That’s what led me to the idea of meditating while you run.
While I’m not a Buddhist (or any religion, for that matter), I’ve been intrigued by the teachings of Buddhism and even its Western bastardizations for several years now. The ability to detach from your emotions, the silencing of the chatter in your mind and access to your creative subconscious, and the compassion for living beings — these are all things I find appealing, even with no overt religious meaning attached.
The connection with veganism is pretty clear. But it took a conversation with a reader of this site for me to realize how just well meditation jives with running. And since I’ve started, I’ve really enjoyed it — not just for the new fulfillment I get from running, but also for the sense of presence and calm I feel during the rest of the day.
Meditation without the weirdness
For the longest time, I thought meditation was a New Age or religious thing. But it doesn’t have to be that. I find it helpful just to think of it as a way to relax and play around in your head for a while.
You don’t need special flute music. You don’t need candles. You don’t need to sit with your legs folded and palms up, and you certainly don’t need to make circles with your thumbs and forefingers.
The only thing you need is something to focus on.
That focus might be:
- The up-and-down movement of your abdomen as the air you breathe enters and exits your body
- The feeling of air moving through your nose as you breathe in and out through it
- The present moment and your environment, and all that you can sense and experience in it
- The way your body feels as you run, with everything working together to move you forward
- Your footsteps
- Any mental image, symbol, or koan (if you’re into that) you can fix in your mind
(I’ve found that the first few of these work best when you can sit still without distractions, while those at the end are better suited to running.)
How to meditate while your run
Once you’ve decided on that focal point here’s what to do.
- Start running slowly (ideally on a trail or somewhere where there isn’t a lot of traffic).
- Give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to relax and get in the zone. Sometimes I brainstorm ideas about different projects when I run, and I find that it takes about this long before ideas start flowing.
- Once you’re ready, direct your mind to whatever you’re going to focus on. (If you weren’t running, I’d say shut your eyes, but keep them open for obvious reasons.)
- Now, do your best to stay focused on that one thing. You do not want an inner dialogue to be constantly describing your focus or anything else; the point here is to go for as long as possible without any “thoughts.” You want to “feel” what you’re focusing on, without using words in your head.
- When your attention strays from your focus (it will; probably every few seconds at first), gently guide it back to the focus. Don’t attach any feeling of negativity or frustration to your mind’s wandering; it just “is.”
- Do this for as long as it’s enjoyable. (Right now, I can usually stay interested in this for only 5-10 minutes at a time; after that I’m mostly unable to focus for any amount of time. But that’s enough.)
Remember, don’t be dumb. You’re still moving, and so are other people. You’re doing this correctly if you become more aware of your surroundings, not more oblivious.
If you’re having trouble silencing the dialogue in your mind: Ask yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be,” and then pay very close attention to see what it is. You’ll very likely find that this results in several seconds of no thoughts before one finally enters your head. When it does, quickly forget it, and ask yourself that same question again. (Credit to The Power of Now for this trick.)
What’s the goal?
The answer is one I struggle with, because I tend to be goal-oriented:
There is no goal.
(For a true Buddhist, I suppose the goal is enlightenment or something to do with Kurt Cobain, but I don’t know about all that.)
You do it because it feels good and allows you to explore yourself. If you find it relaxes you, that’s a benefit. If you find that you become creative during or after meditating, that’s a benefit. But as far as I can tell, there’s no end to strive for, and that in itself is a welcome change from the rest of everyday life.
For me, when I’m doing well and am focusing for several seconds with no conscious thoughts, what happens is that joyful memories I even didn’t know I had start pop into my head. More than that, for an instant the entire feeling of that previous point in my life returns.
At the beach, walking on the boardwalk with a friend from middle school and looking for an arcade. Riding a ski lift with a friend, back when we were in third grade. Sitting in a diner with my mom and a cousin on the day after Christmas, 15 years ago.
Memories I forgot I had. I’m amazed that somehow this process gets me back to those moments; that they’re sitting somewhere in my brain but beyond access, obscured by the chatter of the conscious mind.
I’ve also had moments where for just a few seconds, I become completely aware of my body, almost as if I’m looking at it from somewhere else. The way it feels for one arm to swing forward while that leg swings back, and how perfectly this works. The springiness in my ankles as I leave the ground for just a fraction of a second and land again, and the way the gravel on the trail feels under my shoes (if you’ve got minimalist shoes, they’ll probably enhance this).
Are you somehow better after having moments like these? Maybe, maybe not. I find them fascinating, and for now, that’s the reason I do this.
Two good sources if you want to explore this further:
- The Zen of Running, and 10 Ways to Make It Work for You (from Zen Habits)
- The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation: Ancient Skills for Modern Minds (the most helpful book I’ve read on meditation)
I’d love to hear what you all think of meditation, especially while running, and any general meditation advice you have. I’m still very much a beginner at this, and looking to learn more about it.
P.S., Blendtec winner!
Alrighty, time for one lucky SOB to win a Blendtec blender! Out of 721 entrants, that SOB is…
“Sals,” who wrote this:
“This looks like a super nice blender. I currently use my food processor to try to make smoothies – this would work much better! Homemade pasta sauce would also be convenient.”
Congratulations to Sals, and thanks to the 720 others who entered, and especially to the folks at Blendtec for hosting such an incredible giveaway.