At parkrun, you can simply start by showing up. Mindfulness Coach Davina Driver, from Dømmesmoen parkrun in Grimstad, Norway, takes us through some practical mindfulness strategies to help us appreciate everything that parkrun, and our surroundings, have to give.
I recently read a book that got me thinking about parkrun as a place where something magical happens every week. And how we should try to live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. To apply a cliché, it is only by stepping outside our comfort zones that real magic can happen.
At parkrun, this can simply mean showing up. It doesn’t mean running as hard or as fast as possible, or achieving a personal best every week, or coming first. It simply means being there and doing what you can, with what you have, on that day. Some Saturdays will be better than others. Motivation may swing from week to week. Your heart may feel heavier or lighter depending on your mood. None of this matters, so long as you commit to coming. Just show up.
As a Mindfulness Coach, I can also recommend some strategies that can be intentionally applied to support your commitment to simply showing up.
1. Check in with yourself. Notice where your body is at today. Do you feel energised or sluggish? Whatever, go with it. Listen to what your body needs. If it wants to be pushed, great! If it needs a gentler morning, accept it.
2. Tune into your breath. Allow it to anchor you. Notice where you feel it. Do you feel it in your chest? In your belly? In the sides of your body? In your back? Then try to get a sense of your whole body breathing as you enjoy your parkrun. You can actually practice meditation when walking, running or volunteering by focusing on the inhale and the exhale and gently returning your attention to this every time your mind wanders.
3. Be present in the moment. Bring conscious awareness to your movement. If you are participating with someone else, connect with them. Listen attentively, give them your full attention.
4. Use your five senses. Try ditching the headphones! Enjoy being outside in nature. What can you see/hear/smell/taste/touch? This is a great strategy for bringing a sense of awareness to the present moment. If you are volunteering and out early on the course or standing in a remote spot, enjoy the quiet. Listen to the birds, watch the sunrise, smell the air, look at the leaves.
5. Notice your thoughts without judgement. parkrunning provides us with a precious space for noticing what is happening in our usually busy and preoccupied minds. Try to watch your thoughts float past like clouds. Try not to over-identify with or ignore specific thoughts. Let them pass. Notice how fluid your thoughts are and how the state of your mind is constantly changing. Pay attention to which thoughts are on the periphery and which are more dominant. Is there anything you need to attend to or take action on? This is a great opportunity to develop a sense of clarity in the mind.
6. Practice self-compassion. If your parkrun is not going as you wished or your mind is busy and you feel stressed, tell yourself that you are doing your best. You are up and out on a Saturday morning! You are moving! You are breathing! It’s all good! Keep it simple.
7. Practice compassion towards others. Listen actively when another person speaks to you. Appreciate the efforts of others to get out on a Saturday morning. Just as you are doing your best, they are too. Try to get a sense of the common humanity at parkrun, the shared experience. Consider the African concept of Ubuntu – I am because we are. If you are participating by yourself, enjoy being alone together.
8. Show gratitude. For your health. For each other. For the community. For the great outdoors. For your new running shoes. Whatever you are grateful for, intentionally bring it to mind and say a quiet thank you. Regular gratitude practice reduces stress and makes us feel happier! If you are feeling low in spirits, remember that appreciation is the easiest positive emotion to move towards.
9. Just be. Show up. Mindfulness is about non-striving. See what you can do on this day. That’s where the magic happens! As the saying goes, we don’t need a handful of people doing it perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. Let go of your own high expectations. If you are reading this and you are too scared to try parkrun until you are “good enough” (I know there are lots of you out there…) just turn up! You don’t need to be fit to start parkrunning.
10. Tread lightly. Have fun! Laugh. Don’t take it too seriously. Embrace showing up. Most of all, remember, it’s only parkrun. Don’t turn it into a big deal. No matter your performance or mood, it will be there, every Saturday, waiting for you to show up.
Jeannette Liebig was a keen parkrunner, going every Saturday morning until she was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. It was only in the following weeks and months that she recognised the significance the parkrun community had on her life. Exercise has always been important to me. My husband, Alex, quit smoking years ago…
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