Running to Relax

In addition to the fitness benefits of running, many use it as a way to unwind, relax and focus. Lace up your shoes, head out, and before you know it, you’ve created your to-do list, made dinner plans and decided to ask your boss for a raise. While this free-flow of thoughts can keep our minds busy during the run and even improve creativity, it may also be distracting and keep you from reducing stress levels and improving overall wellness. If you are running to relax, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. The concept of mindful running (or running to relax) brings focus and concentration to the act of running itself, and brings with it many of the same benefits of other mindfulness and mind/body activities, such as meditation and yoga. It can be a rather simple practice. Rather than allowing our minds to freely associate during our runs, the emphasis is on observation without judgment. As you begin your run, notice the overall state of your body and surroundings: are you rested? Do you feel energized? This might be followed by noticing specific sensations in your body, such as the act of relaxing your shoulders and neck after a stressful day at work, or the pressure of the ground against your feet during each foot strike. While it is natural for your mind to wander to other thoughts and concerns, during mindful running you notice this drifting of the mind and redirect it to the immediate actions and sensations of your run. In addition to noticing the sensations of your body, you can direct your attention to your immediate surroundings, such as the trees or buildings that you pass and the type of surface on which you are running.

This practice works well for both treadmill sessions and outdoor training, as well as cross training activities, such as cycling or elliptical running. As you improve your mental focus, you can practice improving the feelings of your run. You can consciously choose to deepen and slow your breathing, increase your speed, and reduce the chatter of your mind when it informs you that a hill or terrain is too difficult. While most of us will continue to run with busy minds (at least some of the time) running to relax is an opportunity to practice mindfulness and quiet any negative thoughts as you train. About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.