Running Meditation: 3 Ways to Train Your Mind & Body on a Run

Is there such a thing as running meditation?

Running does have a wonderful way with the mind. 

Ask any runner why they run, and they’ll give reasons like:

  • It clears the mind
  • It helps me focus
  • It sorts out thoughts
  • It reduces stress

These answers are all related to the health and wellness of the mind.

Now, let’s take it one step farther. 

We already know that running makes the mind feel good, so what if we applied specific feel-good mental exercises to our running practice? 

In other words, let's make running meditation something we can do on the move.

Not all meditation needs to look like this. (Photo/Steve Barber, Unit4media)

Will running meditation upset the yogi gurus?

Some ancient yogi gurus may balk, and even some modern meditation experts, at the suggestion of taking your meditation on the run. 

They may argue that meditation can only happen when seated quietly in stillness with the eyes closed. 

Sure, there’s some good reasoning behind that, but this traditional viewpoint should not keep any runner from taking meditation techniques on the run. 

Let’s look at the meaning of meditation.

Merriam-Webster gives two precise definitions:

med·​i·​ta·​tion | \ ˌme-də-ˈtā-shən  \

Definition of meditation

1: to engage in contemplation or reflection 

2: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness

The new rules of running meditation

With that said, running can easily be described as meditative.

And as modern beings living in a busy world, why not apply meditation techniques to something we already love to do, like running? 

After all, meeting runners where we are is the best way to get us to try something new, or something that can feel forced or difficult, like meditation. 

So, for runners, that means… you guessed it…  “engaging in mental exercise” or “reflection” while running.

Push the two disciplines together and you get "running meditation."

Meditation can look like this - running while implementing meditation techniques is a surefire way to transform your running practice. Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin (Photo/Eric Harder)

3 easy meditations to do while running

The following three techniques I learned and honed as a yoga student and then while training to become a yoga instructor. 

Of the hundreds of meditation techniques that exist, these are the ones I have found most favorable for running.

1. Focus on rhythmic breathing and foot strike

"The breath is the intersection of the body and mind." —Thich Nhat Hanh

I first experimented with rhythmic breathing and running as a yoga teacher in training while reading Running On Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter by Budd Coates.

Running On Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter by Budd Coates.

Ever since, I’ve been hooked on paying attention to the breath while running. 

However, I do not implement Coates’ method exactly as he describes in the book. 

Instead, I have adopted my own method, which: 

  • Does not include counting (as Coates’ method does) 
  • Takes into account my personal breath rate (we all breathe differently) 
  • Works well for trail running
  • Is a more simplified version

This is how it works: 

  • Inhale deeply through the mouth and nose until no more breath can be taken in
  • Execute the exhale as the right foot strikes the earth
  • Inhale deeply again until no more breath can be taken in
  • Execute the exhale as the left foot strikes the earth

Keeping in tune with the Running on Air method, I alternate the exhales with the right foot strike then left, over and over. 

The difference is that I do not count the foot strikes or duration of breath, something that felt too complicated and induced a feeling of hyperventilation. 

Nonetheless, I recommend reading Running on Air for inspiration on finding a breath-centered way to run, a fast track route to turning each run into a mindful experience.

2. Use mantras or power phrases.

Also known as power phrases, mantras are words repeated over and over to achieve a meditative effect.

This is how it works:

Step 1: Choose a set of words that resonates with you as a runner

For example, my favorites include: 

Step 2: While running, repeat the words silently to yourself, or out loud if you’d like. 

Why not? You can often find me singing out loud when running solo. 

Step 3: The mind might stray but keep coming back to the mantra 

Mantras are fun, so get creative, make it personal, and find inspiration everywhere. Perhaps you stick with the same mantra or change it up depending on mood, terrain, type of run, race, etc. 

3. Visualize your dreams.

Visualization is seeing yourself in your mind performing something you’d like to achieve, exactly as you’d like it to unfold. 

It is one of the most popular meditations touted by athletes, and for good reason: it is effective.  

This is how it works:

Step 1: On your next run, visualize in your mind what you want to achieve in real life. It can be running or non-running related. For the purposes of this story, let’s stick with running-related aspirations.

Here are some examples: 

Step 2: Now, picture yourself doing the thing you want to do. 

Your imagery can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like. 

Try asking yourself these questions to conjure a picture in your mind:

  • What are you wearing? 
  • Who is there? 
  • How is your body moving? 
  • How do you feel during the process? (picture happiness!)
  • How do you feel when the goal is finally actualized?
  • What happens in the aftermath? 

Step 3: Most importantly, focus on the positive and on your best self.

Though I find visualization to be a powerful way to transform a run and set dreams into motion, it is also beneficial to practice it while not running.

Afterthoughts on running meditation

I have never begun a run and finished a run in its entirety, from the very first step to the last, engaged in any one of these mediations.

It looks more like this:

  • I begin running with thoughts bouncing around
  • After warming up, I settle into a mediation
  • Some miles go by, and the mind wanders again
  • Eventually I come back to the mediation, or to a different one
  • And sometimes I put on headphones and zone out and consider that my meditation for the day — after all, song lyrics inspire some killer mantras!

The point is, if we keep it simple and easy going, we can easily blend meditation into our running. 

So lace up those shoes, play with finding rhythmic breathing, repeat some power phrases and visualize yourself doing something rad. 

You’ll be happy you did.

More on transforming your running practice: 

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Brynn Cunningham 386
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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