Mindful running by acronym

Despite the fact that I’ve run less this Summer (fewer miles AND fewer runs), I’ve made it a point of emphasis to be more mindful during my running.

One of my main challenges in becoming a more regular meditator is that I do some of my best thinking while I run, so I decided to turn a weakness in to a strength to see if I could get the physical benefits of my run with the emotional benefits of mindful meditation. And since I usually feel better emotionally after I run I figured I was already doing some form or mindful meditation, it was just my legs and not Headspace, guiding me.

Getting started: breathing & Step-counting:
My first forays in to mindfulness had to do with a very regimented approach to dealing with the breath and counting my steps. If you’ve read my blog posts about running, you know that steps and footfalls are pretty important to the more forefoot-strike running stride I’ve been using for several years, but counting steps and putting so much emphasis on how my foot lands is only part of the solution I wanted.

I haven’t blogged about it here previously, but checking in with my feet – mostly listening to how loud my footfalls are and trying to make them quieter – is a good solution for me. I tend to lose some of the natural rhythm of my running when I think too much about my feet. Given my footwear choices, listening for my strides being too loud is a better analog for measuring how I’m running then counting or forcing my forefoot to land first (something that ends up feeling, for me at least, just a bit too much like prancing).

Likewise breathing while running should come naturally and not feel forced, labored or otherwise shoe-horned into some concept of right vs. wrong. I had attempted a 3-strides-in/2-strides-out approach after reading an article in Runner’s World mostly as a way of combatting a problem I didn’t have: side cramps. The article contended that alternating the intake of each breath on left and right footfalls could ward off cramps and curtail any lopsided hitches in stride and performance.

For me it boiled down to too much mental effort trying to solve a nonexistent problem. Much like the footfalls exercise, it also made me feel less in tune with my body and my run instead of the opposite, which is my overarching goal.

So what did I do? I made an acronym!
I’m probably just a touch OCD, so thinking about a relevant acronym that captured the kinds of mental activities that, for me at least, helped me get in to a mindful space during my running made perfect sense.

I’ve been reading my way through Wherever You Go, There You Are and I’ve been struck by the concept of a dignified posture for meditation. With “D” as my starting letter here, then, is my acronym: D.R.I.V.E.

D. Dignified posture
R. Relaxed face
I. In(ward)s & Out(ward)s
V. Vertical spine
E. Energetic lower body

D. Dignified posture
Starting at the very top of my head, I imagine I’m a dignified person, a dignitary or at the very least a runner with some sense of dignity. I try to do the same thing as I sit and meditate, so this is the logical running extension. Your interpretation may vary, but having a dignified running posture is as descriptive or prescriptive as I try to be, physically.

R. Relaxed face
Thinking my way down from the top of my head, I focus on how much tension I’m carrying in my forehead, cheeks and especially my eyebrows. You’d be surprised how much more focused and mindful a run can become if you stop furrowing and start thinking through your emotions. It also helps with breathing. Which leads to …

I. In(ward)s & Out(ward)s
This is the step where I think about my breathing, but also the step where I check that I’m abiding by the list items that come before and after it.

I called it “In(ward)s & Out(ward)s” for two reasons:

  1. Literal – The ins and outs of the breath
  2. Figurative – To check that my body (inner world) is aware and abiding by these rules so that I can be equally mindful of the world I’m running (outer world)

V. Vertical spine
I realize I ought to be leaning slightly forward to generate the proper momentum and encourage forefoot striking.
I know that I’ve already mentioned posture with my first rule (D. Dignified posture)
I find that thinking of a straight and vertical spine is helpful.
I honestly needed a word that started with “v” to keep the acronym alive.
I like this rule.

E. Energetic lower body
Some days I have dead, tired legs. Other days my turnover rate (cadence) is too slow. Sometimes the whole locomotion just seems wonky. Thinking about keeping my energy level high in my lower extremities tends to improve all of these things at once.

Funny how much better a run can become if you accept the fact that you need to be running and not just loping your way aimlessly and mindlessly down the street.

I’ll grant you that my acronym isn’t as simple as just concentrating on the correct sitting posture or focusing on the breath, but I’d argue that running is an altogether more complex task than “simple” meditation. Plus, while I might meditate for 10 minutes at a time, my average run is more than half an hour in length.

In other words, I’ve got some time to kill, doing something sophisticated and multivariate so I might as well do some thinking and apply some structure to my mindfulness.

Of course I could also be overthinking things and not allowing myself to actually experience my run, but a standard set of rules to follow to keep myself aware of my mind, my body and my run seems pretty reasonable. I want to experience my run, not just suffer or slog through it to tick a box.

Your mileage may vary. Literally.

For another take on running and meditation, here’s Sakyom Mipham:

In the end I like that I can honor the drive it takes to simply put in the work, the practice, of lacing up my shoes and running with my D.R.I.V.E. acronym.

Until next time, enjoy your run and your meditation. That’s all I’m trying to do.

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