Running, like many activities, provides its greatest benefits if done regularly. The habit itself also gives structure to the day: a predictable slot of time that promotes mental balance and physical health. But it’s easy to fall into a routine, where running becomes less about an activity to savour, and more a box to check off in the one’s long list of responsibilities. Worse, it can turn into simply a chore to get through, that is best accomplished with a distraction like listening to music or a podcast.
As a competitive runner, I never used to listen to music when I ran: it was considered amateurish by most runners at that high level. But as I aged, I fell into the habit, trying to distract myself from the difficulties (and occasional tedium) of the run, allowing my attention to be mostly on the music.
Recently, however, I’ve come to feel that music just clutters my mind, and prevents me from experiencing all the beautiful things about distance running: the natural surroundings and my own functioning body. I am finding that I don’t want to distract myself from the act of running, but to embrace it. So I quit habit of listening to music when I run.
As a result, I’ve been paying more attention to the sounds around me as hit the road, and finding a kind of music in the activity itself. If you listen for it, there is music in the very motions when you run: the staccato drum beat of your feet hitting the ground, the (wind instrument?) of the breath. One can also bring awareness to sounds in your environment: the wind in the trees, the rumble of traffic in the distance or up close. Birdsong, the sounds of other runners. It all comes together, seemingly generated by your pumping muscles and movement through time and space.
It’s also possible that a different kind of music comes with sight: with the fleeting perspective of passing trees, with the distant bassoon clouds.
Staying present when you run should be easy, but it’s not. The mind is always racing ahead on the coarse, fantasising, picking over problems etc. Listening for the music of running brings the mind back to where it should be: to that moment in time, which can never be replicated or repeated.
For more mindfulness activities, check here.