Gifted ultra-distance runner Grahak Cunningham offers advice on how to combine meditation with running.

We have all finished up a workout and felt great afterwards. It relieves stress and improves fitness. For me, something about running especially invokes clarity in our mind and hearts. So what is the connection between heading out for a run and feeling good during and afterwards? What is the connection between the inner and the outer?

Let’s initially look at situations where things aren’t going to plan. I went for a 10k recently and couldn’t get into a rhythm. There was no flow. I got all the traffic lights. I kept telling myself how difficult this particular run was and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It happens on occasions. When we hit the wall, our bodies have reached the limit and our minds will make comments that are continually negative. These times are challenging. It would be easier to quit, to catch a taxi home and sit on the couch, but we don’t. Something within us won’t give up and we keep trying to reach the goal we have set ourselves.

To run you need determination, resilience and concentration–skills that can be learnt through practice. “Determination and impossibility,” says distance runner Sri Chinmoy, who was perhaps the most famous exponent of combining meditation with exercise, “are never to be found together.” The main thing about running is its simplicity. It helps force you to be focused. If thoughts bother you it is very obvious and you have a difficult time on the run, as I did. This is actually a good thing: you notice, refocus or change your attitude and carry on.

Thankfully, most of the time when we are inspired to get out for a run, good experiences occur. Clean air, nature, cyclical movements and repetitive breathing bring about a calm and reflective mind and allowing us to be more inside our hearts. Connecting with nature brings with it peace and a positive power.

Meditation and Formal Practice

Never tried meditation formally? It’s probably not that foreign. Everyone has experienced meditation at some time in their life. Watching the sunset, walking in the forest, the smile of a child, the vastness of the ocean–these things stir something inside us and make us feel uplifted. It is the same with ultra-running. It’s certainly possible to keep your clarity and peace while participating. Running longer distances pushes us. We must take that extra step, move forward despite difficulties, transcend ourselves to make progress. The longer or faster you go, the deeper you have to dig.

Combining meditation and sports on a more formal level is done by many high achievers. Great sportsmen talk about moments of conviction before an event. They feel at home and peace with the game or task ahead. Nothing is forced and victory or achievement just flows. Professional golfers have amazing visualisation skills. Tennis players, concentration. Watch them about to receive serve and you will notice! Olympic champion Carl Lewis meditated before his sprints. “I would just go quiet and try to listen for the farthest sound away…just having my peace, where it all stops and you’re just aware of where you need to be,” he has said. “Every record I set, I knew it was a record because it was the easiest race I ran.”

Running is a way to achieve fulfilment and so is meditation. When you can get outdoors for a run or meditate in the morning your entire outlook on the entire day gets better. Combining the two your whole outlook on life improves.

By Grahak Cunningham