Mindful Running as a Form of Active Meditation

There is no single way to meditate. Traditional methods of mindfulness meditation like yoga have worked for billions of people over the years. Our own ‘Happy Hour Mindfulness and Meditation’ course breaks down learning these practices into bite-sized chunks, more suitable for busy professionals. However if you want to learn and practice it, there’s always a mindfulness and meditation method that can fit your lifestyle and preferences. One of these methods is called mindful running.

In a nutshell, mindful running is realising that any regular jogging routine already lays the foundation for achieving and maintaining mindfulness. Whether you’re a beginner or someone who completes marathons, running forces your mind to focus on how you’re balancing your entire body, navigating the terrain that’s ahead of you, and keeping all essential systems working. This leaves little room in your mind for ruminating about the past and future, keeping you locked down on the present moment as your mind and body work on the singular task of physically moving forward.

“As the Japanese marathon monks of Mount Hiei once told me about their challenge to complete 1,000 marathons in 1,000 days, it was a meditation in movement,” recalls Adharanand Finn on the time he was preparing for the 165km Oman Desert Marathon. Throughout the ups and downs of training, Finn experienced hallucinations, anger, frustration, and pain. What kept him going was embracing the struggle and staying in the moment. “In the end, I found that in the depths of an ultra marathon lies a stillness, an awareness of existence, that makes it all worthwhile.”

Therein lies the core connection between running and meditation. Either can lead you into a calm and mindful state. Combining the two can make it easier to arrive and stay in that state of mindfulness. While we can’t all train to become ultrarunners, one thing that can aid this process —whether you’re a beginner or a veteran runner— is by focusing on improving your running technique. This means being aware of your posture and how efficiently you’re moving your legs and feet. In a Nurvv guide to improving running speed, it details how the pace we set while on the move depends mainly on cadence and step length. Both factors dictate your overall running speed, which you can improve by paying attention to how fast you’re going (cadence) and the distance between each step (step length). The more aware you are about these factors, the faster and more efficiently you can cover distances. And the more actively you calibrate your cadence and step length to improve speed and technique, the sharper your focus becomes —the longer you can stay in a state of mindfulness.

Much like mantras and yoga poses, the act of running is a natural aid to meditating — as an anchor to the present moment. This way, meditation itself can also help you to run further and better despite the mental and physical challenges that are in your way. While running and meditating are by no means interchangeable, the two share a lot more than we realise, including the way both can sharpen the mind and open it to greater possibilities. As acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami told The New Yorker about starting running at age 33, “It was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.”