First Steps to Holistic Running

By Rick Morris

We were all first attracted to running for a reason. For some of us it was the thrill of competition. For others it may have been to lose a few extra pounds or to get in shape. Some first started running to reduce their daily stress levels. This is just a few reasons we started our running life, there are many more. But is that one reason to run what running is really all about? I don’t think so. Running is a holistic activity. It changes and improves your body, mind and spirit in so many ways, it just can’t be defined or limited by a singular goal. To get started in holistic take your first steps to holistic running.

To become a well balanced runner and reap all of the benefits of running, you should consider becoming a holistic runner; one who runs for many reasons and is able to see the big picture of running. Moving towards a more holistic running life may seem like a major and difficult change, both physically and mentally. It is a significant change to your running life, but it doesn’t need to be difficult. A change of this magnitude is like learning to run all over again, you need to take short steps along the way. Here are some suggestions for your first steps towards a holistic running life.

Expand Your Awareness

Many distance runners tend to zone in on a specific part of their running. Some only pay attention to their running watch and pace. Others may be focusing only on their stride and mechanics. Of course you always need to be cognizant of those phases of running, but try to open your mind and awareness a bit more. Start looking around you and be aware of your environment. Feel the ground under your feet and the sensation of the wind on your body. Listen to the sounds of both nature and your stride. Watch and be aware of the changes in terrain, colors, sounds and smells. Feel the breath enter and leave your body. Be aware of the repeated stretch and rebound of your leg muscles. The more you expand your awareness, the more you begin to recognize and understand that there is way more to running than just your speed, pace and distance.

Body Focus

As a distance runner, I have no doubt you are very aware of your body. You feel your muscles working and at some point, feel the growing fatigue. Now take that body focus deeper. Try to become aware of your breathing, the rhythm of your feet. Begin to not only feel your breath, but feel the actual energy entering your body. Imagine the energy entering the center of your body and radiating out towards your working muscles. Both hear and feel the steady, light rhythm of your feet. This type of visualization will make you more aware of the synergy of your mind, body and spirit.

Mindfulness Magic

One of the first benefits of running you may notice is a mental relaxation or your ability to zone out or lose yourself in your running. That is one of running’s stress reducing qualities. It takes you to a happy place, away from your everyday problems. For most runners, this mental break is a bit like a lack of thought, like putting your mind to sleep for a while. While that simple technique can be effective in dealing with stress reduction and some types of minor fatigue, it doesn’t provide many holistic running benefits. Instead of zoning out, try just the opposite; become more mindful. In holistic running terms, mindfulness is a form of meditation. It means emptying your mind of those confused, meaningless and random thoughts that are constantly bouncing around in our heads and opening our minds to the more important signals from our body, spirit and the environment. Be mindful of how your body and mind are reacting to your running. Be mindful of the terrain, the wind and the sounds around you. As you become more mindful you will become much more connected to your running, your body, your mind and the environment around you. You will become a physically more powerful, mentally stronger holistic runner.

Spiritual Sparkplug

Spirituality isn’t just a religious term, it refers more to the inner path that you take to discover your true being. Taking a spiritual path as a holistic runner takes practice and training just like any other phase of running. In the case of spirituality, instead of training your body with muscle challenging workouts, you train your mind and spirit by engaging in meditation and contemplation while you run. Just as with mindfulness, empty your mind of those untidy random thoughts and turn your thoughts inward. A good place to start your spiritual practice is by losing your ego and focus on generating thoughts of compassion and kindness to all beings. When you take the focus off yourself and place it on helping others you will become more and more relaxed and content, which are primary attributes of a holistic runner. Another good spiritual technique is to come up with a personally meaningful  mantra that you can recite either silently or out loud as your run. Come up with a mantra or several mantras that really resonate with you. When you become physically or mentally fatigued during a run, the mantra recitations can transform negative thoughts or feelings to more positive ones.

Step Out of the Box

One of the most important steps in becoming a holistic runner is avoiding a running rut. Nothing will dig you a deeper running rut than doing the same runs and workouts over and over again. Climb out of your running rut by stepping out of the box and leaving your comfort zone. If you always run on the road, hit the trail. If you always run on flat terrain, do some hill running. Mix up your paces and your running intensities. Don’t always run for the same reason. If you are a highly competitive runner, do some runs just for the love and fun of running. If you only run at easy pace, go out and enter a race for some challenging runs. Kick off your shoes and try some barefoot running. The universe of running is endless. Get out there and experience it all.

Lose the Attachments

Many distance runners, especially competitive athletes, become very attached to one style of running and training. Their ego forces them to have the mistaken belief that their way is the only way. Some 5K specialists think that marathon runners don’t work hard because of the more moderate speeds. Some marathon runners think that milers are lazy and unmotivated because they don’t endure the longer distances. Proponents of standard block style periodization think that their method is the only one with value because it has been used the longest. Some of those that use multi pace periodization say that block style periodization is old school and not longer valid. My point here is that all types of running and training have merit and can add to your holistic running knowledge and ability. So lose your attachments and don’t let your ego turn you into a running snob.