Running is The Dogs when it comes to Mindfulness, IMHO
In my day job, I’ve been writing a lot about Mindfulness lately.
Now that we’re all preparing for a second, six-month lockdown – panic-booking Ocado slots, stockpiling the Cushelle before it goes back on the ration – it’s understandable that we’re also after some mental reinforcement to see us sanely through the dark days ahead.
So, having exhausted my usual array of mental sandbags on the first surge, I’ve gone back to Mindfulness after a break of almost three years.
I’ve dusted down the old Guided Meditation CD, sat in the same chair with my eyes closed and assumed the familiar pose, supposedly embodying a sense of strength and curiosity.
I spent 20 minutes noticing my breathing and the noises around me, trying to sit quietly with any troubling thoughts that popped into my head.
And it was all right. In fact, it was much the same as it was when I last gave it up: at least I was doing something to combat stress and getting a bit of restful ‘me’ time’.
But one of the thoughts that did occur to me was: “This isn’t as good as running.”
That’s because running is The Dogs when it comes to Mindfulness, IMHO.
Because – if what you’re after is turning down the volume of your worries by reconnecting with your surroundings – what’s better than going outside and running slowly around?
Running, you’re so busy listening to your body that thoughts fly away”
And if you’re after a form of concentration so strong that depressed thoughts can’t penetrate, may I point you to your nearest hill and suggest you try running up it?
That’s why running is mindful, because, going uphill, no-one has room in their head to debate “Why did she say that?” or “I’m useless”. You’d have no choice but to stop moving if you wanted to continue with that sort of thinking.
But if you keep running, you’re so busy listening to your body, or calculating how many steps you are from the top, that worries just fly away…
It’s also highly mindful to count steps as you run, because if you’re focusing on counting and keeping safe, very little harmful chat can get into your nut.
In fact, in my experience, anything that does get in tends to be endorphin-laced and therefore highly positive.
Some of the deepest thoughts I’ve had running are: “Well done!” and “Stronger than you thought, eh?”, which kind of makes my point for me: you can’t really think when you run.
Many runners feel more creative after they’ve been for a run, precisely because they’ve just spent a fair time not thinking”
Of course, many runners feel much more creative after they’ve been out for a run, precisely because they’ve just spent a fair time not thinking.
If you can train yourself to complete a 10k, or even a three-miler, that’s a lot of time not thinking difficult or rubbish thoughts, for a change. So it’s no wonder that your mind feels rested and uncluttered afterwards.
My missus occasionally rolls her eyes at my running because it isn’t a hobby that I have anything to show for – beyond a lot of sweaty T-shirts and a few half-marathon medals stuffed in a drawer somewhere.
It doesn’t look much, compared to the beautiful garden she’s created this summer, or the lashings of fruit and veg she’s grown.
But running has bought huge benefits to my physical and mental health which go way beyond a flat-ish stomach and endorphin highs. Because when I’m running, I’m being properly mindful.
I might be a bit old school for this nicey-nicey New Age stuff”
I’m not saying that I won’t give meditation-based mindfulness another go – because soon there’ll come a time when I can’t run anymore, and just being able to “sit” with my thoughts until they go away might well be a skill I need.
One day, I might be able to have an uncomfortable idea and just look at it in a spirit of kindness and compassion, like the guided meditations say.
But, at the moment, when I think of that phrase, I always imagine an indulgent Dad patting a favourite daughter on the head – even though she’s just punched her brother.
Deep down, I suspect I might be a bit old school for this kindness and compassion lark.
I first started therapy in the 80s, when Shrinks told you to wear an elastic band on your wrist – ready to snap it whenever you caught yourself entertaining a destructive thought*.
So maybe it’s not surprising that I prefer to run out my demons – where the cure also involves a bit of pain – instead of that nicey-nicey New Age stuff.
* I gather that this technique is frowned upon these days. Can’t think why…