I started out with running long before meditation. Actually, I have been incredibly physically active over my lifetime (and not always mentally active!). I started with soccer, then running races, bicycle races, triathlons, and biathlons. Lately – the last 12 years – I’ve been doing more trail running than anything else.
Is meditation helpful for runners? Is meditating during running something you should do? What benefits can you attain from running meditation?
These are the questions I’ll answer below for you!
Light vs Deep Meditation while Running
Light meditation can really be a focus on just about anything you choose while you’re running. You might choose the breath at the nose or the feeling of the breath entering and exiting your lungs. You could count breaths, say one to four and repeat one to four over and over or you could count the number of steps you take for each in-breath and out-breath.
I have lightly meditated while running by counting the steps I took for my breaths many times, thousands of times I guess over the years. It’s a good way to keep the mind occupied instead of focusing on the pain – especially if you’re a new runner and even running slow is something of a discomfort for you. Even advanced runners feel pain or go through bad periods while running every now and then. If so, you can use this technique to take the mind away from it and give it something to do. It’s like a mantra that you repeat over and over. Two steps during breathing in, and two steps breathing out – or whatever it is for you.
Instead of focusing on your breath as you run, you could choose to focus on your footsteps. Almost like a walking meditation, sped up quite a bit. You can focus your attention on the rhythm of your foot-strikes and trying to keep them smooth, light, and easy. This was a technique American Caballo Blanco used as he ran in the Mexican desert near his home. If you’re a runner, or even if you’re not, you should read the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. This enthralling story has sold over 3 million copies since 2009. You can find it here at Amazon.
How Did I Use Meditation with Running?
I usually meditated while running by putting myself in a state of few thoughts except what all was going on with my body. I put myself in a kind of check-up mode where I’d cycle through various body functions and parts to see how they were doing individually and collectively.
Let’s say I started with my breathing. I’d notice if it was smooth and easy or forced. If forced, I’d try to even it out and make it smoother. Then I’d switch to cadence. Was I taking the right number of steps for each in-breath and out-breath? On slow runs that should be about 4 steps for each in-breath and 4 for each out-breath. On moderate runs it could change to 2 steps on the in and 3 on the out. On fast runs it would be a solid 2 steps for each in and out breath.
Once I had a good breathing rhythm, I might switch to my foot strikes. Was I landing flat-footed (as I like) or too far back on my heel or forward on my toes or ball of the foot? I’d adjust whatever wasn’t right.
I’d look at stride length. Was I striding correctly for the speed I was going? I’d take a look at my arm swing. Was I swinging correctly? Efficiently?
Did I have energy? Was I still feeling strong? Was anything tight?
I’d go through all muscles and assess how they were feeling. Tight? Sore? Painful? Strong?
This is how I did my running meditation. It was basically just keeping an overview of all parts of the body as I ran (or cycled or swam). It kept the mind from wandering to thoughts. It kept the mind from considering expectations for the runs or problems or other distractions.
Running meditation in a lightly meditative state kept me in The Zone and allowed me to have the best running session possible, so this is what I did while running almost every time. Thousands of times over the decades.
Deep Meditation While Running
Deep meditation while running, biking, and stair climbing is always an interesting experiment. I did this off and on when deep meditation came easily to me some years ago. By deep meditation, I mean near samadhi. Near full concentration on the breath or footsteps without any distraction in the mind. I actually did it without any thought in the mind.
When doing a deep meditation while running I chose locations that were safe first of all. I never hurt myself by running into a tree or falling, but I think the potential for it exists, and for that reason I did it in places where a fall wouldn’t hurt too bad. That said, I also experimented a bit with it while stair-climbing up huge staircases going up limestone mountains here in Thailand. I still didn’t fall, but it probably isn’t such a great idea in hindsight!
My object of concentration for deep meditative running was almost always my feet striking the ground. It was more pronounced a movement and feeling than the breath at the nose and it was usually quite rhythmic and worked well.
To do it, you just focus on the feeling of each foot step as it hits the ground. Early on in the run it might be difficult because you may really feel each step. As you go further, your feet get a bit numb to the experience and for me it was easier to meditate on the feeling because it wasn’t so harsh. You may find the same or different. Go with what you feel.
There’s no reason to focus 100% of your run on your feet, you can go in and out of meditation as you wish. Meditation should never be a chore, so if it doesn’t seem easy to do or you find yourself becoming frustrated that you cannot focus well enough to concentrate well, then stop and do something else. Maybe the light meditation above would be better during that run?
My results during deep running meditation were pretty incredible. I literally didn’t feel the pain of the run. I enjoyed it more climbing the steps I think when my breathing, my muscle fatigue and my energy levels could become a problem. While in a thoughtless state, I felt none of the discomfort of those things and just kept grinding up the steps.
I do remember a long 43 kilometer (24+ miles) run around our local park one summer afternoon where I went into a deep, thoughtless meditation state. I was surprised that I felt so little pain. My previous long run before that was less than half that distance. It took a few hours of running, but it was one of the best running experiences I ever had. Running in a meditative state can be immensely helpful!
Which Is Better? Light or Deep Meditation While Running?
No matter which you choose, meditation is helpful for runners because it can take your mind and thoughts off the discomfort you may be feeling. Meditative running makes the miles tick by like magic sometimes when you slip into the zone and don’t feel the pain.
I’d say 95% of my running meditation was done in a Light Meditative State and the other 5% in a Deep Meditative State. You should experiment to see which you prefer. Please be careful in deep meditation if you’re capable of it. I am not entirely sure it is without risk, though as I said, I had no problems with falling or other accidents. 😛