren’t being intentional about where we direct our attention, it often defaults to anxiety, stress, and sadness. On the flip side, present-moment awareness honed through mindfulness training has been shown to do everything from reducing pain perception, to boosting body awareness, to building greater resilience in stressful situations, to increasing optimism and self-confidence. Not only can these things translate into happier and more successful running, they might just find their way into other aspects of your life as well.
At its core, mindfulness is attention training. While many are wary of seated meditation, running provides an apt platform to train your brain in the same way. What’s more, it means that you don’t need to add another activity to your daily docket. If you’re already going out for a run, why not designate the first few minutes of a workout a couple of days a week to train your brain?
Choose something to focus on—perhaps a part of your body or something in your environment—and every time your mind wanders to ruminating about the past or planning for the future, gently redirect your awareness back to the present. It’s all about recognizing when you’re lost in thought and course correcting. While this may sound a bit tedious, studies show that over time, the neural networks that contribute to greater concentration and focus become more robust, thereby making a mindful attending of the moment more second nature—and continued reps strengthen that mental muscle.
To give you a jumping off point for becoming a more mindful runner, try these three scanning exercises at the outset of your next run. Each is an inventory of sorts for you to get a picture of what your environment, body, and mind look like in that particular moment in time. You can spend just a moment on each or go deeper and take some time to really dig into each scan. Remember, your mind will inevitably wander—it’s human nature. When it does, simply redirect your attention back to wherever you left off in the scan. While this may feel difficult to do for even a few moments at first, over time and practice it will get easier as your runs become more vivid, your mind clearer, and your body dialed in.
Scan your environment.
As you head out the door take a moment to call upon your five senses, especially emphasizing sight, sound, and smell. Whether you’re on a gorgeous wooded trail or on a busy urban street, this can make a run more curious and vivid. Every sight or sound might not be pleasant, but this isn’t about judging what you notice—you’re simply noticing. You may take note of a house you run by every day that you swear you’ve never seen. Maybe you enjoy the smells of fresh bread at a local bakery that you’ve only subconsciously been aware of in the past. Or perhaps you hear the deep bass thumping from a car nearby. None of these things are all that remarkable on their own, but altogether they can start to create a more interesting picture of an otherwise mundane daily run.
Scan your body.
Start at the top of your head and slowly scan down to the bottoms of your feet. Think of it like an actual scanner or copy machine, evenly scanning each part of the body. This is where you’ll need to switch from thinking mode, where many of us spend much of our days, to sensing mode. Instead of thinking “I’m bringing awareness to my right arm,” really try to feel into the muscles and bones of that area. Notice if you’re tense, sore, or relaxed as you do this.
Scan your mind.
Take stock of the top three things that are at the top of your mind and notice whether there are any emotions or physical sensations that are attached to those thoughts. Maybe a gnawing anxiety about a conversation you are going to have with your boss later is making your shoulders tense or excitement over an upcoming vacation has got your feeling light on your feet. Remember, it’s not about judging the thoughts, it’s simply about awareness. Just by bringing attention to these thoughts and physical sensations often allows for a natural easing of both body and brain so you can really relax into the run.
For more about Mackenzie, check out her website.