Marathon runners and Zen meditation practitioners are seldom compared. Sometimes yoga, Pilates and tai chi practices are termed “mind/body exercise” by the fitness industry because of the strong meditative component of these disciplines. In many ways though, running long distances such as the 26.2 miles of a marathon is just like Zen meditation. Here are 3 similarities.
1. Radical Acceptance.
During Zen meditation you cultivate an attitude of non-reaction to whatever arises. If a strong urge arises such as a desire to get up and do something else, your don’t ignore it. You simply notice the thoughts, feelings, and desires and decide to not act on them. Complete acceptance of how things are in the present moment is the target.
Similarly, there are many times in marathon running where you get a strong urge to stop due to extreme fatigue. To be successful your have to notice what is happening, yet not react. Deciding to continue with the practice despite the desire to quit–it’s common bond between running and meditation.
During sitting meditation the mind usually wanders incessantly. You notice this but bring your attention back to your breath and the body. By repeatedly noticing your breathing and bodily sensations, you develope concentration and stillness of mind. Your mind gradually begins to settle down. This method brings a deeper level of awareness.
During a long run, the feelings in you body and your breathing become so strong that they begin to dominate the your awareness. In this way, running induces a state of mindfulness similar to sitting meditation.
3. Intense Present Moment Awareness.
The object of Zen meditation is cultivate attentive awareness of the present moment. The typical human mind is usually jumping from memories of the past to projections of the future. The present moment is seen as an obstacle to getting to some future moment where everything will be just right.
Meditation cultivates a sense that everything is just right now, even though it is probably not exactly as desired. Long distance running is similar. The only way to get through it is one step at a time.
Complete acceptance of how the body feels right now coupled with attention to breathing and bodily feelings creates a state of blissful peace. The runner learns to make peace with every step of the journey.
“Only the present moment contains life.”
–Zen master Thich Naht Hanh s, Peace is Every Step
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Author: Nick Ortego is a health coach specializing in biohacking for runners. He integrates modern methods with the ancient wisdom of yoga to help runners get the most out of every aspect of life. He is the owner of N 2 Action, a wellness studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offering personal training, health coaching, yoga, and fascial stretch therapy.