Meditation and Running and its BenefitsInitially, I thought meditation meant quiet time and relaxation. It was later I was to learn about its connection with dynamic sport. For me combining meditation and running has really helped. Running is strenuous exercise, but it’s certainly possible to maintain clarity and peace while exercising or competing. There is no way I could contemplate run four 3100 mile races without utilising meditation techniques such as breathing exercises, visualisation and running mantras. I have found the faster I go in my 3100 mile ultra marathons the more solitary running I do. Solitary running gives me plenty of time to run and meditate. To do well in sport (or anything for that matter) you need focus, clarity and concentration; skills that can be applied through formal practice. Meditation takes my running to another level, to a place where I can draw upon the strength I have within. I go beyond the exhaustion of the body and the doubts of the mind.
Mindfulness and Meditation or Less Mind?Forget about running for a moment and think about driving around a block for 20,000 kilometres: my accumulated running miles around the 3100 mile race course, which I have completed four times. What’s the first thing that will give up and fail you? Not your car (unless it’s as old as mine) but your mind. A lot of people cannot comprehend the 3100 mile race. They don’t believe it’s possible to run that type of distance. It can take several minutes of explaining before they are convinced the race even exists, then they will say, “That just blows my mind!” They are right: the run blows my mind as well. I did know I could apply a ‘never give up’ attitude, run with my heart and try my best.
A busy mind is one part of our existence that causes real problems when we are attempting something. Everybody has experienced the stream of endless and meaningless worries and anxieties that crop up in our thoughts, not just runners. Think back to a time when you have been lying in bed unable to sleep. Never-ending banter and thoughts make you agitated and restless. As a result you toss and turn and cannot rest. The mind will do this 24/7 unless you learn to silence it, to access a deeper part of yourself. As in any running event, distracting and uninspiring thoughts were self-destructive in the 3100 mile race. Any doubts or negativities directly affected my mood and performance. Training was the same. Getting myself depressed about another run or the jog to work was fruitless. If I gave in to those thoughts, I’d lose all enthusiasm. From three kilometre fun runs to the marathon, every runner has dealt with points in a race or run where pain or problems have kicked in. Thoughts of quitting come and we feel our bodies can’t cope with the demands being put on it.
Marathoners call it hitting the wall. Sometimes you recover from it with a second wind; sometimes you don’t. In the 3100, I hit the wall many times—and went on. I was convinced I had taken my body to the limits of its endurance, but then I went deeper, into the core of my being where strength, power, poise and silence all exist. If we can tap into this inner source nothing can stop us moving forward. Defeated by our own determination and effort, problems drop away. This determination doesn’t come from the mind, which changes its opinion every minute. It comes from our hearts which take and carry us to the most wonderful of places, where in the field of competing only with ourselves, everyone can be victorious.
Examples of Sucessful Athletes who use Meditation and Running TechniquesThe world's best female ultra marathon runner, Suprabha Bjeckford (pictured above) meditates before her races and many great sportsmen and women talk about moments of absolute conviction before a major victory or event. They feel at peace with the race, game or task ahead. Nothing is forced and as a result, victory or achievement just flows. Australian Robert De Castella (pictured) meditated before his 1982 Commonwealth Games gold medal marathon victory and Olympic great Carl Lewis meditated before his big races.
It must have looked a incongruous as one hundred metre sprinters are known for hyping themselves up into almost manic states. They walk around behind the blocks, lapping the air with their tongues and generally firing themselves up, but not King Carl. He focused his mind and energies by meditating. One technique he used was focusing on the furthest sound he could hear. Whatever he did worked. He won nine Olympic track and field gold medals, broke numerous world records in the 100 metres and long jump, still has one of the world’s fastest splits for a relay leg and never false started.
“I would start 100 metres and the person would say, come to your mark, and I would get down to my mark and then I would clear my mind,” says Lewis in Sport and Meditation. “Just go quiet and try to listen for the farthest sound away from you. I had generally the fastest reaction time of any of the athletes because I would clear my mind and listen for the gun. Just having my peace, where it all stops and you’re just aware of where you need to be. I think there’s a source of strength in that silence because the 100 metres is the ultimate dichotomy—it’s total relaxation and explosion. Every record I set, I knew it was a record because it was the easiest race I ran.”
Why Combine Meditation and Running?The repetitive movement and regular breathing in running (or any endurance sport) help induce a calm and reflective mind. Restless thoughts disappear and we feel at one with ourselves and nature. We become focused with increased mental clarity. We often run during the best times to meditate. In the 3100 mile race I found the morning dawns were the easiest and most conducive. Staying out later as the race progressed the evenings were even better. The moon, stars and silence affected me deeply and it wasn’t just peace I was feeling. With meditation comes a positive power. Sometimes I felt like I had the strength of ten men coursing through my body. Sri Chinmoy the worlds foremost expert on running and meditation, emphasizes and elaborates, “Meditation is stillness, calmness and quietness, while the running consciousness is all dynamism. Again, the runner’s outer speed has a special kind of poise or stillness at its very heart. An airplane travels very fast, yet inside the plane we feel no movement at all. It is all tranquillity, all peace: and this inner tranquillity we can bring to our outer life. In fact, the outer life, the outer movement, can be successful only when it comes from the inner poise. If there is no poise, then there can be no successful outer movement. Poise is an unseen power, and this unseen power is always ready to come to the aid of the outer runner.”
Everyone has meditated while running sometime or another. The simple smile of a child, the vastness of an ocean, the power of a mountain, the beauty of a forrested trail, they stir something inside us which is what meditation and running is all about. We all have a reservoir of inner strength, nothing can stop us from achieving our goals, even if something seems impossible. We all have patience, joy, determination and resilience. Meditation helps bring these qualities to the fore and running can also help us get there.
Grahak Cunningham is author of Running Beyond the Marathon: insights into the longest footrace in the world and a four time finisher of the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, the worlds longest running race. Based in Perth, Western Australia, he works as a conference speaker and conducts stress management seminars across Australasia and the U.S.A. He is one of the countries best Motivational Keynote Speakers.