How one athlete is changing the conversation around mental health.
Finding time to work and work out is a struggle. I know I’m not alone, because, on some days, my gym is practically silent. Meditation has been helpful for me at work for the past year, but I wondered if it could help me in the gym, too.
So when I noticed a Running single in the Headspace app on my phone, I figured I’d give it a try. If it can help me focus when I’m doing a boring task at work, maybe it could help me on the treadmill, too.
The Running single is broken into two sessions, and in the first session, Andy recommends that you run outside, but since it was 100 degrees on a sunny Colorado day, I figured he would understand if I kept it indoors this time. I’ve been a regular gym-goer for years now, and I typically begin with a thorough warm-up. In the back of my mind, I figure there’s nothing Andy can say that could improve upon my already very impressive warm-up sequence.
But then he tells me to take a few deep breaths, and boy does that change things for me. How come I’ve never done this before? It’s such a simple act—one I look forward to each day when I sit down to meditate. I never thought it’d be applicable in the gym, but here we are. Seconds earlier, I felt exhausted just thinking about going on this run. But after a few deep breaths, I felt energized, like my brain just did a warm-up routine of its own. “Let’s run,” I told myself.
Normally when I’m on the treadmill, I hit play on “This American Life” or a comedy podcast and do my best to ignore my surroundings. I don’t want to listen to the repetitive dance music they pump through the speakers, or even worse, listen to the heavy breathing of my sweaty neighbors. I certainly don’t want to listen to my own breath or think about how much time is left before I can get off the treadmill.
So when Andy recommended that I pay attention to what was around me, I found it wasn’t as bad as I’d been dreading. It helped pull me into the present. I didn’t even miss Ira Glass’ dulcet tones. Most importantly, it made the hardest part of running somewhat less painful. The first few minutes of running are when my body loudly complains about being jostled from sitting in a desk chair all day to doing something physical. For some reason, paying attention to my surroundings made it less painful.
As the Running single played on, boredom from not having a podcast to focus on started creeping in. But then Andy’s voice asked me to pay attention to my feet hitting the floor. He said I could also count the steps if I was distracted easily. When I’m tired, I tend to be even more susceptible to distraction, so I started counting.
I counted each stride to 10, then started over again. I focused on that. While concentrating on my steps, I wasn’t focused on how long I’d been running. My mind didn’t drift off to think about the bills I had to pay when I got home or the fact that I’d slept poorly. One of the most difficult parts of running on a treadmill is convincing myself I don’t need to take a break. But when I was present with each stride, I didn’t think about stopping.
From listening to the Running single intro, I know there are myriad benefits to being more present when you run. It can potentially improve your technique since you’re able to be present with what your body’s doing. It can also lead to you running more consistently, which makes sense to me—I’m certainly more open to doing an activity I don’t dread.
Most interestingly, Andy reminded me that there’s no pressure to be present for every single stride. The next time I run, it’s likely I’ll still get distracted, and feel tired, and want to quit. But each time I go for a run and listen to the Running single, I’ll likely be present a little bit more than the time before. I’ll build better habits, and not need to distract myself during each run. Maybe one day I’ll even like running!
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.