Experienced runners often describe the euphoric feeling of being “in the zone” or “on a runner’s high.” These are the moments when running is empowering, and because these runners achieve such synergy between their mind and body, they can go farther for longer periods while actually enjoying the experience.
Increasingly, runners are making the connection between meditation and enhanced performance. This is because meditation teaches people important techniques to channel their mental and physical energy in more positive ways.
A Runner’s World article about the benefits of meditation explains that meditation “can help your mind process emotions, contributing to your overall wellness and stress management.” This is especially helpful for runners who must push beyond internal and external distractions that could derail a run.
The article goes on to cite several studies that confirm the advantages that meditation has for runners, including enhanced mindfulness, positivity, endurance, and post-run recovery.
Meditation can help you get “in the zone”—when you are so absorbed in your run that it feels effortless, an experience that has been associated with peak performance. A 2009 study in the Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology, following long-distance runners who used the MSPE program co-developed by Dr. Kaufman, showed improvements in mindfulness and awareness and decreases in sport-related worries and perfectionism—factors that may aid runners in reaching that flow state.
“If you’re thinking about your time and if you’re thinking about the end result of the race, it’s really hard to get into that rhythm, it’s really hard to get into that flow. By letting go of the outcome and instead focusing on what’s happening right now, which is one of the big targets of attention that we talk about, then that can help us get more into the state of flow,” Kaufman says.
Meditation can also improve your perception of pain and fatigue, which may prevent you from giving up or slowing down on the run. A 2020 study in Neural Plasticity showed athletes who completed mindfulness training improved endurance performances by having a higher threshold for exhaustion. And a 2021 study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that following the completion of a mindfulness-based training program, female college students reported decreases in their perception of exercise intensity and other negative feelings, such as fatigue, following an 800-meter run.
The takeaway here: If your brain thinks you have more gas in the tank, your body can push harder, or at least enjoy the run a bit more.
Additionally, meditation can get you back on your feet sooner following a workout or injury. A 2021 study in the Journal of Athletic Training found mindfulness training, in conjunction with traditional physical therapies, reduced pain while running, improved coping strategies, and decreased pain catastrophizing in patients with knee pain.
And a 2000 study in the Journal of British Sports Medicine showed that runners who practiced meditation exercises as part of a relaxation training significantly decreased their blood lactate concentration—which is an indirect marker for fatigue in exercising muscles—after exercise. This is just another reason to take a rest day, and using some of that time off from running to meditate may get you back on your feet sooner