Learn to Run/Walk Mindfully. A virtual mindful running and walking program to help you to keep physically and mentally healthy
This group offers students, staff and faculty the opportunity to take a break, get outside, and run/walk using the basic principles of mindfulness (being present in a non-judgemental mindset). On this page you can access weekly mindful meditations to consider prior to each run/walk. All you have to do set the time aside to do it!
On your own time, whenever works for you!
Location is up to you. However, please make sure to practice social distancing while outdoors and choose routes that are less busy.
All students, staff and faculty are welcome! No experience in mindfulness or running is necessary.
What do I need?
Weather-appropriate exercise clothes. Watch. Running shoes. Yourself. Your dog.
Week 1: Mindfulness & Running (or Walking!)
Welcome to Mind Body Run!
Welcome to the Mind Body Run program at UWaterloo! We are very excited to offer this as a virtual resource that supports physical and mental health in our UWaterloo community.
As you are aware, our focus in this program will be on enhancing physical, mental, and emotional health through the practice of mindful running (or walking). Each week you you can access a mindful reflection and some other information to consider for your run/walk. This is meant to help give you some guidance and focus as you engage in exercise. Additionally, we hope that this group also provides a great opportunity to spend some time outside, soaking in the fresh air.
An Introduction to Mindfulness
To be mindful means to pay attention, in the present moment, on purpose, without judgement. If you are new to mindfulness, here is a great video from Jon Kabat Zin that offers some basic information to help you get started.
Since this is the first week, we don't want to overwhelm you with too much information, so the focus is just on understanding the basic principles of mindfulness and focusing on being present in your run or walk. Try to let go of any expectations, worries, or stressors you are carrying by focusing on being present in your movement today. A good place to start? While you run/walk, consider your senses:
- What sounds do you hear?
- What sights do you notice (anything you have missed before while rushing to class)?
- What scents do you smell?
- What sensations do you feel? Internal to your body (i.e. heart, lungs), external (feet on the ground, wind on your skin)?
- Are there thoughts coming to mind? Notice their presensce, then let them go and focus back on the present in the moment.
- What emotions do you feel? Does this relate to a specific sensation?
As the weeks progress, we will learn to focus our attention more specifically on some of these different areas as we run. For now, just practice being in the present and enjoying your experience! There is no pressure to be fast, this is all about the process, not the results!
Week 2: Focusing on Your Breath
Why Pay Attention to Your Breath?
One of the unique things about your breath is that it is always with you. Because this is true, it is an excellent resource to have to bring you back to the present moment. This can be helpful when you may experience uncomfortable emotions (such as anxiety of stress) or thoughts (such as worry or rumination). Simply focusing your attention on your breath can be a way to ground yourself in the moment you are in, which is the only moment you have control over.
Another interesting thing about your breath is that it is both voluntary and involuntary. That is, if you stop thinking about breathing, you will keep breathing automatically or unconsciously, but if you choose to focus your attention on it, you can also exercise control over the way that you breathe.
Running and Breathing
Running is a great way to bring your breath into your conscious awareness, mostly because your rate of breathing increases as you exercise. Check out this video below for some basic principles on effective breathing when you run (and also when you walk). Here are a few key points to consider:
Breath into your belly, not your chest.
Try breathing through your nose versus your mouth, this promotes stomach versus chest breathing.
Keep your shoulders back and relaxed, not slouched forward and tense.
This week, when you are running (or walking), consider paying attention to your breath by using it as a grounding point for your awareness.
What do you notice about about your breath?
Depth (Stomach? Chest?)
Are you breathing through your nose? Mouth?
How difficult/easy is it?
Is it hard to keep your attention on your breath? What is distracting you? Can you notice when you are distracted and shift your attention back to your breath?
Week 3: Mind Your Thoughts
What is Taking You Away from This Moment?
Last week we discussed the breath as a tool to help you stay grounded in the present moment. Your thoughts are the filter through which you interpret the world around you, they also incfluence and are influenced by your emotions. Therefore, the thoughts that fill your mind play an extremely important role in your experience of the present moment.
Often times, your body may be physically present, but your mind may be time traveling back into the past (rumination), or ahead into the future (worry). Your emotions and actions will largely reflect what is going on in your mind, therefore, it is important to pay attention to the thoughts that take up space in your head!
Running and Your Mind
Many people avoid exercise and running specifically because of the negative labels they associate with this type of activity. They may have certain expectations or ideas about what it means to run. For example: "Running is hard", "I am not a runner", "I hate running", "I'm not very fast", and so on. These thoughts and beliefs can influence how you experience your run. If you think running is a horrible, painful experience, it will likely be one. However, if you keep an open mind, specifically noticing the judgments and assumptions you may have, and then choose to just observe versus believe them, you may be surprised at how your experience of running changes.
(Example: Running in the rain can be something you dread, or it can be seen as a challenge to try something hard that may boost your confidence)
Notice what thoughts are trying to take up space in your mind as you run (or walk). Acknowledge that they are there, and try to observe vs attach yourself and emotions to them.
Notice if there are any assumptions or expectations you have about running. What are they? How do you notice these thoughts impact your experience? Are there other thoughts that might be more gentle and motivating?
Continue to use your breath as a grounding point in the present, as your thoughts wander to other places and times, do not judge yourself, just notice that this has happened and come back to the present moment and your breath.
Week 4: Noticing Sensations
Pay Attention to How You Feel
There are often so many distractions in our external world that we neglect to pay attention to the feelings and sensations that are present inside our own bodies. We tend to ignore early indicators that we are stressed or sick because we are not attuned to the small shifts that may be occuring inside us. This is often how we end up becoming ill, getting injured, and experiencing a major break-down in our mental health.
Practice Doing a Body Scan
A great way to practice noticing the sensations in your body is to try a guided body scan. The purpose of doing a body scan is to turn attention inward to your body in an intentional, non-judgmental way. This is something you can try prior to going for your run this week. Below is an 9 minute body scan you can use.
As you run or walk this week, try to incorporate in informal body scan, moving through your body (head to toes, or vice versa) noticing the different internal sensations you feel. Remember to practice non-judgement, trying your best not to label sensations as good or bad, instead describing them in a more objective way. Here are some things to consider:
What sensations seem to keep demanding your attention?
Do you notice certain sensations that you tend to want to label as good/bad? What are they?
How easy/difficult was it to pay attention to your body in a non-judgmental way?
Week 5: Feel Your Feet
Are Your Aware of Your Feet?
Our feet literally carry us through the day, from point A to point B. But, how often do we take the time to notice and experience the sensations we have in our feet as we move, step by step? Likely, your feet are the last thing on your mind as you are walking or running around. Take a moment, when you have one, and remove your shoes and socks. Walk around in your bare feet and notice what sensations you feel on different surfaces - grass, concrete, dirt, carpet, tile, wood. Notice the temperature, the firmness, texture, and other properties of the ground against your feet. Sense the ground against different parts of each foot, your heels, the balls of your feet, and each individual toe.
This week, as you run or walk, bring the richness of the sensations in your feet to the forefront of your mind. Notice as you move at diferent paces and across different surfaces how your feet feel. To help with this process, imagine your feet are as sensitive as your hands and experience all the nerve endings coming to life with every step. What do you notice? Does your run/walk feel different as you keep this imagery in mind?
Week 6: A Sense of Curiosity
"Chasing curiosity can lead us down a dangerous, challenging, and frightening path. It can also lead us to have the greatest experiences of our lives." - Anonymous
This week's focus is on fostering a sense of curiosity as you run/walk. Our minds love to make judgments and draw conclusions about things, but this can draw our attention away from exploring, observing, and even noticing what is happening right in front of and around us.
The video below is a short segment on cultivating curiosity. Take a few minutes to watch this video and consider how it might inspire your own sense of curiosity.
This week, as you run or walk, bring a sense of curiosity with you and apply it to both yourself and the environment around you. Be curious about sensations, events, experiences, both inside and outside of your body. Notice when you want to make an assumption or a judgment and see if you can re-phrase it in the form of a question. What new things caught your attention and what did you discover during your run/walk today?
Week 7: Your Cadence
What is Cadence?
For runners (and walkers), it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with your cadence. What is cadence? The term cadence refers to the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) that your feet turn over as you move. For those looking to improve their running speed, generally a higher cadence (i.e. more, smaller steps, versus less, larger steps) means preservation of energy at a faster pace. However, it is not always a helpful or necessary goal to run fast. In fact, often it can help to focus on slowing your cadence if you are looking for a more relaxing, enjoyable run. Paying attention to your cadence, as with your breath, can also help you get into a rhythm physically, and even give you an audible, rhythmic sound to focus on. Check out the video below for some additional information on cadence and running.
This week, as you run or walk, notice the cadence of your feet. Consider taking smaller strides and allowing your ears to attune to the rhythmic sound of your feet at a pace you are comfortable at. Go as slow as you need to, there is no pressure to achieve speed. Also, notice what feels different as you consciously pay attention to taking smaller steps with an even pace. Is this challenging? Easy? Do you have the natural tendency to want to speed up? Take bigger strides? Also notice how your breath matches your stride. How many steps do you take for each inhale/exhale?
Week 8: Acceptance: Pain vs. Suffering
Stop Struggling With Yourself
Often times, life can feel like a big struggle. This can certainly be true when it comes to being physically active, whether walking, running, or something else, the effort and discomfort associated with physical movement can sometimes be a deterrant from being active. In earlier weeks, we've talked about noticing some of the different thoughts and sensations we experience while running or walking, and being mindful to observe rather than judge these experiences. This week, our focus is on acceptance of the sensations and, sometimes, discomforts (physical or emotional) that we feel.
Pain vs. Suffering
Inevitably, when we exercise, there is bound to be some level of discomfort, otherwise most of us would exercise a lot more than we do! With running, you may find you experience unpleasant sensations in your body, or even in your emotions if you are feeling bored, anxious, dissappointed, or something else. These initial sensations and/or emotions are part of the human experience. Pain, in this sense, is inevitable, and also not always a bad thing. Pain can draw your attention to something that is important in your body or in your life in general. For example, pain in your hand when you touch a hot stove means you will remove your hand from the stove. This protects you from further injury. In this case, pain, or an uncomfortable sensation, is a good thing.
On the other hand, suffering occurs when you judge yourself for the pain you are experiencing. Ruminating or lamenting over it, getting upset or angry with yourself for experiencing it, creating additional negative thoughts and/or emotions about it. The level of suffering you experience as a result of unavoidable pain is something that is much more in your control. Trying to embrace it, understand it, explore it (be curious!), versus reacting negatively to it can be an initial step in acceptance of pain.
This week, as you run or walk, focus on accepting and embracing uncomfortable sensations and emotions you might be experiencing. Notice when you struggle to do this and then re-focus on descriptive (i.e. "I feel a throbbing in my leg") rather than evaluative (i.e. "Ugh, this sucks") reactions. Consider how hard or easy this process is for you. What impact did it have on your experience of running/walking?
Week 9: Are You Listening?
Are You Listening?
Have you ever really just stopped and listened? Were you surprised at the sounds you heard once you did? We can often tune out many sounds in our environment quite easily, and this is important sometimes since attuning to every little noise we hear throughout the day could get very distracting! However, it can be a great practice in mindfulness, especially during a run or a walk, to tune your ears back in to the sounds around you and inside of you. There are many benefits to practicing mindful listening, from helping you to attune to your environment, your internal self, to being more present in the relationships in your life. Listening and being present in the sound around you can strengthen your connection with the experiences and relationships that make up your life.
The video is a 7 minute listening meditation to help give you a sense of what it is like to listen mindfully.
This week, as you run or walk, your challenge is to leave your phone/music behind. Instead, try to focus on the sounds that you hear both in your external environment and internally in your body (i.e. your breath, your heartbeat). What do you notice? Are certain sounds connected to specific thoughts? Emotions? Sensations?
This meditation concludes the nine week Mind Body Run program. Feel free to refer back to this website anytime in the future as you engage in mindfulness, running, and/or walking. Thank you for participating in this experience!
About the Program Developer?
Cassie Smith (MC, RP, CCC) is a Psychotherapist at the University of Waterloo, and is also a competitive ultramarathon runner (that means she likes to run really long distances of 50km or more!). In the past few years she’s been a member of the Canadian National Trail Team and has had the honour of representing Canada at the World Trail Championships for Ultrarunning. While Cassie really enjoy competing, she mostly loves the whole running experience and finds that it is a great way to connect with her mind, body, and emotions while getting in some exercise and good old Vitamn D. She has found the running community to be one of the most positive, inspiring, and welcoming places to be, and her hope is that she will recruit you to share in that awesome experience with her! Happy Running!