For beginning or even seasoned runners and yoga practitioners alike, there will undoubtedly be those moments when getting a mile down the road or through the next pose will seem tedious at best and unbearable at worst. For me, that wall has always been reason enough to stop. Routinely, upon reaching that wall, some runners crank up their iPod and propel themselves forward. Me, I can immediately rattle off a list of all the things I need to do that day—all of the “more important” errands that need to be run—rather than wasting time completing the running in front of me.
So, upon learning that The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche—one of the world’s foremost Tibetan Buddhist lamas and a marathon runner himself—had developed a program to combine the stay-in-the-present focus of meditation and the body alignment of Anusara yoga with the act of running, my legs perked up for the first time in years.
The Sakyong, who is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and author of two best-selling books on meditation, started the Running with the Mind program in 2006 and each year since it has returned to northern Colorado’s Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes.
This year, the program takes place over the long Labor Day weekend and includes daily sitting meditation practice, yoga sessions, group and individual runs, running instruction on posture and form, as well as discussion groups and nutritional meals. “The way I like to frame it,” says program director Jon Pratt, “is that it brings more joy to your running.”
Bringing joy to running may sound easy for Pratt, a running partner of The Sakyong who has been meditating for 19 years and running for more than 30, but he’s quick to note that the program is just the beginning. “When I started running, after two miles I was bored to tears. For anyone who has tried it, sitting meditation can be even more boring. But it’s a process that, if we stick with it, we develop a mind that’s stronger, and boredom becomes something much different than we think it is.”
Pratt isn’t trying to be abstract either. Boredom, he notes, can be very joyful if we are conscious of ourselves and fully alive in our body in the present. “If you’re not struggling with other thoughts, running or even washing dishes can be a very joyful thing to do.”
I’ll wait to tackle my life-long aversion to washing dishes. For now, the process of syncing my mind and body sounds not only tempting but also energizing. If I could keep from wasting energy by thinking of all the things that I have to do later, or fretting about all of the miles and hills I still have to pass, then maybe I could focus more on how strong my legs and lungs actually feel in this moment.
Pratt also believes such awareness can help runners of all levels avoid injuries. “We emphasize gentleness,” he says. “We don’t want to plow through and conquer our pain, but rather to be tuned into our body and know what pain needs to be tended to and what pain might be okay if we just relax to it.” It’s something that probably sounds familiar to anyone who has practiced yoga, which also synchronizes the mind and body in movement and intention. In the Running with the Mind program, yoga is the bridge between sitting meditation and meditating while running.
While most people reading this won’t have a chance to sign up for one of the 50 slots at this year’s Running with the Mind program at the Shambhala Mountain Center, the good news is that The Sakyong is also compiling the teachings and philosophy behind the program into a book to be published in the Spring of 2012.
Currently titled “Running with the Mind of Meditation,” the book is expected to bring even more interest to the program, which Pratt hopes will translate into multiple sessions next year. For now, we can all start by taking that first step and as Pratt says, “We teach people to come back to their breath, to use their focus on the breath as a stabilizing point. Once you develop a strong and stable mind, you can focus it more clearly and great possibilities can come out of it.”
Shambhala Mountain Center
The SMC sits on 600 acres of mountain valley in northern Colorado and has been hosting a wide variety of active and contemplative programs for the past 40 years. In the past decade, more than 35,000 square feet of program, dining and housing space has been added to the center and as a result more than 500 people in the summer and 150 in the winter are able to visit and practice at the SMC each year.
The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and is spiritual director of Shambhala, a borderless kingdom of meditation practitioners committed to realizing enlightenment and social harmony through daily life. He leads a global community of more than 150 meditation centers, including the Shambhala Mountain Center here in Colorado, and has written two books, “Turning the Mind into an Ally” and “Ruling Your World.”