Running Into Meditation
and running go hand in hand, says SAKYONG MIPHAM. Exercise can be a
support for meditation, and meditation can be a support for exercise.
began to run simply as a way to get some exercise. Soon enough,
however, I found myself applying certain principles I have learned in a
lifetime of meditating. I’ve incorporated these into my new book, Running With the Mind of Meditation.
me, the relationship between meditation and running is natural, for one
is a training of the mind and one is a training of the body. In the
ancient world, it was understood that people are happier when their
minds are flexible and their bodies are strong. In the modern world, we
are faced with conditions that challenge this mental and physical
handle the load, we need to attend to our well-being. Because the mind
and the body are intimately connected, relieving the stress of the body
through exercise has an immediate effect on the mind: the mind is no
longer dealing with the discomfort of the body. If the body is relaxed
and flexible, that is one less thing for the mind to think about.
Physical exercise thus provides some mental relief. Conversely, training
the mind helps us be focused in our physical activity.
to lead a balanced life, we need to engage and be active, and to deepen
When we are on the go—running, talking, working—the mind is
engaged in a sympathetic nervous system process. If we don’t balance the
sympathetic with the parasympathetic nervous system process, in which
we deepen and rest, we eventually become wired, edgy, and emotionally
sensitive. Long periods of overstimulation—too much activity— begin to
affect our organs and blood flow. Mentally we may become dull or jaded.
Most important, we are not able to have deeper, more contemplative
thoughts. Keeping our body still and relaxing the mind while staying
focused, as we do in meditation, is tremendously beneficial. But because
we aren’t accustomed to such a contemplative state, it may make us feel
uncomfortable. We have difficulty changing our habits.
can be a support for meditation, and meditation can be a support for
exercise. Running is a natural form of exercise, for it is simply an
extension of walking. When we run, we strengthen our heart, remove
stagnant air, revitalize our nervous system, and increase our aerobic
capacity. It helps us develop a positive attitude. It creates exertion
and stamina and gives us a way to deal with pain. It helps us relax. For
many of us, it offers a feeling of freedom. Likewise, meditation is a
natural exercise of the mind— an opportunity to strengthen,
reinvigorate, and cleanse. Through meditation we can connect with that
long-forgotten goodness we all have. It is very powerful to feel that
sense of goodness: having confidence and bravery in our innermost being.
as in running, in meditation we leave behind our daily concerns—the
daydreaming, stress, and planning. We become very present. We enter into
the now. By doing that, our mind builds strength. Our nervous system
begins to relax. We develop appreciation and awareness. Our intelligence
and memory become sharper. We are able to see the world from multiple
perspectives. We are no longer imprisoned by emotional highs and lows.
Love, compassion, and other positive qualities become more easily
accessible. Just like running, when we finish meditating, we feel
refreshed, and much for the same reason: meditation is a natural,
a relationship with the breath is a key to meditation— and to running.
If we develop a relationship with our breathing, we do not have to
struggle with it as much. Intuitively, runners know this—we are
essentially developing a relationship with the most elemental aspects of
being alive. In meditation, placing our attention on the breathing
takes the mind from daydreaming, worrying, thinking, and fantasizing. It
gives our mind something healthy to do.
running and in meditation, one of the biggest obstacles is laziness.
One kind of laziness is basic slothfulness, in which we are unable to
extract ourselves from the television or couch. In this case, just a
little bit of exercise can send a message to the body that it is time to
move forward. Even putting on workout clothes and beginning to stretch
helps bring us out of our sloth. By the same token, sitting down to
follow the breath for even five minutes has the power to move us out of
the process of meditating is different from running, the tools are the
same: we need to be determined and exert ourselves. Obviously we will
have challenges throughout our journey, but discipline, perspective, and
perseverance lead to big rewards.
sometimes say, “Running is my meditation.” Even though I know what they
mean, in reality, running is running and meditation is meditation.
That’s why they have different names. It would be just as inaccurate to
say, “Meditation is my exercise.” I have known some advanced meditators
who have been able to bring their meditative mind—that strength and
relaxation—into their body with its channels, nervous system, and
muscles. They become strong, radiant, and resilient. In Tibet there is
even a type of practice called heat meditation, in which yogis who are
able to use their mind to control their body heat meditate in subzero
conditions for months, wearing only a cotton shawl. However, it is
unlikely that they would be able to run a marathon.
it is unlikely that we are going to attain enlightenment by running,
even though some have tried. It is not a matter of choosing what is
better—exercising the mind or exercising the body. Rather, these
activities go hand in hand. We need to exercise both our body and our
mind. The nature of the body is form and substance. The nature of the
mind is consciousness. Because the body and mind are different by
nature, what benefits them is different in nature as well. The body
benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness. When we
give our mind and body what benefits them, we experience a natural
harmony and balance. With this unified approach, we are happy, healthy,
many who run, I run for health as well as joy. There is a deeper
meaning, which has to do with my intention. I believe that with pure
intention, you can bring almost any activity onto your spiritual path.
My intention in running is to benefit others. Thus running is a
continuation of my spiritual journey. With a powerful mind, if we intend
our run to be for the welfare of others, then it is. Conversely, if we
turn our meditation into a completely selfish pursuit, that is exactly
what it will be. In either activity it is our own intention that
determines whether the result is ordinary or extraordinary.
our daily routine will include both exercise and meditation. Mind
training can help us be undistracted during physical activity. At the
same time, it allows us to develop the skill of being gentle and firm
with ourselves. For meditators — or anyone pursuing knowledge — exercise
helps keep the body from becoming a nuisance. When we’re not feeling
pain or discomfort, our intellectual work takes less effort. Ultimately,
both the mind and the body are something we should cherish. The body is
the magical horse, and the mind is the magical jewel.
Mipham is the spiritual leader of Shambhala, an international network
of Buddhist meditation and retreat centers. He is the author of Turning the Mind Into an Ally, Ruling Your World, and the newly released Running With the Mind of Meditation.
Photo by Larry Gloth.