Running As Meditation
If you are like me you probably give yourself a hard time when you don’t manage to meditate every day. It’s human nature… you know the benefits of a regular practice and you know how it can impact positively on your life and on everyone that you have contact with.
But we’re not perfect, right? That’s why we meditate.
Here’s something for you to try… meditative running.
I’ve been running for as long as I’ve been meditating, but it was only fairly recently that I realised that the two pursuits gave me a similar experience. In fact running, undertaken in a certain way, can be considered a moving meditation. Maybe I’m a bit slow catching on to this but it does take a shift in attitude to go from running for fitness, to running for fitness andmeditation. Let’s get started.
In typical meditation practice you work on developing concentration and awareness of the present moment. There is a shift from being wrapped up in the world of your thoughts and into an experience of reality.
One of the most effective meditation techniques is to use the breath as a way of anchoring your experience to the moment-by-moment sensations that you encounter as you sit. By closely observing your normal breathing cycle (not big deep breaths, just normal ones) you develop the practice of focusing on one particular point.
As you experience the sensations of your breath at this point (let’s say the nostrils) you strengthen your awareness and with it comes mindfulness. Mindfulness, practiced properly, will take you to the vast joys of balance, compassion, laughter, and equanimity. It will also DE-FUSE your stress as a bonus.
In a nutshell, meditation is: Observing the breath, becoming aware of sensation, developing mindfulness.
The running process has remarkable similarities. When I run steadily over a distance, I notice an increased level of concentration and moment-to-moment awareness. The mind clears and thoughts drop away. You see, it’s pretty difficult keeping hold of worries and anxieties when you’re fighting to get your breath!
If the pace is too comfortable you might find that you go back to mulling over thoughts and getting lost in your own life drama. For this reason I recommend that you push yourself at intervals during your run. Start at a gentle pace just to warm up but then insert some sprints for 30 seconds or so. There is a danger that if you just stick to the gentle jog your mind will drift off and start its endless cycle of thoughts and worries.
Give the mind nowhere to hide by pushing your body. Then there is no space to think; your focus and your attention become fully present. Get into the rhythm of your stride.
I often count the number of strides to breaths to develop a consistent running pattern. At a slow jog I’ll manage four strides per breath, as I quicken it will decrease to three strides per breath, right down to two strides per breath on my sprint sections. Find a ratio that works for you.
Meditation when running is almost as straightforward as sitting meditation. You just need a pair of trainers and your pretty much set to go. Although the highly athletic Tarahumara tribes of Mexico achieve a spiritual existence by running extreme distances in dodgy old sandals, you would do well to get a quality, light pair of running shoes.
Here’s a step by step breakdown:
1. No need to warm up, just start at a gentle pace. Begin to tune into the sensations in your leg muscles as you begin to move. Start to feel your lungs filling and emptying, feel your stomach expanding and contracting as your breathing gets deeper.
2. Raise your gaze and take in your surroundings. Don’t think too much about it but try to get out of your head and instead, bring your attention to the road. Notice the other runners, if there are any. Look at the houses that you pass and the traffic close by.
3. Feel the road through your shoes and begin to count your strides. Work to match your breathing to your strides so that you develop a synchronised running pattern. This will help you centre yourself and allow access to your higher self.
As you practice meditative running you will find that your conscious mind quiets down and some clarity comes through. Then you will notice that new ideas and solutions begin to form in your mind and bubble to the surface.
Answers and solutions to problems begin to manifest.
Don’t force them, just let them come in their own time, sometimes this is well after the running session itself. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you miss your meditation, instead try combining some meditative running into your routine.