RUNNING AS SUPPORT FOR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

In MINDFULNESS by Heide Koch3 Comments

As time is running, so should we …

One of the first thoughts in the morning is supposed to be the appreciation for our precious human body that grants us so many freedoms and riches, but then again also the contemplation of impermanence for reducing attachment. Our lifespan is expiring day by day, moment by moment, nothing ever lasts, and so while we should take good care of our body and health we are also trying to make the best of our time, use it in the most efficient and beneficial way to develop insight and compassion for the sake of all beings, don’t we? How can we achieve this in combination? Next to many great methods for keeping our bodies in good shape and balance, in terms of exercise running offers a wide range of advantages without wasting time and money or making us overly body-focused in a materialistic way. We can turn our body and exercise into a tool on the path rather than boosting our self-clinging and vanity. Here is how:

It can also be helpful to place our attention on certain parts of our body that feel stiff and tense, for example the shoulders or abdomen, send a little more of our deep breath there and loosen them with the help of our motion.

Grateful for being alive and strong enough to run, for the supporting circumstances such as earth, air, light and space we set out and start, step by step, slowly, patiently, letting our body define and increase the pace without forcing or pushing. This is a good time then to make some good wishes and run with a noble intent:  May this training contribute to my precious human body staying in good health in the short, middle and long term. May I be able to keep on exercising in order to be strong enough to work and exercise until my old age so that I can always care for the ones who need me, never become a burden for anyone or dependent on others.  May I—because of my good condition—always be able to study and practice, to sit properly, work with subtle energies and travel for retreat and meetings with my teachers.

With this mind set and motivation we can now embed our run in mindfulness and awareness, alternating between joyfully focusing on the ground that carries us, then on each of our steps, their rhythm, and then for a while on our breath, its steady flow and how it refreshes the whole body. It can also be helpful to place our attention on certain parts of our body that feel stiff and tense, for example the shoulders or abdomen, send a little more of our deep breath there and loosen them with the help of our motion. This exercise in gentle concentration calms the mind and at the same time facilitates the transition into what is called the “flow”, when in spite of exertion we feel at ease, sometimes even enthusiastic, and little effort is required. This works especially well on a quiet, straight road where we could try for a while to drop all focusing and thoughts and instead relax in naturalness and openness, maybe even mingling with the wide clear sky above. You might notice how this gives space for creativity and solution-finding in your work and family life.

Nevertheless we will always be mindful about animals on the ground, trying our best not to step on any of them nor breathe in any insects. Wear glasses or sunglasses if required—or even if they are not because it will also prevent little flies from dying between your eyelashes.

Often running involves encountering many people, in a forest or park for example. Enjoy all the warm smiles; appreciate the greetings from fellow runners and walkers, from the elderly or lonely walking their dogs or pushing their buggies. Recognize each of them consciously—and show them you do, and that you care.  We can send them our open smile and loving kindness. Making good wishes for just everyone I meet or pass by is a strong source of inspiring compassion that goes beyond our dear and close ones. And then of course those who follow a spiritual master will likely visualize him or her above and to the right and thereby circumambulate him or her respectfully.

When we run alone we will enjoy the silence and being on our own, or if we can’t enjoy it we could train in it. This allows us to create some space and distance from every day’s busyness, tightness, recurring thoughts and limiting views. Running for 30 min or more, especially in the evening, supports our practice in that it relieves stress, tension and anxiety so that our mind will become more calm and relaxed during sitting meditation afterwards. It can even help those suffering from a temporary depression (something that can, according to the teachings of many realized masters, occur when embarking or proceeding on the spiritual path) to overcome or soothe these phases, an effect that has been proven by Western science and experienced by many.

The author herself: Your run can be demonstration or even a fundraising event. There are countless good purposes and teams, for example human rights, Free Tibet or charity funds.

Running on a regular basis has some more general positive side effects, too. It strengthens our will and discipline to persevere during hardships and periods when we believe we can’t go on, to endure discomfort and sustain our self-confidence regarding the goals we have set for ourselves—qualities which will be very useful on a spiritual path as well. In this way—and because it just makes you feel good in your skin—it also evidently reduces addictive behavior such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs or excessive eating.

Some, not most, of the benefits introduced here would obviously apply to other forms of sports or workout as well, but running offers some unique advantages in addition:

  • You can run anytime and anywhere, you are totally flexible when to run and where, also (and especially) during holidays, retreats or business trips, alone or in a group, short or long distance, fast or slowly depending on your mood and level of fitness.
  • Since a run doesn’t require you to drive to any sports club, fitness studio or particular location you will save a lot of time and money (which you can spend in much more beneficial ways). Also by not consuming any petrol or electricity it is very eco-friendly.
  • Running is the best way to explore a new area—landscape or city—including all its sounds, smells, animals and people.
  • It costs almost nothing, no expenses for memberships, coaches etc. All you need is a pair of good running shoes. Forget about functional sportswear: Worn out tops, t-shirts and shorts are perfect.
  • Your run can be demonstration or even a fundraising event. There are countless good purposes and teams, for example human rights, Free Tibet or charity funds.
  • And finally it might inspire the people around you. In my experience by taking friends or children along with you (either running themselves or by bike), it motivates them and intensifies their experience of nature and healthy living.

If you are a runner, maybe you wish to make your running more meaningful. And if not, maybe as a spiritual practitioner you would like to give it a try and extend your mind training by another dimension.

Enjoy your run – step by step!

Some might feel that running is too much for them, somehow not ideal, for whatever reason including inner temptation and laziness, because – yes – running can be straining. If so, or if you have been given  medical advice to refrain from running – I  have heard this advice many  times and I am still convinced I would no longer be alive without running – then speedy walking, with or without sticks, can be an alternative. There are pro’s and con’s compared to running, but for sure it’s better than nothing. So if you are heavily pregnant, have a slipped disk or the like, slow down and walk gently, avoiding percussion or very high pulse.

About the Author
Heide Koch

Heide Koch

Heide Koch is a mother of two children and living in a Buddhist marriage. She works in information management with a background in engineering and business laws, volunteers in human rights, charity work and translation. Wishes for walking the path of developing compassion and insight, loves music, poetry, nature, running and dancing.

Featured image by Steve Prior, England. Photo by Unsplash

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Comments

  1. The first few lines of this article reads as a prayer 🙂 Indeed everything begins with gratitude for whatever resources we currently have. Thank for sharing such a simplest but important view of this exercise. Running/Brisk walking is always recommended by doctors. I personally believe doing the surya namaskar exercise, as it moves and shapes every muscle. As you’ve emphasized on the low cost, eco-friendly, spiritual effect, Surya Namaskar meets the same 🙂

  2. Seema

    I used to be a runner , many moons ago.:).
    Than life took a turn and I ” forgot “.
    I know there is a reason I came across your inspirational post.

  3. I wanna try😅 something new to better my life. ..

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