Being mindful is about being present and purposeful. It is about being completely “in the moment” and tuned in to exactly what you are doing there and then; being focussed in body and – of course – in mind. It seems like a simple concept, but how many of you have driven somewhere and arrived at the destination without remembering how you got there? Or watched people at cafes who are so absorbed in their phones that they’ve forgotten how to socialise? We are so distracted by everything else in this world that we glaze over at what is in front of us. It is true that habitual mindfulness takes practice.
Warming up is a fantastic opportunity to flex your mind muscle. Why is it that at the start line of an event, just about every runner – novice to elite – is looking like a focussed, driven and purposeful professional athlete as they warm up? Contrast this with how the same runner looks before any given daily training session. Chances are their warm-up doesn’t exist in training, or it’s a thoughtless two-minute swing of the hamstring. Taking just five minutes at the beginning of a training session to breathe deeply and focus on some light mobility work while honing your mind to the purpose of that particular workout is hugely beneficial. Putting a little bit of effort into shifting your mindset can quickly set aside any doubts or worries from the day’s happenings and make the workout that much more enjoyable and that much less of a chore!
Cooling down is perhaps an even better opportunity to practice being mindful. Many people don’t realise that stretching and mobility work are largely neurological exercises. Holding a downward dog position or rolling out your muscles on an acupressure ball doesn’t actually leave the muscles and ligaments “longer” or more “stretched out”. Instead, the brain is perceiving your stretch or rolling as an input, and deciding what to do with that input. When you hold a stretch or roll-out for long enough (60+ seconds), the brain decides it is a useful input and simply relaxes that area of your body, allowing you to feel less tight or sore. It’s a perception more than anything! Imagine how much more of a powerful effect you can have with that post-training stretch if you are refining your thoughts to those specific muscles and joints, and breathing in harmony with the stretch. You’re going to have more success than if you lazily hold the stretch for 10 seconds while you stress out about what’s for dinner.
Rehabilitative cross-training is another great place to train mindfully. Practices of yoga, pilates and even meditation are brilliant for upping the ante on your performance outcomes. For much of the same reason as being mindful while stretching after a run, activities like yoga are exponentially better for you when you are centred and focussed on the task at hand. Be sure to schedule in an hour or two of this sort of thing each week!
Finally, I’d like to bring some balance to the discussion by talking about the profits of sometimes being a little mindless. While you’re out on your run – that is, actually ticking up some miles in between your mindful warm-ups and cool-downs – letting your mind wander can be a whole lot of fun and super beneficial. For many of us, this is a time to realign and gather thoughts, make plans for the coming day or look back on what has happened that day. While these are helpful notions, they’re far and away from you being “in the moment” and focussing on your footsteps…. But that’s OK! Running can be repetitive and bland at times, so naturally the mind wanders (especially when training alone). I often come up with my best ideas when I’m out there running mindlessly. I get home and I quickly write them down before the transient genius fades away with every footstep.
So, I urge you to be a little more mindful in your training each day. The benefits of meditative mindfulness are well documented, and they include many positives; from cardiovascular health through to strengthening relationships. Just a few more minutes per day of being truly focussed on your warm-up, cool-down or yoga poses can have tremendous effects on your running performance.
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