When I was out running the other day, a friend asked me how Chi Running helps to focus your mind. I explained how I think I use my mind as much, if not more than by body when I am running. My intention is to stay in the present moment, using my mind to listen to and focusing my body in order to become more aligned and relaxed (and ultimately more efficient.) I went on to explain that energy flow and chi are about, for the runner, trying to find that special moment where 'everythign just clicks' and you have a fantastic run. We're setting up the conditions for energy to flow - but what does that really mean? This got me thinking about how to explain mindfulness to those who are less familiar with these concepts. Let's start with the word mindfulness as for me, Chi Running and Chi Walking are about mindful exercise.
Mindfulness comes from Buddhism, however the idea of living with an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness has a wider religious and non religious bases. Secular techniques have now been developed and mindfulness is taught across the whole of society for many different reasons. The word itself can get in the way, so why not pick a word from this list that suits you and forget about the jargon?!
Maybe you don't even agree with my list of words. I'm looking at it now thinking "hmm I wish the word FOCUS was a bit bigger," but that's just me. I suppose some are synonymous with mindfulness people, and others and less closely related.
So what's the point of mindfulness? Well think of this as mental focus - find me a runner who doesn't think that's important. Think of it as a way of calming your mind - find me a runner who doesn't want to be relaxed and calm. Think of it as a discipline - again, a key mental technique for the runner. Very little is done in the way of training the mental side of running outside the field of sports psychology and I believe the mindful approach is undervalued and underexplored.
Try one of these ideas when you are out running next:
- Focus your mind on one element of your technique for a period of 30 seconds to one minute, and then allow your mind to wander for a while. Repeat.
- Take note of your mental chatter. Be forgiving of yourself whenever you seem harsh and judgemental.
- Be aware of your breathing and use this as a way of collecting feedback on how you are doing.
- Scan different parts of your body so sense where you can find tension. See if you can then relax this area.
I'm aware that you could write a book on each of the four bullet points above! I'll try to address some of them in future blogs. For now, I hope you have something to try when you are out running.
I work closely with my wife Becky of Towards Life, who is a mindfulness teacher and together we are intending to develop more training that help people develop mindful atttitudes to running. Our first event in 2015 is a Mindful Fitness Day, where we will be teaching yoga, mindfulness and Chi Running / Walking alongside each other. We are also spending a week exploring these ideas together in the French Alps, August 2015.
I'd really like to know what you think of this, so please feel free to comment. Philip Allen of Bramhall runners has kindly provided me with a short pdf article on his take on Mindful Running which you can download as a short ebook here. I like the way Philip outlines the way staying in the present moment can help you as a runner.
Recent research was done in the Netherlands that discussed why Mindfulness can be beneficial when exercising. It turns out that exercising with a mindful approach can enhance the satisfacton and enjoyment that exercise brings. Have a further read here.