I try to run regularly to maintain some vague semblance of fitness. Or at the very least to assuage some of the guilt that I feel for eating and drinking whatever I like, in spite of my waning metabolism.
Having been introduced to mindfulness through my current MBA class, I wondered whether it was possible to ‘kill birds with the one stone’ and practice mindfulness whilst getting my daily exercise.
A little bit of web surfing confirmed that it is, indeed, possible to do both – notwithstanding my gender-specific inability to successfully undertake concurrent activities.
I normally run for about 30-35 minutes during my lunch break at a city gym, typically whilst listening to some upbeat music to get my body pumping. This time I thought I’d try something a little different.
With the dulcet tones of pan pipes, trickling water and birds chirping in my ear, courtesy of a randomly-chosen mindfulness playlist on Google Play Music, I set off on my treadmill run.
One thing that I really like about running on a treadmill is the opportunity to ‘zone out’ – but mindfulness doesn’t permit you to do that. It requires you to consciously acknowledge your thoughts, to tame your wandering mind, and to focus on the signals of the body. That’s actually pretty hard to do for a sustained period of time. It requires quite deep concentration, which is not one of my strong suits.
To stay focused during the run, I paid close attention to my breathing, drawing deep slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. I constantly scanned my body, from bottom to top, to identify areas of discomfort or soreness. If my mind started to wander for any reason, I used a physical ‘anchor point’ (a logo, ‘Technogym’, on the treadmill in front of me) to bring my mind back to where it should be – in the ‘present’.
I found that the soft music and my mindfulness routine helped to establish a good rhythmic stride with a light foot impact on the treadmill. It helped me to relax my arms and upper body, and it removed the need to constantly check the time and distance on the treadmill console (something I do routinely when I run on treadmills). By identifying and acknowledging sore spots in my body as I ran, I noticed that the tension in these areas dissipated naturally. Magic!
But it did require some perserverance.
The first hiccup was a ‘meditation mix’ version of Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ on the playlist. Not sure it’s possible to achieve any degree of zen with that eighties dance classic ringing in your ears.
Soon thereafter, my focus was all but destroyed when a rather large gentlemen hopped onto the treadmill in front of mine, thus robbing me of my mind’s anchor point, substituting it instead with jiggly bits. Suddenly my rhythm went out the window and I started to labor. For the next 15 minutes, I struggled to focus on the ‘Technogym’ logo by peering through the man’s legs. It was quite disconcerting that this alone was enough to upset my routine. Thankfully, the man chose to move on and I was able to regroup.
On the whole, I found it a very useful experience. Before I knew it, I had run 35 minutes and I was still fresh. Fresh enough, in fact, to continue running for a further 25 minutes, bringing the total distance of my run to 11km in 60 minutes.
I’m going to continue using this method for future runs.