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Any practice can be a mindfulness practice, and many can be mindlessness practices. It’s all about intention and attention. Why are you here? What are you doing in the situation? And what is happening right now? How much of that is true? Mindfulness means watching the drama that flickers on the screen of consciousness, and realizing that it is a narrative projected by the mind. Mindfulness shows us that this dramatic story has highs and lows, scary moments and joyful moments. Through mindful watching, we realize that we are not the story, we are the ones watching it play out, and we do not need to get involved with the story.
Mindfulness is an opportunity to watch ourselves—to be the seer, to recognize the distance between our chattering mind and the observer. In mindful attention, we recognize that whatever the self-talk is, it will pass.
Endurance sports inherently contain this lesson. If you feel great, that will pass, and you will still be going. If you feel awful, that will pass, and you will still be going. The continuation of your effort—the mindfulness—stands apart from whatever mental chatter or narrative is passing through at the moment.
Since mindfulness is paying attention, we must sharpen our ability to focus our attention. In endurance sports, you can focus on your form, on your breath, on what’s coming in through your senses, or on a mantra.
Mindfulness of your form means scanning your awareness through your body, noticing where you are relaxed and where you are tense. The muscles you are using for exercise will be working, but muscles that are not directly involved can relax. The less energy you use wastefully by tensing or overworking, the more energy you’ll have free to propel you toward the finish line.
In general, your body position during endurance exercise should be neutral and balanced. (Cycling is an exception, especially on time-trial bikes.) Your feet, knees, and hips will be in line; your pelvis will be neutral, your spine long all the way through your neck; your chest will be broad and open, your shoulders low. When you deviate from this position, you engage muscles that don’t need to be working, and use more energy than necessary.
Periodically do a form audit while you train and race. Observe where you are spending energy on tension, and invite those areas to relax and release, freeing you to direct your efforts where they should go: to moving you forward efficiently.
Sage is an internationally recognized authority in yoga for athletes and an endurance sports coach specializing in athletic recovery. Sage is the author of five books, including The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and Racing Wisely. Her classes, training plans, videos, books, and articles make yoga and endurance exercise accessible to everyone. Her goal is to help people find the right balance between work and rest for peak performance in sports and in life. With over a decade’s experience teaching yoga, Sage is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher at the highest level (E-RYT 500) with the Yoga Alliance and sits on the faculty at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Her nationwide workshops include weekends on yoga for athletes; trainings for yoga teachers on working with athletes; and running and yoga retreats. Her students include casual athletes, Olympians, NBA and NFL players, and many University of North Carolina athletes and coaches. Sage competes in running races from the 400m to the ultramarathon and triathlons from the super sprint to the Ironman. A member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2008, she has also been an Athleta Featured Athlete and is currently an ambassador for prAna. She holds coaching certifications from USA Triathlon and the Road Runners Club of America, and she writes for publications including Runner’s World, Yoga Journal, and USA Triathlon Magazine. She lives with her husband and daughters in Chapel Hill, NC, and co-owns the Carrboro Yoga Company and the Durham Yoga Company, where she heads the 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher training programs.