Get Your Head in the Game: These 5 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 aim to step up my mental game in preparation for the Berlin Marathon. 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 five programs that might help, based on your running personality: 
headspace app

For the runner who’s on trend: Headspace 

The founder of this popular app, Andy Puddicombe, recently 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. So far, 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.

Free basics, subscription US$12.95/month or US$94.99/year; iOSAndroid

Pacifica meditation app

For the anxious runner: Pacifica

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 fuelling; and one on motivation aims to boost your belief in yourself and your ability. My favourite by far is “Positive Visualisation”: 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.

Subscription US$5.99/month or US$35.99/year; iOSAndroid


Lucid meditation app

For the hardcore runner: Lucid

Lucid’s athlete-specific interface uses terms that will resonate with the toughest: supreme confidence, laser focus, and intense motivation, to name a few. It’s a little more in-your-face than the meditation I’m used to but would probably work well for someone who’s not inclined to sit and say “om”. It’s organised just like a 5K or marathon plan, with “MCs” or mental coaches – including Graham Betchart, who’s worked with many of the NBA’s top talents – guiding you through daily five-minute mental training sessions to help you perform your best. In a new update released August 24, you can program in your event date and time and get precisely timed reminder pings for your final pump-up sessions—plus a last-minute one-on-one text session with a live MC to prep.

Five “workouts” free, subscription US$9.99/month or US$99.99/year; iOSAndroid


Simple Habit meditation app

For the data-driven runner: Simple Habit

Not only does this app boasts a massive library of more than 1000 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 centring 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.

Subscription options include US$19.99/2 months, US$99/year, or US$299 lifetime; iOSAndroid


Smiling Mind meditation app


For the runner on a budget: Smiling Mind

This Australian app was created by a non-profit organisation 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, recognising 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. Finish them all? Browse an extended library of other meditations that include programs for kids and lengthier 15- to 45-minute reflections.

Available on iOSAndroid


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