Meditative Running

The topic of meditation popped up in my head after reading a Facebook post by a High School friend marking her 366th consecutive day of meditation. Practicing regular meditation since 2007, she never did it consecutively for a year until now.  Beautifully and thoughtfully written, she does not describe the daily practice, but instead shares what she received from the dedicated practice; from a sharpened awareness of her surroundings and reactions to increasing her tolerance of herself and being able to shed judgment of herself and others.  She highlights how a year of meditation did not make life easier, but allowed her to savor the sweetness and appreciate her life and those in it.

After reading her post, a light bulb went off in my head with the realization that running is my form of meditation. I have seen other articles about the “zen of running” and how running often helps the runner achieve greater concentration and increase contemplation ability.  I can look back and recognize I’ve always received those benefits from running (as I’ve said before, runners are great “thinkers of deep thought), but never compared it to meditation until her post, mainly as I really enjoyed how she described her sharpened awareness of herself, the world, and the people around her…not to mention her truthfulness about how her practice could also result in increased challenges.

Meditative Running: As I went on a run after reading her post, my thoughts automatically shifted to meditation.  The Merriam-Webster definition for the word “meditate” is (1) to engage in contemplation or reflection, or (2) to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Rather than a decision to get into a meditative position, I find myself unconsciously falling into that state on my long, steady training runs. It starts with the almost metronome-like sound of my feet repetitively hitting the ground. “1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4” I sometimes counting my head with each footfall, resulting in a wonderfully blank mind and a singular focus on my actions. Next comes the steady state breathing, focusing on drawing in deep and steady breaths of air into my lungs, then releasing them smoothly to keep my heart rate even through the exertion. With just those two actions, I find a clarity of mind and thought I often lose in the hectic jungle that is a life with computers, smartphones and demanding jobs. During these “meditative runs” I’ve discovered I can focus on one problem at a time and really think through the issue.  Other times, I can simply run, be a part of the trail or road, and see, hear or think of something that inspires me to write about it later. With a clearer, less tumultuous mind, I recognize the beautiful landscapes I pass during the run and can savor the mental (and sometimes physical) snapshots of the wonderful world I run (Example: picture below of North Carolina).

These running moments also provide me a release from the daily frustrations, anger or confusion, and I finish with a lightness of heart, soul, and mind…right before I collapse on my living room rug to “stretch.”  Of course, not every run, as I’m sure not every meditation attempt, do I achieve the clarity and heightened senses.  Sometimes a run just is not smooth and it does not “click” or “Clear the Mechanism” as I sometimes think in my head. Still, I have to tough it out because it is part of the training.  To get through those moments and miles, I may focus more on using my iPod and playlist, and dream longingly for those beautiful, clear runs.  When it comes to running, I love the grit, effort, drive and determination it takes to race any distance or do speed/hill work, but the clarity of mind and release of negative energy during my long runs is truly the most meaningful reason I love running. Like my High School friend, my “meditative running” does not make life (or running) easier, but it does bring me joy, energy, peace, insight into myself and others, a feeling of being in the moment, not to mention allows me to work through the issues that could otherwise be destructive forces in life.

To highlight my own thoughts, below are some of my favorite quotes on running.

  • Running is a road to self-awareness and reliance – you can push yourself to extremes and learn the harsh reality of your physical and mental limitations or coast quietly down a solitary path watching the earth spin beneath your feet. – Doris Brown Heritage, the first woman to run a sub-5 minute indoor mile.
  • Running! If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think of what it might be.  In running the mind flees the body, the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms. – Joyce Carol Oates
  • Out on the roads, there is fitness and self-discovery and the persons we were destined to be. – George Sheehan

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