Distance Running as Meditation

As those of you following my progress on the Shangri-La Diet are aware, I began a running program on May 2nd, a week before I started on the diet. My interest in the diet was not weight loss — I’m well within the ‘ideal’ weight for my size and frame — but to see if I could reduce my junk food cravings. As I’ve shifted to a 90% vegetarian diet, I haven’t ‘missed’ eating meat at all, but the evening cravings (I’m a ‘night person’, metabolically) for salt, sugar and fat have always been irresistible and unhealthy. Many people on the diet reported a reduction in their food cravings, and I was interested in the whole ‘self-experimentation‘ aspect of the diet, so I decided to give it a try. I’ve lost ten pounds and an inch and a half off the waist, and look and feel much better, but the cravings are, so far, as strong as ever.My reasons for taking up running were entirely different. I have been increasingly impatient and stressed about my inability to find a ‘second career’ at the intersection between my Gift, my Passion and my Purpose. On top of that, I’ve received some distressing personal and financial news several times in the last few months. So I was feeling down and pressured, and, as a failed meditator, I’d found running therapeutic for dealing with stress in past. I was so out of shape when I started that I could only manage 3km, but now I’m up to 10km three times a week.

To do this, since I hate distractions, hills and traffic when I’m running, I set up a 100m oval ‘track’ in my back yard, a completely private area. You can just make out the outline of it on the edge of the forest in the photo above. I’ve now set up a small tent beside it, where I go to think, recuperate, and get inspiration (it’s just on the fringe of my wi-fi reception area). Several of our neighbours think I’m crazy to run 100 laps of the same track, but to me it’s perfect — beautiful, precise, and literally right on my doorstep. I can even run nude if I’m so inclined.

I’m not a running addict by any means — I schedule it Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the same way I schedule other jobs that must get done, like mowing the lawn. I look forward to it, but it would not bother me if I missed a day. The 10km takes me just under an hour (I’m built for sprints, and have never been very fast as a distance runner). I don’t like the actual running — as I get closer to the point of exhaustion, it is tedious to the point of discomfort — but I love the feeling afterwards. It’s all about getting through it. I count laps on my fingers and scribble down my times after each 1km. I am barely conscious of the beauty around me, even the curious looks from the birds and wildlife that abound in the area. In hot weather like we’ve had most of this month (24C to 34C, with humidex 6C higher than that), I try to time my runs for clouds, wind and light rain, and right after my cool-down I dive into the swimming pool — better than an orgasm. But while I’m running it is not fun, and there is no ‘high’. If, as some athletes confess, running is very much like masturbation, then I guess I need to learn to be better at the build-up technique!

How do I describe the feeling after I’ve finished running? I walk differently, a natural gait with a slight bounce to it. The birds and animals react differently to me — they come closer, they interact with me as if I were another wild animal, they seem less afraid of me. On one occasion a wild turkey actually ran a whole lap about ten paces ahead of me — man, those ungainly creatures can move. As unaware of my surroundings as I am while I’m running, I’m much more aware of them afterwards. I see nuances of colour more intensely, I hear more acutely. I am somehow more connected to the Earth. I can smell the weather changing. I can taste flavours in the water I drink that normally I never notice. My whole body vibrates, quivers, glows.

To some extent the exhilaration is due to accomplishment — the steady improvement to how I look and feel that I know is directly attributable to this effort. But it’s more than that. There is something primeval, instinctive about running. In his book Why We Run, Bernd Heinrich, the brilliant observer of animal behaviour, explains that we evolved the ability and passion to run because it made us more successful, and now it is part of who we are. The exhilaration that comes from running is a celebration of our animal being, of running as something inherently human, necessary, right.

Marathon runners tell me that I won’t discover the true zen of running, that state of euphoria while running, until I get far enough along in my training that it becomes ‘sort-of’ effortless, second nature. They may be right. I used to run 10 miles a day in my twenties, and it was never effortless, even ‘sort-of’. We will see.

The scientists say that the endorphins your body produces from long-distance running are comparable to those that give you the buzz from marijuana, or from chocolate, or from meditation. As someone who just hasn’t the patience, concentration and/or self-discipline for meditation (I’m still not sure which — damn I’ve tried), whose pleasure from chocolate only lasts as long as the flavour on my tongue, and who falls asleep before he gets high when he tokes, I canonly take their word for that.

I’ll be content with being more connected, aware, relaxed, and closer to the Earth.

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12 Responses to Distance Running as Meditation

  1. kris says:

    Running helps a lot in relaxing… if only people understand this then the consultants doing Stress Relief course would take a beating..Infact after I started running am able to control my temper a lot better than before.Animals feel comfortable when they see you running. In India where dogs on roads are common, one day while I was running on the roads a dog ran along with me all the 10kms..After which I went into my office, I felt sad to leave the dog outside the gate..

  2. Daniel says:

    yes, running is good.I went running yesterday and a dog barked at me :-(you must have some aura or dogs are different there :-)

  3. Ahmed says:

    A suggestion that may help understand the link between fasting, meditation, and general spirituality (Zen): visit http://www.meditationexpert.com and read the articles on fasting meditation. If possible buy or at least read the free excerpts from the commprehensive book “Measuring.”

  4. Pearl says:

    Wow, that running sounds fabulous.

  5. Adam says:

    Fantastic. I am trying to start running every day but always have some problems. Running on your own backyard is good idea. I really wonder what my neighbours will think.Good luckAdam

  6. Adam says:

    You are so similar to me. I am still looking like you for things I can do in my life. I am reading your blog everyday.Keep goingAdam

  7. Dave,You may be running too fast. You can run effortlessly if you run slowly enough.I used to run sprints, so my biggest challenge when I switched to long distance running, over 15 km (10 mi) daily, was to slow down and enjoy.A simple way to slow down is to breathe through your nose. Try that. Your speed will drop and you will feel almost no effort at all.I know you like books. Take a look at John DOUILLARD’s book on effortless running in the zone.By the way, sprinters become great distance runners, as Thimothy NOAKES tells us in his outstanding book on running.And sorry for the triple post… Was a struggle to make the thing work correctly. Hope you will delete the two previous ones.

  8. I have no wisdom to toss out re: breaking into the zone in running or meditation at all. I stink at both.Food cravings I understand a little better b/c of my stringent attention to diet post-Crohn’s DX.But I’d never presume to offer advice. All I know is what’s worked for me, and even that is pretty new (read: untested) information.

  9. Russ says:

    Hi, a friend referred me to your site as I was becoming ever-more down in the dumps re: global warming, peak oil and the rest of it. Now while I have a kanckered, post ACL left knee, I like the idea of excercise as a form of anti-depressant and ‘bouyancy aid’.Thanks for the inspiration, I’m smiling again :)

  10. kara says:

    Running is the only moment – I’m actually happy. So I run.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, everyone. I’m still stuck at a plateau — no improvement in three weeks. So the afterglow ‘high’ is not quite as high. But I’m more patient than I was when I was young, so I will continue. And running in the rain is *so* amazing.

  12. Jim says:

    I have to admit that I’m fortunate indeed. I am 57 and have been running for more than 40 years. At first it was to feel the high of competing, then to keep weight under control, or reduce stress. Now, it’s a spiritual exercise. As I practice meditation, I’ve learned to be “fully present” when I run. And each new day is a revelation. I’ve started a blog on running and meditation and invite all of you to visit and add what you’d like. It’s at http://meditationontherun.blogspot.com/.My hope is that we can together create a place where we can share information (like scientific studies), compare readings, and tell each other meditation techniques seem to work the best. Please join and tell what you’ve experienced.Peace,Jim

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