running

The mindful runner

Canadian Running Magazine: Runners push themselves. We test our limits by pushing our bodies and our minds to move out of their comfort zones. You may be familiar with mindfulness meditation, a practice of being present and paying attention in a particular way. Mindful running, or bringing a new awareness to each and every run can enhance your performance and bring a new ease to your running practice.

Mindful running may sound new but in practice it has existed for years. Japanese marathon monks of Mount Hiei are reported to …

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Can meditation make you a better runner?

Chris Cox, The Guardian: A celebrated lama’s new book [Running with the Mind of Meditation] recommends training the mind in conjunction with the body. But can sitting on a cushion before pounding the pavements really make you run further and faster?

Recently, I’ve been training for the Edinburgh half-marathon. But instead of seeking advice from the usual quarters, I’ve been taking tips from a Tibetan meditation master. In just a short time, following his advice has changed how I think about two things I’ve been doing for some years now: running and meditating. Rather than being separate activities, I’m starting to …

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When meditation seems impossible

My partner goes for a run and comes back looking despondent. ‘I struggled all the way round,’ he says. ‘It was as if I’d never run before.’ He has run several times a week for 3 years now.

‘I know how you feel,’ I say. I’m not thinking about running, though, but meditation. I’ve been meditating for some years now, but when I sit down sometimes it feels impossible. My head itches and the items on my ‘to-do’ list compete for attention. There are odd bodily sensations that could be illnesses in the making. And if all else fails, there’s my good old tinnitus.

Outside responsibilities of work, family and friends, I tend to navigate by feelings. I do things that feel good and avoid things that don’t. This modus operandi has its drawbacks. ‘When did you last use that windsurfing board?’ friends ask. Or ‘I haven’t heard your djembe recently.’ Then there’s my Arabic dance gear languishing at the back of the wardrobe.

With all these activities, pleasure and interest waned. And because these were my motives, there was no reason to carry on. But I’m not meditating for pleasure and interest. Or am I? When I started out, I had ideas of self-improvement. But now I’m told there’s no self to improve. Perhaps I’m trying to re-create an experience I once had, where the veil between me and the world – a veil I didn’t know was there – fell away for half a day.

Who knows? When I’m swamped with difficult feelings, I certainly don’t. And I’m not used to spiritual discipline. The only precedent in my experience is kneeling on the hard, polished floorboards of the school hall to recite the Lord’s Prayer. We prayed with straight faces because Miss Borman rapped you on the knuckles with a ruler in front of the rest of the class if she caught you smirking.

So, when the going gets tough, why don’t I just get up from the cushion and make myself a cup of tea? Well, sometimes I do. But what about those times I don’t? For inspiration, I ask my partner why he finishes his runs. He says it’s because he remembers what life as a couch potato was like.

I’m not blessed by a recollection of the quality of life before meditation. But I am blessed by the anxiety that sends its sinuous tentacles into each and every meditation, reminding me how unmanageable my life can get. So I sit on in fear. I sit on in the shadow of Miss Borman, who believed in our own good even if she had a funny way of showing it. I sit on in the hope that ‘this too will pass’ even though I don’t know it will. I sit on in the hope that the practice will do the ‘me’ I persist in believing in ‘good.’ I sit on to keep myself and the world company. I sit on out of habit and in doubt, feeling like an idiot. I sit on out of gratitude and joy. I sit on to find comfort at least in discipline. I sit on without knowing why. I sit on.

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How to run, meditate, and not get hurt

Boing Boing: It’s a brisk Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, and I’m standing outside of Sports Basement with a metronome in my hand. Several hundred feet away, a guy in a funny hat is running around the empty parking lot at a consistent 85 steps per minute. His upper body angles forward as his legs cycle backwards to the beat… beep beep beep. It looks kind of ridiculous, but the guy is actually demonstrating an innovative exercise regime that combines the concepts of Tai Chi and mindfulness meditation with athletic techniques used by Kenyan Olympic sprinters. It’s called Chi Running, and it’s directly related to recent debates around natural vs power running and the case against heavy-duty sneakers.

Most conventional athletic coaches and sports apparel companies advocate power running — running for max speed, personal records, high performance, lots of muscle (think European sprinters with giant legs surging forward and arms pumping furiously). Chi Running takes advantage of a force that comes naturally to all of us — gravity.

The funny runner guy is Chris Griffin; he’s my instructor. I’m training for my first half-marathon right now, so I figured now would be a good a time as ever to learn good form and try to stay pain-free. Earlier, lying on the floor of the Triathlon department on a gaudy red carpet, me and a dozen others — including an injury-prone high school track star and a 60-year old grandma — learned the basic tenets of this unique running philosophy.

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By using what Griffin calls “the lean,” we create momentum through gravitational pull, using the arms as levers and the legs as wheels revolve naturally behind us. “If you ever watch the Kenyans running in the Olympics,” he says, “they’re practicing Chi Running. It’s the most natural way to run.” There are some simple rules to follow — core tight, butt relaxed, calves relaxed, head straight, feet straight (a lot of people run with their feet pointed slightly outward, which causes stress on the knees and toes), weight balanced in the middle of the feet, cadence consistent no matter what the speed. And it works.

One of Chi Running founder Danny Dreyer’s first group of clients in 1999 was a group of rocket scientists at NASA’s Ames campus in Silicon Valley. “One physicist came up to me after class and said, ‘I don’t believe in Tai Chi woo woo stuff, but what you’re teaching is straight down the line good physics,'” Dreyer recalls. “Nobody had applied physics to running before, but this made sense to them.”

In 1972, American marathoner Frank Shorter won a gold at the Olympics and started advocating the idea that anybody could run for exercise. This led to the dawn of the running sneaker industry — by the end of that decade, the first Nike Air product had hit the market, New Balance had earned a reputation as the best running shoe ever, and UK company Reebok entered the US market with the most expensive running shoe to date.

The problem is that most running shoes are designed with a half-inch heel lift. “George Sheehan, a cardiologist who wrote for Runner’s World in the 70s, proposed quite correctly that by increasing the height of the shoe, you could increase stride length,” Ian Adamson, a world champion adventure racer who now directs product development at running shoe company Newton, tells me. “But this can cause a couple of unfortunate results. Changing the biomechanical ratio between the fibula, tibia, and femur causes you to strike the ground too soon. Also, the 1/2 inch lift means you’re effectively always running down a 15-degree slope. So you end up constantly over-striding; your joints lock out and it causes immense shock on the body.” These performance-enhancing shoes have played a tangible role in the number of injuries caused by running. This has also inadvertently led to the rise of the running injury treatment industry — think braces and surgery and PT.

The sneaker industry, though, has been showing signs of change. Newton currently sells about a dozen running shoe models exclusively designed for a mid- and forefoot strike. New Balance’s 800s are made specifically for Chi Running, with shock absorption cushioning at the midfoot. Nike’s Frees, though still with the half inch heel lift, are designed to mimic the sensation of barefoot running. And if you really want to get close to running with no shoes on there’s Vibram Five Fingers. “There are a lot of options out there,” Griffin, the instructor, tells our class. “But remember, technique has to precede gear.”

It’s been about a month since I took the Chi Running workshop, and I’m happy to report that the 100+ miles that I’ve run since then have been injury-free. The hardest thing for me to incorporate was the mindfulness aspect. Most of us have gotten accustomed to listening to music or podcasts while running, so when Griffin suggested we ditch the iPod and treat running as a practice like yoga or meditation, I was hesitant. The whole reason I’d been able to start running distances in the first place was thanks to Nike Plus, so I just wasn’t sure how I’d feel to run without knowing how fast and how long. One day, though, I forgot my iPod at home and was forced to run without metrics or music — it ended up being one of my most refreshing runs ever. I just listened to the wind and focused on my breathing. It reminded me of a passage I read in novelist and runner Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void… The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always.

I still like to run with my iPod when I remember it, but I think that’s okay. Like with any practice, it’s important to be comfortable where you are while acknowledging that you’re on the road to improvement. That’s how I feel about my running now.

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Running feeds seminarian’s body, mind, spirit (The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pennsylvania)

Bobby Ross Jr., The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pennsylvania): In what he calls his “Mother Teresa Run,” Roger Joslin looks for the divine in the faces of everyone he meets. When “Running With Alms,” the Austin seminarian takes along a few dollars to help those in need.

In Joslin’s view, a spiritual experience – even an encounter with God – is as likely to occur along a wooded trail as in a church, synagogue or mosque.

The 52-year-old master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest relates his experiences in the book “Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”

Published last year by St. Martin’s Press in New York, the book combines Joslin’s insights from 30 years of running with the spiritual journey that guided him toward the priesthood.

Joslin maintains that through chants, visualization and attention to the most obvious aspects of the present moment – the weather, pain or breathing – the simple run can become the basis for a profound spiritual practice.

“When running, search for the divine in the ordinary,” he writes. “Each run is not a pilgrimage to Chartres, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, but it is a pilgrimage nonetheless.

If the intention is to converse with God, you are a pilgrim. It is the very ordinariness of the run that enables it to become a central part of your spiritual life. When God appears in the midst of the mundane, we are making progress toward him.”

In a recent interview, Joslin described how he prepares for a workout, trying to get himself into a state in which he is keenly aware of everything around him.

“Before I go for a run, if I’m driving, I’ll turn off the radio on the way, so I can begin to prepare,” he said. “When I’m putting on my T-shirt and my shorts, I’m going to do it very methodically, very consciously, in the same way that a priest might put on his vestments in preparation for celebration of Mass.”

In California, a group from the Rev. Jimmy Bartz’s church gathers each Thursday at the Santa Monica beach to run and pray based on the guidance in Joslin’s book.

Bartz, associate rector at All Saints’ Beverly Hills, an Episcopal church, said Joslin isn’t the first to combine meditative spiritual practice with physical exercise.

“I think there are a lot of people that have thought about it, but it just hasn’t been quite expressed the way Roger does pretty clearly in his book,” said Bartz, a longtime friend of Joslin’s.

Joslin’s book advocates “running meditation” as a way to quiet one’s mind and engage the body.

Hunt Priest, a friend and fellow seminarian, said Joslin’s book “just really blurred, in a necessary way, the line between the sacred and the everyday.”

“It helps you understand that you can be praying or meditating all the time,” said Priest, 39. “It doesn’t have to be one hour on Sunday.”

Joslin’s spiritual path to the seminary was more a marathon than a sprint.

He entered the seminary two years ago after 20 years in the architectural woodwork business. He’s not alone in pursuing the priesthood later in life; many of his fellow seminarians are in their early 40s.

“I am sure that I will be a far better priest now than I would have been had I entered the ministry at an earlier age,” he said. “I may not be wiser, but I am more compassionate. I have a better sense of how difficult life can be.”

Perhaps fittingly, running helps Joslin deal with that difficulty. But that wasn’t always the case.

As a high school football player in Alvarado, south of Fort Worth, he – viewed running simply as punishment. In his 20s, he ran just to keep in shape.

Then in his late 30s, the father of two dealt with a painful divorce. Running became an escape – but that escape gave way to a transformation.

As Joslin paid more attention to his immediate physical environment, he started seeing God, he said. A running journal that he kept from 1993 to 2001 formed the foundation for his book.

“God exists in the present, and to the extent to which you can find yourself fully engaged in the present, I think you can call that an experience with the divine,” he said. “It’s not always spectacular and mystical, although it can be on occasion.”

Joslin said his “original encounters with the divine” occurred in natural settings such as Big Bend National Park and the Pecos Wilderness.

“But I probably wouldn’t want to be a priest if I couldn’t experience God’s presence through the sacraments in the sanctuary,” he said. “I can’t say that one’s easier than the other. God exists all around. It’s a matter of being intentive and being receptive in either setting.”

Roger Joslin, 52, a master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, holds a
copy of his book, “Running the – Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”

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