The Art of Mindful Running: Meditation Apps & Techniques to Enhance Your Runs

The idea of mindful running, sometimes called meditation running, may seem foreign to you, but you’ll be surprised to know that you’ve probably already done it. Several times.

If you’ve ever run with earbuds listening to music or a podcast to check out, you’re halfway there. Many of us listen to audio to get through our runs, but the idea of mindful running is to get into our runs.

Mindfulness and running don’t have to be practiced separately. If you like killing two birds with one stone, mindful running can double the benefits while halving the time spent.

Below, we’ll look at mindful running – what it is, how to practice mindful running, meditation apps to use, and techniques to enhance your runs. Deep breath in… breathe out… Let’s go.

What Is The Point of Mindful Running?

Mindful running

Mindful running allows you to turn what may feel like a chore into an adventure and relaxing activity. It gives you mental clarity and deeper meaning and gives your brain time to heal and process while allowing your body to get fitter and stronger.

If you ever run on technical trails or along a new route, you’ve likely done meditation running. Meditation isn’t used to clear your mind (contrary to popular belief) – it’s used to become present in the moment. On rugged trails or unknown routes, your focus is in the present so you don’t fall or get lost. This keeps your present, concentrating on right now.

This is a common, simple example of how you’ve likely already used running as meditation. The best part about mindful running is that it can be done while running. 

Naturally, your mind will wander, and distracting thoughts will creep in, which is expected and normal. Acknowledge those thoughts, then bring yourself back to the present. Pin those thoughts for later – don’t fall down the rabbit hole.

By learning the art of mindful running, you can tap in to that famous “runner’s high” and unleash a wave of positive endorphins.

Why Practice Mindful Running?

Practicing mindful running has several benefits beyond your physical health and fitness. Being in the present minimizes your risk of injury because you’re looking for tripping hazards. If you’re listening to music and zoning out while running, you may miss the mud pit, tree root, or rock in your path.

When you run with your mind in the present, you keep other worries and thoughts at bay. You don’t allow outside concerns to impact the moment. Instead of allowing work commitments or home responsibilities to overwhelm you, you allow your run to be your time of peace and calm, to enjoy a mental reset.

Running meditation isn’t just great for mindfulness, though. It also helps improve your running. If you want to run longer or faster, your thoughts are most likely holding you back. Mindful running increases your ability to ignore the thoughts telling you to slow down or stop. This means you can push through fatigue and aches to keep running.

It can sound counter-productive learning to think about ‘nothing’, but this actually one of the best ways we know to counter boredom while running.

How to Practice Mindful Running

Mindful running isn’t hard, but it takes some practice. After all, most of us are already world class experts in the art of distraction.

If you prefer zoning out to music rather than tuning into the present, you may need to practice more than others. 

Luckily, we have a few ideas to help you meditate while running. Later, we’ll look at apps that help enhance your runs, but first, let’s cover the techniques to keep you in the present moment.

Count Steps or Breaths

Counting your steps or breaths helps keep you grounded in the present. Create a pattern, like 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3, etc., to count or count in twos, threes, or fives. You could try counting how many steps you take per breath or which foot you land on as you take each breath.

See more: the top breathing techniques for runners

Use Devotions or Mantras

Whether you choose a verse from the Bible or a quote from Rocky, mantras are great for keeping you present and focused. Repeating your favorite positive phrases like I can do hard things, I love the grind, I am strong and tough, and I am grateful my body can do this helps keep you focused. The key is to keep repeating the mantra and focusing on the words.

Acknowledge Discomfort or Aches

Of course, if you’re experiencing intense pain, stop your run immediately. We’re talking about the normal discomfort and aches you experience on your runs. Don’t ignore the twinges, but don’t over-focus on them, either. Acknowledge them and allow your mind to run over the feeling – you’re experiencing this because you’re pushing your body, taking care of it. Put a pin in these feelings and come back to them after your run.

Take In the Sights and Sounds

It may be a stop sign or a bird singing in a tree, but take notice of the sights and sounds you hear as you run along. If you run at sunrise or sunset, watch how the sun slowly appears or disappears beyond the horizon. You may find it easier to focus on what you’re feeling, hearing, seeing, or smelling. For example, as you’re running, say to yourself I feel a cool breeze on my neck, or I see a tall pine tree with green leaves.

Mindful Running Books

Still Running

If you’d like to learn more about mindful running and running meditation, plenty of books are available that explain the benefits and how to practice it properly.

Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham is popular among those looking to learn how to run mindfully. It offers practical, actionable instructions and advice on combining running and meditation. This book helps you reap the benefits of mindful running – both physically and mentally.

Another top-rated mindful running book is Still Running: The Art of Meditation in Motion. It’s written by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, a long-time running and zen practitioner. The book offers practical ways to practice running and meditation. It also focuses on the power and joy of being still and wholehearted living in general.

Mindful Running Apps

The art of mindful running, image via popular meditation app Headspace
The art of mindful running, image via popular meditation app Headspace

If you’d prefer to try guided meditation when running, you can try a running meditation app. If you visit the app store, you’ll be overwhelmed by the options for meditation apps. Below, we’ve reviewed four of our favorites to make it simpler for you to find your favorite.

1. Headspace

Andy Puddicombe, the founder of this incredibly popular app, studied sports science (prior to becoming a Buddhist monk). Using this experience, he created a series of sports packs – 10 sessions of 10 minutes each. These reflective sessions target every part of training, including rehab and recovery, post-performance analysis, and pre-competition mindset.

The training module is very useful and uses a mix of breathing exercises and clear explanations to work through your thoughts so you can dismiss them during your workouts and stay in the present. If you run with AirPods, you can use the meditation feature to keep your mind free and your steps light.

2. Sanvello

This app was designed by psychologists using the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is used to relieve anxiety and stress. While it doesn’t have a program specific to athletes, many tension-taming exercises are easy to use and apply to your life.

You can listen to exercises about handling challenges, mindful eating, and self-belief. The Positive Visualization feature lets you record a verbal affirmation that centers you (for example, I can do hard things), and the app plays it back repeatedly with a calming soundscape, such as cello suite, city din, or ocean waves.

3. Simple Habit

This app has a large library boasting over 1,000 meditation options from 60+ teachers. It tracks your progress and tallies your mindful minutes for each day, week, and month, giving you badges for mindful listening streaks.

The programs can be sorted by goal (sleep better, boost energy), guide, or context (walking, big event, commute, or morning). You can use the “athlete” option to prepare yourself for a race psychologically. The 6-minute guided process quietens negative thoughts and harnesses the power of adrenaline.

4. Smiling Mind

An Australian nonprofit group developed this app on a mission to encourage mindfulness. It’s a 6-module series of guided meditation tracks for athletes and is completely free. The audio is delivered with a calming Australian accent. 

Each track pairs a 10-minute technique (like relaxing and tensing your muscles to minimize stress or recognizing negative emotions without a reaction to them) with a short session that explains how to apply the technique during training. Once you’ve finished all the techniques, you can browse the meditations library for other programs and reflections.

Run For A Healthy Mind

Mindfulness and meditation can happily coexist with running and any other physical activity. You don’t need to sit still or lie down to gain the benefits of mindfulness. Meditating while running allows you to ease anxiety and depression, lower stress, and makes your runs pass faster.

It may take a few weeks of practice before you can remain in the moment for the entire duration of your run, but with the techniques and apps outlined above, we have no doubt you’ll be well on your way to practicing mindful running with ease.

Happy running!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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