Running With MINDfulness

Ben Fraser

As runners, we know the benefits that running can have both mentally and physically, but have you ever considered its use for being more mindful?  


The mind and body have a special relationship – both depend on each other to work in unison and without one, the other falters.  Exercise releases powerful chemicals called endorphins into the brain, these energise your spirit and make you feel good! The benefits of exercise don’t stop there! It encourages better sleep, more energy, a sharper memory, better concentration and a heightened level of self-esteem. All of which can be obtained from taking part in as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise several times a week.  


The NHS have long supported the benefits exercise can deliver in lessening the negative effects of mental health conditions such as depression.  Depression is a mental health illness that affects 350 million people, worldwide. Depression perpetuates a feeling of sadness for a long period of time, faltering one part of that mind and body unity. It can cause sleep deprivation, loss of appetite and constant fatigue; a select few of a wide range of symptoms.  


Since October, Run Leeds have worked with Leeds Mind – an independent charity delivering services to people living with mental health conditions – to set up a beginner run group, in Horsforth. The group is open to staff, clients and friends and is a current mainstay for people to explore the benefits of physical activity for their mental health.


In reality it hasn’t been an easy journey for those attempting to tap into the perceived benefits of exercise and running. Bindu and Sally, two group members, shared some personal insight:  



For me it is still a love and hate relationship. I dread coming but when I do it I feel good about it, so I try to focus on that feeling, when I’m coming I know that I will feel like that afterwards – it keeps me coming back  



I’ve discovered my own strategy which is to go really slowly and if I do that I can keep going and do a couple of rounds or laps. Yet, there is always that moment of doubt when I come – am I going to be able to run this time?


Mindfulness (originating from Buddhism and the practice of meditation) is a technique focused on centering your thoughts on the present and avoiding a manifestation of negative feelings. You can disconnect the religious and spiritual new age connotations and still understand how focusing on your body as you exercise is an effective way to disrupt the stream of constant worries flowing through your head. Mindfulness is a step towards becoming more aware of your feelings and more in control of how you react to them.


Thus why we believe that running and meditation go hand in hand. “By letting go of thoughts and coming back to our immediate physical experience, we find that our body softens and our mind feels lighter, more joyful.” Your feet and your breath are those big indicators that will keep your mind in the present moment, if you veer off… bring it back to those footsteps or your breathing!  


The regulars at the Leeds Mind group have shown great self-determination to enjoy the present during running.



It feels like a real achievement and that is really good because when you struggle with mental health problems you have a lack of that sense of achievement and it’s nice to have that feeling from running



I can feel my stamina has improved in my body and I feel mentally stronger


Lynn, another regular, commented on why she kept coming back in all weathers:

The beginner running group gave me a purpose in life, even if it was for just one evening a week – I had something to look forward to. I would usually avoid being part of a group but I’ve made some good friends who understood my mental health issues and made the running enjoyable


The group have recently started a second session from another Leeds Mind building, housing the Workplace Leeds project, led by Mark, a newly qualified run leader, who only recently broke his own cycle of inactivity.



You delivered it with humour and made it accessible to a fat lad here that thought he would never run – I’ve sat for 5 years drinking beer and doing nothing, it’s made a massive difference to that!


The group are now on their way to running regularly twice a week, led by Mark and Beth. The group continue to share some of their next goals: parkruns, Fell runs and the wish to simply continue running as a mindful practice and the team here at Run Leeds wish them the best of luck!


We look forward to hearing more of your stories of the benefits of social running. 



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