Get Your Head in the Game: These Meditation Apps Can Help

Mindfulness might improve your running, and your smartphone can serve as your guru. Options exist for every kind of runner.

Meditation isn’t just for the yogis. Honing your focus also pays dividends for runners and other endurance athletes.

In one recent study, cyclists who participated in a sports-specific meditation program experienced positive changes in the way their brains responded to physical challenges. In another, young athletes reported feeling more focused and better recovered after three months of mindfulness training.

That research caught my eye as I aimed to step up my mental game in preparation for the Berlin Marathon a few years back. Looking for guidance, I turned to psychologists and mental skills coaches—in the app store.

There, I found a wide array of programs with guided meditations: audio tracks that range from one to 45 minutes in length, all designed to increase a listener’s ability to focus on the present moment without anxiety or judgment.

Here’s a guide to programs that might help, based on your running personality. Bonus: Several of these apps are offering free classes and trial offers during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the runner who’s on trend: Headspace

The founder of this popular app, Andy Puddicombe, once led Jimmy Fallon and the audience in a two-minute meditation on The Tonight Show. So I went ahead and climbed on his bandwagon and found lots of options for athletes—Puddicombe studied sports science before becoming a Buddhist monk. There’s a series of 10-session sport “packs”—consisting of daily 10-minute reflections—targeting just about every phase of training, including pre-competition, post-performance analysis, and recovery and rehab. I’ve found the “training” module highly useful—through a combination of clear explanations and breathing exercises, it’s taught me how to note my thoughts and then dismiss them so I can stay focused during workouts. And though I don’t personally run with headphones, if you do, there’s a meditation you can use on the run to keep your steps and mind light, free, and natural.

For the anxious runner: Sanvello

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Let’s all claim victory for making it through another week! We hope you found some moments of joy, no matter how small. From that perfect cup of coffee to a walk in the fresh air, the simple things matter. What always makes you smile?

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Psychologists designed this app based on cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment that can relieve stress and anxiety. Though it lacks an athlete-specific program, many of the brief tension-taming audio exercises—most clock in under 10 minutes—could easily be applied to a runner’s life. One on handling challenges might help you cope with the aftermath of a setback or disappointing performance; a mindful-eating meditation could aid in proper fueling; and one on motivation aims to boost your belief in yourself and your ability. My favorite by far is “Positive Visualization”: You can record your own verbal affirmation (mine: “I do hard things”) and the app will play it back to you repeatedly for a minute over a soothing soundscape of your choice, from ocean waves to city din to a cello suite.

For the data-driven runner: Simple Habit

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Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat 10x. 10 deep breaths can help you feel more relaxed, more focused, and more refreshed. Give yourself the gift of 10 mindful breaths. Then, share this post or a video of you practicing your 10 breaths and tag 10 more people you want to send positive energy to. Use #simplehabit to see the others in our community that are taking deep breaths along with you.

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Not only does this app boasts a massive library of more than 1,000 meditations from 60-plus teachers, it automatically tracks your progress, tallying your mindful minutes each day, week, and month and rewarding you with badges for streaks. You can sort the programs by guide, goal (boost energy, sleep better), or context (morning, walking, commute, or big event). Searching for “athlete,” I found a centering exercise designed to psychologically prep for a competition. In six minutes, I was guided through a process of quieting negative thoughts and harnessing the power of adrenaline, rather than letting it derail me. It’s a track I can definitely see myself cuing it up on race morning this September.

For the runner on a budget: Smiling Mind

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By consciously and deliberately connecting to a place of calm and safety inside, even if only momentarily, multiple times a day, you can help settle and soothe your nervous system🏠. Read more on our blog – link in our profile! Remember all you need is a moment 😌 #THRIVEINSIDE #covid19 #coronavirus #pandemic #mentalhealth #mindfulness #fear #stress #anxiety #isolation #socialdistancing #kindness #caring #caremongering #support #calm #safe

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This Australian app was created by a nonprofit organization on a mission to spread mindfulness and has a six-module series of guided meditations for athletes—all completely free of charge. Each one pairs an approximately 10-minute exploration of a technique—for instance, recognizing negative emotions without reacting to them, or tensing and relaxing your muscles to reduce stress—with a shorter session explaining how to apply it during training. They’re all delivered in a smooth down-under accent, which I found soothing. Finish them all? Browse an extended library of other meditations that include programs for kids and lengthier 15- to 45-minute reflections.

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