16. Running Meditation

16. Running Meditation

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Running Meditation

Move and the way will open.
 ~Zen Proverb

It was a couple of weeks after midterm during the second semester of my first college year when the stress really started to hit me. The difficulty of my classes was not in itself enough to faze me, but combined with increased responsibilities at work, financial worries, and my own perfectionism that would settle for nothing less than an A in any subject, my nerves were completely shot. I had tried meditation many times, but with minimal success. It is not in my nature to sit for long and I was having a rough time focusing on my breath with my mind so full of x+y and the endless stream of exams. It became an effort just to get out of bed in the morning. That is until one day a friend from class suggested that I take up running.

She had been diagnosed the year before with diabetes, and as a result, her doctor recommended that she lose some weight. She had initially taken up running with that goal in mind. She was startled after only a couple of months to find that the benefits of the exercise far exceeded shedding a few pounds. She insisted that after a run she felt more alert, more energetic and less stressed out in general. “Just try it. Twenty minutes a day and I guarantee it will change your life.”

“Twenty minutes,” I replied, “I’m lucky if I have 5 minutes to brush my teeth. I just don’t have the time.”

“Make the time,” she said. So I did.

The idea of running did appeal to me. I like to be active and I had always wanted to give it a try. Since nerves usually woke me before my alarm in the mornings anyway I figured that instead of lying awake for half an hour fretting over quizzes, I could at least make constructive use of the time.

Following her advice I started out slowly, 20 minutes alternating jogging and walking, then gradually working my way up a full twenty-minute run. I started out around 5 AM, and I think it was the peace of those waking hours that initially kept me in the routine. I loved the stillness of the town at that hour, when the only sounds were the birdsongs and my own footsteps treading along the path. I had never watched a sunrise until then and I was mesmerized by the steady transformation of night into day.

In the beginning, it was all I could to do to keep my breath flowing. I learned quickly that I had to develop a rhythm in my breathing if I was going to achieve any reasonable distance. I also had to make this rhythm coincide with my body’s movements. It was mind and body working together, a complete harmony achieved through consistency and focus. I was exhilarated by this newfound sense of balance. For what felt like the first time in my life I felt clear about something. I felt stable and at the same time I felt free.

During my jog I would first focus on my stride and then, once I felt steady, I would just focus on my breath, simply letting it flow in and out in its own natural rhythm. I let my thoughts come and go, holding onto nothing, just watching my breath. It took me a while to realize that what I was doing was actually a form of meditation. By that time I had already begun to notice its effects in my daily life.

I found myself not dwelling so much on work and school and increasing piles of bills, but on matters far outside the daily trials of life, like the natural rhythms that take place all around us. The natural flow of life that we often fail to notice in our eternal rush. During my run I would observe the seasonal changes and the way the plants and animals would adjust accordingly and I would feel connected to it all.

I also noticed that I didn’t feel so tense anymore. I still had my moments of worry, but I stopped feeling consumed by them. I felt stronger, physically and mentally. I laughed more and studied less for the simple fact that I felt more able to retain the information quickly and in greater detail than ever before. As I began to challenge myself while running I also learned to meet complications in my life in a similar manner. I would try my best and if I made it, great, if not I would keep at it until I did. I came to understand that one setback does not equal failure.

I usually run up to an hour each day now. I can’t imagine my life without it. I love the feeling it gives me, a feeling I am still learning to carry with me throughout the day. It is my meditation, my gateway to that space inside that we all need to go to at some point in the day. That space where we are able to tune out the world, if only for a moment, and allow ourselves to just be.

~Cristina M. Cherry

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