Running is a type of moving, or dynamic, meditation. I enjoy focusing on specific aspects of this movement when I’m jogging on the trail or the road, as I find that I can more easily slip into a meditative state this way. I do try to be aware and appreciative of my surroundings (especially when I’m running on the beautiful trails here in the North Carolina mountains), but I also enjoy concentrating on three simple things that help enhance my efficiency and enjoyment of the activity: Nasal breathing, arm swing, and pushing through my forefoot for maximum toe splay with each footfall.
I was first introduced to the idea of nasal breathing during physical activity through chiropractor John Douillard’s book, Body, Mind, and Sport. In his book, Douillard discusses the importance of breathing through your nose during exercise. According to Douillard, breathing through your nose draws air deeper into your lungs than mouth breathing, where it mixes with the greater volume of blood bathing the lower portions of your lung. This means that more oxygen may be absorbed into your blood, which in turn helps decrease your heart rate, reduce the amount of stress on your heart, improve your stamina, and help you recover more quickly from your activity. Exhaling through your nose keeps air in your lungs for a longer period, too, which may help boost oxygen absorption.
When I practice nasal breathing during my runs I get immediate feedback about what kind of effort I’m expending. I run because I enjoy being out in nature, but I also run for the health benefits (I consider running, cycling, and other forms of exercise as true health care and health insurance). My goal is to keep my intensity level at a place where nasal breathing can be performed comfortably, for maximum health gains. If I find myself breathing through my mouth, I take this as a signal from my body to step down my intensity level.
I consciously focus on arm swing when I run because I tend to let my arms dangle in space, unused to their full potential. An even and powerful arm swing can enhance your balance and rhythm, control your tempo, and help propel you forward. It also makes for a surprisingly good upper body workout! I try to avoid cross-body arm swing, focusing instead on driving my hands—unclenched—straight ahead and my elbows straight back. Concentrating on arm swing is one of the key meditations for me when I run, and it helps improve my running form and efficiency.
Wearing men's or women's shoes that allow your toes to splay the way nature intended is extremely important for long-term foot health. But so too is taking advantage of this favorable toe alignment. My third major meditation for running involves focusing on each footfall and how I’m propelling myself forward down the trail or road. I consciously focus on the hinging that occurs between my toes and the ball of my foot during the toe-off phase of running gait, as my body rolls up and over my forefoot and toes, which are still planted. I then focus on pushing through my forefoot into the ground, feeling the incredible splay in my toes just before toe-off. This feeling is especially apparent when I use my Correct Toes in combination with Injinji toe socks and metatarsal pads or Strutz foot pads. I believe it’s important to consciously focus on toe splay with each footfall to enhance efficiency and reduce the chances of musculoskeletal injury.
So there you have it! Nasal breathing, arm swing, and toe splay are three simple and helpful meditations you can perform when running to enhance your experience and develop great running technique.