Within my sport psychology practice I’m getting increasingly interested in how athletes can use mindfulness to become more aware of their thoughts. I’m not convinced meditation and mindfulness techniques as a whole work universally, and some of the research starting to come out is suggesting that while they can have a really positive impact for some, for others they can even be harmful. But what I do love about the mindfulness process is the moments of relaxation they give you and the ability to start to notice your thoughts better and become more aware of what is flittering around inside your head. Often these are the things we’ve been trying to squish and ignore but are actually holding us back, filling us with a little bit of dread. Acknowledging them and accepting they are there gives us an option to do something about them.
I was really interested when I saw that William Pullen had bought out a book on Mindful Running. From his work with individuals requesting therapy he has managed to combine some of the benefits of running with the benefits of talking openly and feeling like you are being really listened to. He has turned this idea into; Dynamic Running Therapy. As far as I can see no academic or peer reviewed studies have been run on it but the grounding for it feels sensible. There is a lot of research on the positive impact of running on mental wellbeing. There is a lot of strong research on the benefits of mindfulness. This therapy pulls them together but can feel fairly anecdotal for those approaching it from an evidence-based background.
Pullen’s idea is that the movement of your body helps you get closer to what is going on inside you so you can understand it more and process it better. Depending on the issue you are dealing with; depression, anxiety, relationships, anger or decision making, Pullen offers a bunch of questions for you to ponder while running. These feel helpful as a way to approach mindful running, to give you something to actively chew over. Alongside this, Pullen suggests you keep a diary to track your progress. Training diaries or even daily life diaries can be so beneficial for keeping us aware and switched on with what we are feeling. I also really liked the reminders Pullen included about how we are working to notice our thoughts but that we are not our thoughts. When we get into a negative place it is often difficult to remember this so setting out on a process with this front of mind is helpful.
I feel after reading Pullen’s book that this could be really helpful for some people but it comes with two caveats. Firstly, as a sports psych, most of the people I work with are athletes, and so setting out on run is rarely ‘just a run’ with the option of having enough head space to actively become aware of your thoughts. Even with that as an aim, experienced athletes will be noticing pace, niggles or registering times and heart rates. So this is perhaps not suitable for those who take their running seriously as years of training will have taught them to subconsciously read their bodies, not their minds. Secondly, I think this will be personality dependent. I felt; partially due to the subject matter and partially due to how he writes, Pullen makes dynamic running therapy feel like a hug on the move. Cosy and welcoming for some, off-putting for others.
So if you are interested in how you can use running to increase your mental awareness and potentially wellbeing, and are not already a runner, this maybe an approach for you to consider.