Today’s post is brought to you by the other half of 2 Generations Running! Enjoy! 🙂
I started reading Sakyong Mipham’s Running with the Mind of Meditation a few years ago, put it down, then picked up it again last summer when Nora and I were training for the Rochester Marathon. And here I am leafing through the pages again, looking for the passages I especially liked (asking myself if I am crazy) – as I have decided to register for the Bay State Marathon, in Lowell, this coming fall. (We are going to wait a bit to sign Nora up – just in case a new career takes her to distant frontiers, but I am kind of hoping that tradition will not be broken, and that we will be able to run this one together as well.)
The fact that meditation is about being still, and running is about moving, and well…moving fast, does not mean that the two things are as different as it would seem. In fact , meditation can help athletes get more out of physical training because it helps them focus, can help control negative self-talk (and who doesn’t need help with this one!) and can help with the stress of becoming injured.
And since there have been so many studies and books coming out about the benefits of meditation in our everyday lives ( TV anchor, Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier comes to mind ), I decided the connection would not seem as strange as it might have five or six years ago.
So, a little background: Sakyong Mipham is a Tibetan lama and teacher and leader in the Shambala Tradition. He is also trained in martial arts, and this interest in physical activity eventually led to an interest in running. With many races, including 9 marathons, to his credit, I knew this guy could teach me a thing or two.
He actually makes many good points and suggestions that have helped me in my running, but I will touch on a couple I believe were especially helpful-
- To acknowledge: This is a concept that is important in meditation, because if you sit cross-legged on a cushion for more than ten minutes, you are probably going to experience some discomfort – if not a full-fledged toe cramp! So acknowledging discomfort for what it is, accepting it, and simply realizing that it will pass, is a great piece of advice, and one that is usually borne out by the pain sort of fading on its own. This was big for me when I started on those long-long runs. Needless to say, there was a good amount of discomfort (usually starting around mile 15) but I did find that if I acknowledged that I was feeling tired, or winded from that last hill, I was less annoyed by my feelings. I even spoke to my discomfort out loud: “Hello there, Discomfort. I was wondering when you would show up…come run with me… Only 3-5 (whatever) miles to go.” Silly, but it made me smile, and I found I definitely felt less tired.
- Also, in running we become very focused on “Me”. We have to be especially if we are training for a long race, or hoping to PR in the next one. We need to worry about form, (Am I doing it right), about pace (I went out too fast), about fueling, (should I have eaten that entire Clif bar?). Running can narrow our focus a bit too much, something I also noticed in the past.
- While meditation is usually about concentrating on the breath and trying not to have any thoughts, there are also meditations on compassion: this involves choosing someone specific and thinking about that person in a loving way. Those long runs were great opportunities for me to remember a friend in need, or a family member I had neglected! Of course, there was definitely some straying back to thoughts about me- my achy knee, or my refueling snack (after all, it’s a LONG run)but just like a meditation centered on the breath, you simply bring your mind back to thoughts of compassion or kindness about that person, or persons.
I actually wrote this a few days ago and let it sit, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to end it. Then I went running Saturday morning.
And this is what it was like out. Bear in mind, it is March 28th – and it’s snowing. That’s right. And though it wasn’t going to accumulate, it was going to flurry all day. That didn’t put me in the best frame of mind but I knew the only runs we regret are the ones we skip, so I dressed and went out.
It wasn’t cold but the snow was in my face which made it surprisingly hard to see (or maybe that’s not all that surprising.). I told myself it would be better on the way back, but it really wasn’t. I was annoyed and I felt tired, more tired than I should feel after just a few miles. I started to think about the Bay State Marathon, and then it happened. A little voice in my head started to hint that I couldn’t possibly run another marathon, until it finally said loudly, “You’re a coward.”
And I thought Holy Cow, talk about negative self-talk!! Never mind all the meditation and all the books, and all the much longer runs and races I’d actually done: this was where my head went on that Saturday run.
So I slowed down. I tried to remind myself about this post, (about the things I believed I had learned but was clearly forgetting to implement) about running with discomfort, mental or physical. I started to pay attention to my breathing, and then I tried a meditation on others….I remembered Nora and I are running the Run for the Troops 5k next month (and it probably won’t be snowing. We hope.), and I tried to think of the disabled veterans and their families that this group helps by building specially adapted houses.
It helped a lot and I finished in a much better place. But as I stood in our snowy driveway, sipping water, I decided I definitely need to reread this wonderful book – as I get ready to run the Bay State Marathon. Because one thing’s for sure: I’m no coward.