Meditating and running go hand in hand, says Sakyong Mipham. Exercise can be a support for meditation, and meditation can be a support for exercise.
I began to run simply as a way to get some exercise. Soon enough, however, I found myself applying certain principles I have learned in a lifetime of meditating. I’ve incorporated these into my book,Running With the Mind of Meditation.
To me, the relationship between meditation and running is natural, for one is a training of the mind and one is a training of the body. In the ancient world, it was understood that people are happier when their minds are flexible and their bodies are strong. In the modern world, we are faced with conditions that challenge this mental and physical balance.
To handle the load, we need to attend to our well-being. Because the mind and the body are intimately connected, relieving the stress of the body through exercise has an immediate effect on the mind: the mind is no longer dealing with the discomfort of the body. If the body is relaxed and flexible, that is one less thing for the mind to think about. Physical exercise thus provides some mental relief. Conversely, training the mind helps us be focused in our physical activity.
Thus, to lead a balanced life, we need to engage and be active, and to deepen and rest. When we are on the go—running, talking, working—the mind is engaged in a sympathetic nervous system process. If we don’t balance the sympathetic with the parasympathetic nervous system process, in which we deepen and rest, we eventually become wired, edgy, and emotionally sensitive. Long periods of overstimulation—too much activity— begin to affect our organs and blood flow. Mentally we may become dull or jaded. Most important, we are not able to have deeper, more contemplative thoughts. Keeping our body still and relaxing the mind while staying focused, as we do in meditation, is tremendously beneficial. But because we aren’t accustomed to such a contemplative state, it may make us feel uncomfortable. We have difficulty changing our habits.