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National Running Day – Is Running Meditation?

posted by Jerry Kolber

I’ve been a runner on and off for the last fifteen years. Last year I (slowly) ran the New York City Marathon.  Today is national running day, and as a Buddhist Meditator I thought it would be appropriate to tackle the question “Is running meditation?” here at beliefnet.   Folks who run will often say running is their meditation, or that running is zen, and I think it’s worth examining these statements in light of what we know to be the benefits of a regular practice of sitting meditation. Since I have run hundreds if not thousands of miles, and I meditate daily, I feel that I can speak about this from a position of experience rather than speculation on this most holy of days, national running day.

National Running Day2.jpg


I’m
going to over-generalize and say there are two things that are
referered to as meditation, only one of which is truly meditation.
There’s a kind of “clear your head and bliss out” meditation- which is
really a relaxation technique. Then there’s meditation with the purpose
of revealing the truth of interconnectedness and compassion.  Blissing
out and feeling good is not the same thing as removing crusty ego
structures in pursuit of greater compassion.  The kind of meditation
espoused by Buddha (and really, the only thing he said you gotta do)
is  the “sit down, shut up, and pay attention without getting stuck in
your thoughts” kind. 

Sometimes after sitting, I do have kind
of a chill, mellow feeling; but sometimes some pretty fearsome stuff
comes up that does not leave me feeling at all blissed-out.  I have no
expectation of one or the other, and merely try to be present with
whatever comes up and to not follow too many distracting thoughts
before returning to my breath.  If I were sitting to bliss out, relax,
or make myself feel chilled out, that would not only be a different
kind of meditation it would also not do much to make me a more
compassionate and “interdependent aware” person.  Nothing wrong with
that, but it’s not what true contemplative practice is about, and
should be thought of more as a relexation technique.

As a
runner, I frequently get extremely chilled out by a run.  I used to
think that this blissed out feeling you get after a good 30 or 40
minute run was meditation, but then I started meditating. The chilled
out feeling from running is actually a chemical response your body and
brain has to repetitive motion. An AWESOME feeling to be sure, but not
the same as meditation.

Another thing that happens during a long
run (or even a good long walk) is that I tend to start thinking about
problems or creative ideas I have, and sometimes I will get an amazing
revelation or sense of clarity about something that I did not have
before the run.  It’s almost like the repetitive motion allows your
brain to bubble up ideas that otherwise get buried underneath all the
noise. This is also awesome, and this is what a lot of runners or
walkers refer to when they say “running is their meditation”. Again,
you can certainly sit on your cushion with the goal of coming up with
solutions to problems or creative ideas, but this is better referred to
as concentration, or directed thought – it is not meditation.

Now
that I have experienced several years of what actual meditation is, as
well as having experienced nearly fifteen years of running (the first
12 of which I thought “running is MY meditation”) I can compare the
two. Running can give you great clarity and it can leave you feeling
chilled out and refreshed, but neither of these are really the core
benefit of a regular practice of sitting meditation. The profound
difference in my life and how I relate to people around me as a result
of true contemplative practice is radically different than the states
of clarity or bliss that I experience when running.  I love that I get
to experience both, but my conclusion is this: Running is not
meditiation, but I couldn’t imagine giving up either.



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Comments read comments(12)
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gza

posted June 3, 2009 at 2:18 pm


I like to meditate and run. I’d say my experience is similar.
Of course, when people say running is their meditation they may not necessarily mean Buddhist meditation . . in which case it can mean pretty much whatever they want it to.



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Julia May

posted June 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm


I see running and yoga as part of my meditation practice. As someone far better at “letting go” than finding peaceful exertion, the physical side of the practice brings up different different blocks and thoughts all of which need to be released as the attention returns to the body. I run on a track, and keep my mind on the circular motion of my legs, labeling thoughts of resistance to the time frame I have set out that I know I can accomplish but never want to, “thinking.”



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becky

posted June 4, 2009 at 9:09 am


i have found myself in similar ‘spaces’ with both meditation and running, only long runs though. Like 15+ miles, where I get into a place of just breathing, and being aware of my body, but not the pain or anything. I can see how they’re different though, if anything, because of the intention.



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Ed

posted June 4, 2009 at 2:09 pm


Certainly when I run on trails, the intense awareness and focus required can result in a sharpened sense of the present moment. But that’s not to say you can’t have the same awareness when you’re running on a paved road, or a track, or sitting in your chair watching The Simpsons.
Anything can be called “meditation,” if it’s done with awareness. The point for me, to the extent we kid ourselves into believing there really is one, is not to meditate, but to be aware. Meditation, running, washing the dishes, balancing your checkbook –they’re all meditation, really.
Happy running, everyone.



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Zenblender

posted June 4, 2009 at 3:01 pm


I definitely agree with these thoughts. Running to get “blissed out” is not necessarily mindfulness – it can be quite the opposite, just escaping. But running can also be “meditation in motion” like chop wood, carry water. And then the it’s the escape that’s not escapist!



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Your Name

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm


almost anything can be a meditation depending on how it is approached…tantric sexual meditation,meditations of the breath,visualisation meditations,labrinths & visual labrinths,2 of my personal favorites are nunchaku & the yoyo……………lets face it describing zen is akin to describing infinate sbsolute.



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billygoat9

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm


Your Name
June 4, 2009 8:34 PM
almost anything can be a meditation depending on how it is approached…tantric sexual meditation,meditations of the breath,visualisation meditations,labrinths & visual labrinths,2 of my personal favorites are nunchaku & the yoyo……………lets face it describing zen is akin to describing infinate sbsolute.



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Your Name

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm


billygoat9
June 4, 2009 8:38 PM
Your Name
June 4, 2009 8:34 PM
almost anything can be a meditation depending on how it is approached…tantric sexual meditation,meditations of the breath,visualisation meditations,labrinths & visual labrinths,2 of my personal favorites are nunchaku & the yoyo……………lets face it describing zen is akin to describing infinate sbsolute.
z4afwsone of the best descriptions of meditation I’ve heard in western terminology was in a movie “The Legend Of Bagger Vance”.



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Trance

posted January 15, 2010 at 1:13 am


The author’s correct…running is not meditation in their experience. However, to state that meditation can only happen when you are “still” seems close minded and unfortunate. Being present, mindful and aware can happen for those who understand how to get there even while their running. I have been running for thirty years. I do meditate when I run. Perhaps, it’s a practice and skill the author has yet to master while running. So, OK, keep sitting it that works for you.



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Phaedrus

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:31 am


“The chilled out feeling from running is actually a chemical response your body and brain has to repetitive motion. An AWESOME feeling to be sure, but not the same as meditation.” Using this as an argument that running is not a form of meditation doesn’t hold within Buddhism because there is no separation of the so call mind and body in Buddhism. You don’t say the fact that something is “chemical” it is not “spiritual”.



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Mark C.

posted April 25, 2010 at 5:41 pm


Running in itself is not meditation. Meditation is not a physical activity. It’s the practice of being awake to your immediate experience at whatever you dare doing, whether sitting still or running 10 miles. As such, one can certainly practice running meditation just as readily as one can practice a walking meditation, any other moving meditation, or even a sitting meditation. It’s not about what your body is doing, it’s about experiencing each moment fully and directly. Isn’t it?



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Ella

posted July 27, 2010 at 10:34 pm


Meditation may be way different from running but I believe that running regularly may also provide benefits that we get when we perform meditation at home. It will really depend on the person doing these tasks but if you feel that running helps you relax and communicate with yourself, then I guess it may be considered as your own meditation technique.



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