Running and meditation

In his book Running with the Mind of Meditation, Sakyong Mipham, a Tibetan monk who is head of the Shambhala lineage, tells us about building a base. The book is subtitled Lessons for Training Body and Mind, and throughout the book, Mipham does just that. Many sportsbooks advise their readers to build a base. In terms of running, Mipham describes the base as “doing enough running, without overtraining it, to build the integrity of the bones and the strength of the tendons and muscles”. He then compares this physical training with meditation which he says is familiarizing your mind with what you want it to do.

Mindfulness is the mind’s strength and awareness is its flexibility. The body and mind will generally serve us well enough for our ordinary tasks without their having to be trained. However, running, or any other sport and meditation takes us beyond our ordinary daily pursuits and demand more fitness in order to achieve our goals. Both our body and our mind need to be conditioned for these greater demands that our pursuit of excellence places upon them. Mipham points out that no one is surprised by getting winded after running to catch a bus if they haven’t been in training, but we are often surprised when under stressful conditions we become irritable and unhappy if we haven’t trained our mind to remain calm under these conditions.

Mipham points out other similarities between running and meditation. Each requires that we pay attention to our breathing. Doing so helps us stay focused on the present. This can help us avoid tripping over an obstacle on our running path or can help reduce our mental stress and negative thoughts. When we begin running or begin meditation, our breath is often shallow. As we continue in either activity, our breath becomes deeper, giving us more oxygen for running or helping us reduce our daydreaming and worrying. Both activities involve maintaining the correct posture to maximize our efficiency in the activity and to avoid needlessly tiring ourselves out. Both running and meditation require motivation to start and to continue the activity. We use it to slowly increase our daily involvement in either activity. This will make it more likely that we will experience gradual success and build our desire to continue with either activity.

If we try to do too much too soon in the hope of obtaining quick results, we will be disappointed and are more likely to give up either activity before experiencing its real benefits. Mipham tells us that in the Shambhala tradition of spiritual warriors, there are four creatures that represent the phases in the development of a courageous individual. These are the tiger, the lion, the garuda (a mythical eagle-like bird that has two arms as well as two wings), and the dragon. He uses the qualities ascribed to each of these four creatures to describe the journey of the runner to achieve running success in a marathon or the journey of the meditator to achieve enlightenment. The book is itself a journey that takes the reader on an exploration of understanding and motivation and is a journey well worth taking. For more information or to schedule an appointment, see our website or call 201-488-6678