Running as a Mindfulness Practice for Happiness and Well-being
by Lizette Militar, Go WOW Team Certified Run Coach
In 2009, Bronnie Ware wrote a blog article that has been rippling out to readers ever since. By 2012, more than 8 million readers had read her post, titled Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, and Ware went on to write a memoir based on the impact writing that article has had on her own life.
Her article and book, a bestseller translated in 27 languages, invite us, not to look at our past with regret, but to look forward towards our future with hope and inspiration:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Certainly life’s circumstances will guide us to the opportunities for change that are presently available to us, but regardless of where we are in our lives, we can usually find a way to be happier. So what does it mean to be happier? The Greater Good Science Center based at UC Berkeley uses this definition by Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness:”
Happiness is the experience of joy, contentment or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.
The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being. It’s one of many resources now available that use both neuroscience and psychology to study experiences such as happiness and consciousness. One of their most popular infographics is The 6 Habits of Happiness Worth Cultivating, which is shared here (it’s that awesome).
It’s no surprise that these habits help foster a sense of well-being. As a runner and member of Go Wow Team, I’ve experienced first-hand how running with a group can be an enjoyable way to exercise on a regular basis and cultivate the social connections that are so important to physical and social wellness. And yet I often enjoy running for hours alone in the early mornings.
These solo runs offer the opportunity to practice mindfulness while running.
This is best experienced in an environment that is safe from cars and other hazards, such as a path or trail. When running as a mindfulness practice, there are many aspects that you can focus on:
- Start by paying attention to your breathing, each inhale and exhale, the rhythm of your breathing, the transition from inhale to exhale.
- Notice each foot strike, right foot, then left foot, back to right, and the transition from one foot to another.
- How is your stride, your arm swings, and your posture?
- Notice your body, starting at the top of your head and moving down your neck, shoulders body, glutes, and legs. Do you feel any tightness?
- How is your energy level, your pace? How “in sync,” “in flow” or “in the zone” are you feeling?
If you are brand new to mindfulness practices, there are a number of resources available. One of my early favorites has been Headspace, co-founded by Andy Puddicombe, a Buddhist monk who wants meditation and mindfulness accessible to everyone. Check out his wonderful TED talk, All it takes is 10 mindful minutes.
Photo by Ristaino Photography