Monday, June 01, 2015

Read It: Running with the Mind of Meditation

What electricity comes forth,
in the sweat I feel in my mouth...
-from "Freedom" by Sakyong Mipham (199)

Books about running fall into a number of different categories. Some are fictional, such as the classic Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr., while others are autobiographical/adventure tomes, such as the uber successful Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. As both a recreational runner, track coach and English teacher it is not uncommon for me to pick up topical fiction and nonfiction when I come across it, especially when it speaks to my situation at the moment.

Like the aforementioned Born to Run, Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham was a book that I had on my bookshelf for a number of years before really digging into it. As the old addage goes "when the student is ready (me), the teacher (or a relevant book anyway), appears." Over the past few months I have embarked on a return to fitness and Mipham's book articulates a few of the thoughts I myself have been noodling through.

While something of a primer on movement meditation, my initial interest in this particular title (besides reading about the author in Runner's World magazine shared to the right) were Mipham's observations regarding the application of breathing practice and visualization to ameliorating (or at least managing) the aches and pains that come with distance training. Since starting back up with a training plan, I have dealt with a left hamstring issue that has troubled me since the fall. In  the past, I have used mantras to maintain focus during long runs, and continue to be interested in new thoughts.

From the August 2014
Runner's World.
For any with a rudimentary understanding of meditation, there is some familiar ground covered though from a more Tibetan perspective than I have read previously. Because of this new-to-me perspective,what could have been redundant is kept unique and fresh with the inclusion of some new Tibetan vocabulary. Mipham structures his book in such a way that the reader progresses with the author through the stages of meditation practice that mirrors initiating a new running plan. Starting with Part 1, Chapter 2. "Building a Base," Mipham establishes the significance of the mind-body connection, a relationship that can benefit from the collaborative practice of running and meditation: "Unless we train it,the mind does the minimum necessary to fulfill a function. In that way it is like the body." (24)

After using a series of personal anecdotes including conversations with other runners and observations from personal experience, Mipham bring us through "Tiger" (Part II) and "Lion" (Part III) levels or stages before concluding with Part IV. In establishing his terms, Mipham explains that "Garudu" is both a meditation technique for "moving forward with a health balance of mindfulness and awareness" and a "mythical bird with human arms hatching ready to fly." (135) In the context of the book, Garuda takes on the symbolic role of we, as runners and humans, faced with the challenge to go beyond one's comfort zone. I had not previously been ware of the Garuda concept, but given the propensity of many recreational runners (especially me!) to either 1. deviate from running due to boredom or 2. continue along a progression of distances in an effort to go farther, faster.

Mipham's accessible and conversational writing style, with excellent explanations of new and unfamiliar terms, make Running with the Mind of Meditation a brisk and informative read. Regardless of where you find yourself in your training: whether with mediation or running, Mipham's clear articulation of progressively more sophisticated facets of both practices suggest a book that will reward with re-reading too. Recommended as a vital re-framing and focused presentation of the practice of meditation as a means of enriching the possibilities of the running mind-body connection.

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