Beginning your run in a mindful way can add focus, purpose and a sense of connection to your run. For some, it can even lead to improvements in performance and stamina.
The four-stage grounding process detailed below is a great way to make yourself present with what you’re feeling and where you are before beginning your run. I do this with my clients but it’s just as effective alone.
1. The Body Scan
Find somewhere you feel comfortable and isn’t too noisy or busy. Sit down, or if you prefer lying down, find some grass. The body scan’s role is to locate you in your own body in the here and now. All too many of us are adrift in the past or worrying about the future. This scan from the crown of the head to the end of your toes is ideal for raising levels of awareness and setting up the session. Unfold crossed legs and arms (although sitting cross-legged is fine), take a couple of big breaths and relax.
Notice how your body feels when you’re sitting on the grass or bench. Allow your body to settle more fully and notice the points of contact and accompanying sensations. Take a couple more big breaths and again, sensing your body’s weight, noticing how you move with each breath. Allow yourself to settle fully. Release your shoulders downwards, feeling your head gently rising up. Notice how and where your body moves as you breathe.
Remember you are not trying to achieve relaxation or anything else. You are just directing your attention to different parts of your body and being aware of the sensations you find there in as much detail as possible. Just try to stay with the experience as best you can – remember, there is no right way or wrong way to do this.
Now, beginning with the top of your head, become aware of your body from top to toe. As you work your way down, try to sense each part individually as you go, noticing whatever sensations you may come across.
Notice your forehead, your nose, your top and bottom lips, your chin. If you notice any tension try breathing into it gently, noting what qualities you find there in as much detail as you can. Do the sensations change as you breathe in and out of this place of tension?
Continue down the neck to the shoulders, chest, arms, thighs and finally down the legs. Finish at the end of either the big or small toe.
During this process, notice how your thoughts come and go. Acknowledge them and let them drift away. The goal is to stay in your body, in the moment. Let thoughts come and go and return once more to the practice and your bodily sensations.
2. The Environment Scan
Now turn your attention from your body to the environment you are sitting in. Look around, scanning your surroundings slowly, searching for everything your senses can pick up.
What can you smell? Is it close by? What can you see right in front of you? Listen – what can you hear? How many different sounds can you discern?
As with the body scan, the goal is just to be present, just to notice. You don’t have to notice everything or notice it perfectly. Whatever you become aware of, simply acknowledge it, then move on. Become one with the moving sounds and sensations of yourself in this place.
3. The Emotion Scan
Similar to the body and environment scans, just notice how you are feeling emotionally right now. Not this week, not today, not this morning, the question is what you are feeling right now. By concentrating on the present moment, you learn not to confuse what you have been feeling with what you are feeling.
This might seem obvious, but often a closer examination reveals that a subtle shift we had not been aware of has taken place. Perhaps you have several different feelings simultaneously, which can be confusing – there is no need to identify what they are, just be aware of them. The important thing is not to judge them as pleasant or unpleasant, but to be present.
The fourth and final stage of the grounding process offers a moment to reflect on what you want from your run – if anything. You could focus on something important in your life or dedicate the run to being mindfully connected to the world around you.
See what feels right for you today. Whatever you choose, set off on your run with little expectation. If running mindfully, try counting every other step or breath to 10 then begin again.
About the Author
William Pullen B.Sc., M.A., MBACP (Accred), is a psychotherapist specialising in dynamic running therapy and author of Run for your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life.