BY SOFO ARCHON
Ever since I can remember myself, I’ve enjoyed running. I guess as children we all did, but growing up we slowly slowly stopped engaging in it and eventually forgot the immense benefits it can bring into our lives.
Now, as adults, most choose to sit down all day long, not moving our bodies almost at all. We sit at home, we sit in the car, we sit at the office. We barely walk anymore, let alone run. And, as we know, the health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle are tremendous, both to our body and mind.
This article, however, is not so much about how you become healthier through physical exercise. Rather, it is mainly about using physical movement to become more mindful. Or, to be more precise, it’s about how you can use running as a tool for entering into a meditative state.
Running as Meditation
More than a decade ago, while I was learning about meditation and researching for meditation techniques, I stumbled upon running. I found out that there have been plenty of spiritual teachers and psychotherapists who recommended running as one of the most immediate ways to achieve a meditative state. So one day I decided to give it a try. So I started running and running and running… and here I would like to share with you what I’ve learned from my experiments with running as a way of meditation.
Running makes our minds slow down
It is said that the mind is good as a servant but evil as a master. Truly, when the mind is left uncontrolled, myriads of thoughts and concerns fill and torture the psyche, thus not allowing us to let go, relax and find inner peace. Hence, in Buddhism the uncontrolled mind has been likened to a monkey. Just like a monkey jumps from branch to branch without end, in the same way the mind jumps continually from thought to thought, always being restless and unsatisfied.
Meditation is all about calming the restless mind and breaking free from its chaos. There are a lot of meditation techniques that can help one achieve that, with the most known being sitting in a cross-legged upright posture, while paying attention to the breath or stream of thoughts. Few people, however, are aware that not all meditation techniques require a seated, immobile posture. There are others that require movement, and one such technique is the simple act of running. Running has been used as a meditation tool by spiritual seekers of the past and present who’ve expressed its immense power in bringing mindfulness, and there are even running athletes who can attest to its calming mental effects.
What I’ve discovered from my experiments with running is that every time I ran intensely for half an hour or so, my mind always began to slow down. And the more I ran, the more my thoughts decreased, until I reached to a point when all of my worries and concerns had disappeared. When this was attained, I came to experience a tranquil, peaceful state of consciousness, not unlike that which I’ve found myself in during hours-long seated Zazen meditation sessions.
Running brings our focus to the present moment
Most of the time, the majority of us people are not mindful of the present moment. Our thoughts are either in the past or the future, and so what is happening now is not fully experienced. Therefore, we are not able to make the most out of life and savor the moments it presents us with along our journey.
The core aim of any meditation practice is to help bring our attention to the present moment — the only moment that was, is, and will ever be — The Eternal Now, as some have called it. Concentration is the foundation of all meditation practices, the goal of which is to bring us into a state of one-pointed awareness, when our conscious attention is focused entirely on what is going on in the here and now.
Running helps us do the exact same thing — become more conscious of the present moment. While experimenting with running, I came to realize that after running fast for some time, the past and the present disappeared from my mind, and the only thing that I was aware of was what was going on right in the moment. My senses became very sharp, and I was able to experience intensely how my body was moving and interacting with its environment — my moving legs as they were touching the ground, the cool breeze against my sweaty skin, the air going in and out of my body as I was heavily breathing, and so on. In those moments of mindfulness, my consciousness became crystal clear, free from the usual distractions of thought that confuse and agitate the mind.
Running awakens our dormant energy
There are many people who live a passive, zombie-like life — who are not actually living but merely surviving. To them, life seems like a drudgery that they have to endure until the very moment they die. They always feel drained of energy, and have to force their body in order to keep on going.
Not being physically active, eating empty-of-nutrients foods, suppressing ourselves in all sorts of ways, and having found no true meaning and purpose in life, it’s not surprising that many of us feel this way. But this can be changed at any moment, if we are willing to do so. And there are many ways we can achieve that, such as by eating healthier, doing more of what we love and less of what we hate, and moving our bodies more.
Moving the body, and particularly running can do wonders to awaken our dormant, suppressed energy, and hence relieve us from stress and re-vitalize us. While running, every single part of the body is involved in the movement process, and thus the whole body is energized. No wonder one of the most intense experiences I had while (and for a long time after) running was how much more alive I came to feel. I felt a great boost of energy. I felt stronger, empowered. I felt cleansed.
As you can understand, running could be a great way of bringing you into a state of meditation, as well as reducing your stress levels and boosting your energy. So, if you have a strong constitution, I’d highly recommend you to give running a try, experiment with it, and find out for yourself if you can reap the same amazing benefits as I did.