I am in the middle of running a ten-mile trail loop through some low foothills in the Southern California desert, when it suddenly occurs to me that I can’t recall traveling from where I started, to where I am now. Sure, it has been a fantastic run so far—that much I do know—although how is it that despite the amazing scenery and rugged topography I don’t recall much of the journey to this point? Meditation in motion.
I remember reading that if you’re ever driving and can’t remember the past few miles, it is due to hypnosis. This made perfect sense, since long drives tend to be my time to zone out deep in thought and free of outside distraction, which is indeed the basis for hypnosis.1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnosis
The connection between the steady-state motion of running and its meditative effects, is also related to hypnosis. In fact, even though part of why many of us run is for the obvious health benefits of improved heart function, weight management and muscle conditioning, that is not always our primary motivation. Rather, it is often a need to untangle our minds and regain our focus, as well as to provide serenity and grounding—which is also why many of us meditate.
Runner’s high is the term for this enhanced state of being. With runner’s high, running feels effortless, time seems to stand still, and it’s like your feet stop contacting the ground, and instead, you just seem to float along.
This hypnotic state known as runner’s high, provides the perfect therapy for stress relief. Meditation in motion hits your biological “reset” button, which helps to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, manage anxiety, and many other health benefits.2)https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section2
Mindful Running: From Zero to Zen
Despite running with the intent of achieving a meditative state, it doesn’t just happen the moment you lace on your sneakers and hit the trail. In fact, my personal experience is that very few runs are fluid from the get-go, and most involve a painful first few miles as I find my rhythm and grope for a second wind. However, once past this warm-up period, things usually morph into a steady, even output, which is where everything starts to click, both mentally and physically.
The first few miles are painful as I find my rhythm and grope for a second wind.
I should also mention that for most of us, environment plays a key role in hitting this meditative state. Unfortunately, flat city streets or treadmills don’t always cut it, and they usually find us doing little more than watching the nearest clock or our GPS and thinking of how much more time/distance we have left to cover. Sure, you can “get lost” in these type runs, though not as easily as when we run in nature. But, there are ways around this, especially if you live in an urban environment.
Focusing on one thing during a run—such as your breathing—can help block out other distractions, and ease you into a hypnotic state.
Breathing for Meditating While Running
Here’s a simple breathing rhythm to try on your next run.
- Count each phase of each breath as you focus only on your breathing. This can be something like:
- (inhale) 1-2
- (exhale) 3-4 and continue with each breath.
- You can also induce rhythmic breathing by counting your footsteps, such as:
- Inhale 1-2-3-4… Exhale 4-3-2-1…
- Chanting a favorite mantra or affirmation
Basically, you are looking for one thing to focus on which will occupy your mind to the point where you block out everything else. All you need to do is find that one thing to focus on. Even better, if that one thing is a goal you would like to achieve.
Running meditations are a great time and place to put the law of attraction to work for you. Running is rhythmical, breathing is rhythical, chanting is rhythmical, and rhythm helps you slip into a cadence that’s the perfect environment for affirmations and invocations.
Running meditations are a great time and place to put the law of attraction to work for you.
A Meditative Mind Enhances Mindfulness
Whether you’re running in nature, or in the city, running can be for tuning in, or for tuning up your awareness of your environment. In nature, the trail itself fulfills the role of something to focus on. The varied terrain forces you to mentally lock into making your way safely across it, which heightens your awareness to your surroundings, which—in and of itself—serves to sharpen your awareness.
Running in the city or suburbs helps peak awareness as well because you have to be on the alert to navigate traffic and people safely.
The other factor that induces mindfulness while running is your breath. Centering your system all hinges on the steady and deep breathing, and some get into a meditative state by focusing on breathing.
The Meditative State
Especially beneficial for those who love to run and have a hard time just sitting meditating, running helps you achieve a meditative state though:
Guided Meditations for Runners
A great benefit to running is that it’s a very beneficial free exercise you can do almost anytime, anywhere. Similarly, it’s easy to induce your own running meditation through breathing and focus, as already described. However, if you feel you’d benefit by some added structure from others, you may also enjoy from one of the many guided meditation apps available, mostly for free.
Most of these are phone apps which provide a walk-through of a specific meditation, such as for weight loss, confidence, or better running form. However, some may come off as more motivational than meditative, so do some research to make sure the app you choose is going to fit within your specific meditation goals. Most of these are free, so try those until you find the ones that work best for you.
That said, I personally don’t use an app when I run, and prefer to listen to what is around me, or occasionally some music during flatter, less inspiring runs.
And, here are some things which you can do in unison with counting breaths, chanting a mantra, etc. which can help you achieve a meditative state while running:
- Enjoy Some Music – Rhythm can be an essential tool in helping you get to a flow state during a run. And, this can be aided through the use of a listening device, such as an iPod or similar music player. However, just as you wouldn’t blast AC/DC or Metallica during a sitting meditation session, neither should you do so during a running meditation. Instead, opt for music which has a steady, trans-inducing beat, preferably around 125 BPM (Beats Per Minute). This should be a relaxing flow of music with an inspirational, thumping beat, and not something which blares into the forefront of your psyche. In other words, you want to listen mainly to what is going on in your mind, and not what is coming from your electronic device. The music should only provide a back-beat to your activity.
- Do it in Nature – Running in nature to enhance meditation may not be for everyone, but for many of us, it is essential. And, even if you live in a city, there are usually parks or areas outside city limits where you can find the soul-soothing benefits of running amongst trees, streams, and wildlife. Plus, studies have shown that running in nature is a calming way to maintain and improve mental health, and as little as 5-minutes of exercise in nature can improve your self-esteem and outlook. Hmm, isn’t that also the reason we meditate?
- Go it Alone – Sure, this may sound antisocial, since many of us enjoy company when we exercise. But think about it: Would you bring a talkative friend along for a “regular” meditation? Of course not! You need to focus on the one thing which clears your mind during your run, which is not holding a chit-chat session with a friend. Think of it as your time and only your time, which, in fact, it is.
You want to listen mainly to what is going on in your mind.
Immerse in Your Run
Even though I don’t remember the past five miles of my run, it doesn’t matter, the experience is serving its purpose. In fact, other things which I currently can’t recall are any work deadlines, taxes, arguments or disappointments.
I look up the side of a craggy cliff just in time to see a Golden Eagle alight from an aerie hundreds of feet above the desert floor. A gentle breeze funnels through the narrow canyon I am in, which keeps me cool and refreshed.
I continue on, without a thought or care about the many things normally weighing me down. For now, there is nothing but myself, the steady thump-thump pace of my feet, and the infinity of the sky above.
Running meditation is a wonderful thing!
For more good information on running meditations, you may enjoy this article on RunnersWorld.com, and this article that goes into some of the hypnotic and euphoric physiology of meditative running.
Contributing writer, Scot Mills is a professional writer with a passion for natural products, and health and wellness—especially running—for over 40 years now. In addition to living and writing about a fit lifestyle, Scot’s education included graduating at the top of his class as a business major, and Phi Beta Kappa honors Society member. You can visit Scot’s blog here.
References [ + ]