Why run? How do I reach a “runner’s high”? And how is zen related?
Running is an art form, in and of itself. To witness the supreme athletes in the sport of running is to basically watch the gazelle-like movement of a perfect locomotive dancing in their shoes. It’s captivating to see someone run with awesome form; the rhythm, timing, grace, agility, and incredible posture. It would be easy to chalk it up to hours and hours of training, yet most of the best runners have discovered their own zen strategies that give them that sense of contentment when putting one foot in front of the other and ticking off countless miles on either dirt or pavement. Even the most inclement weather conditions will not deter a runner when they are in the zen of their zone. Runners just do it.
Zen is a state of the mind and body that can be likened to a spiritual experience. When the runner is in harmony and alignment with their sport the contentment shows in both their stride and their faces. Nothing can deter a runner who has hit that feeling of “Wow, this is the most incredible moment of the day”! It is infectious. It carries a great amount of inspiration and motivation to those beginning runners who are looking for that same kind of endorphin high.
Running alone provides more time to think, to process, to create, and to go deep within the body with all the pistons firing at once. Between the sweat, the heart-pumping adrenaline, the feeling of strength in the legs and the core, and the moment to moment gazes at the surrounding environment, this is zen. This is art. This is why we run.
We run because it is a passion. We run because it gives us courage and a purpose. We run because our health depends on it. We run because the sport is a way to build community and friendships. We run to encourage others to move their bodies in a way that nature intended. We run because it just feels damn good.
Before I get so wrapped up in the glorious feelings of running, let me break down how “zen” is actually defined. For beginning runners who are searching for that high and endorphin rush, zen is simple. It is a question: who are you? When we are constantly searching for happiness outside of ourselves, the zen eludes us. Zen is clarity and purpose. It is being in that moment where you are compassionate, giving, loving. Zen is being present. Zen is intuition. Zen is awareness and enlightenment.
Blending zen and running might feel like the opposite of altruistic, as the sport is somewhat solo and selfish. But, if you truly run with your heart and soul, paying attention to all that is happening, zen is right there in all its glory. Zen and running go together beautifully. Your body is moving in ways that are cohesive and natural to your limbs and organs. We aren’t meant to sit around and get lazy. We are designed to move.
Running is a moving meditation. If I am having any creative blocks about decisions in life or choices needing to be made, I will go for a run, and those massive obstacles seemingly disappear. I focus on the sounds of nature. I listen to me putting one foot in front of the other. I pay attention to any signs and synchronicities that are there for me to witness. I sweat and feel extremely grateful that I have chosen to run and be part of the outdoor world. It feels zen-like to me. It can be zen for you.
If you are an indoor runner, due to weather deterrents, the treadmill can surprisingly offer up a zen experience. First of all, turn off the TV. Secondly, set the speed to a pace that feels comfortable enough for the first five or ten minutes, then increase it when your body has warmed up. If you listen to music, make sure they are tunes that agree with your pace, your mood, your expectation, and your goals for that day. All too often, music can make or break the zen of your run, especially being indoors.
This is not to say that running on a treadmill won’t provide a magical moment; it just means you have to tune everything out, including talking to others, watching everything around you, and listening to your body (whether you have music in your ears or not). Indoor running can be a bit of a challenge for zen running, but it certainly beats doing nothing. Making it happen is the initial step. Once you do that, the rest of the experience is up to you. No one can control your own meditation state while being on a treadmill. The choice is yours.
Outdoor running, on the other hand, provides every nuance of the zen moments. Even if music is pumping in your ears from the iPod you have the ability to gaze at the earth around you. Wildlife, trees, the trail, the traffic, the other runners you pass, and your own place in that space and time, offer up the most amazing sensation for your breath and your heart. It isn’t so much making the effort, as much as it is being aware of it all. Going with the flow of running is far and above more meaningful in the truest sense of the word. Ask any runner who enjoys their daily dose, and the answer is always “it just feels good”. That is zen. That is the reason we run. It just feels good.
Zen and the art of running is mastery of its own will. The most optimum feeling of being alive and alert during a run transcends all else. Every sport depends on running to get their athletes in shape. Training for competition involves running in one way or another, whatever the distance. If that’s your choice, make it the best possible experience each and every time. Basically, be zen.
Photo credit: Flickr/jetportal