Every year I make it a point to read a handful of books on running, preferring those with a personal narrative to straight reference/ training books. This is pleasure reading for me, though every book has at least a handful of practical takeaway tips. Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a favorite, but I can’t think of any that I haven’t enjoyed so maybe I’m a little biased for this genre.
A friend gave us Sakyong Mipham’s Running with the Mind of Meditation back in November. He passed the book on to us with so much enthusiasm that we promptly forgot about it for a few months. It wasn’t until my boyfriend went out of town and I found myself hungry for something substantial that I picked it up.
Haruki Murakami finally has some company on the running book favorites pile.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is a Tibetan spiritual leader and an avid runner with nine marathons under his
belt robes. He begins at the beginning of his running journey: the process of building his base to strengthen muscles, toughen tendons and harden bones. Trainers told him it would take two years and it did. This is apparently a common time frame and one I wish I’d known when I started running. Though that’s easy to say in hind sight; I probably would’ve found it discouraging then.
Throughout the book Mipham reminds readers not to focus on how many miles are still ahead, but on where they are in the present. He likens beginning running to beginning a meditation practice. At first the mind is out of shape; it doesn’t embrace stillness or cope with excess work. Then there are the physical similarities. Both practices at first require attentive breathing. Deepening either practice in a spiritual way calls for a harmony of mind and body.
There are some surprisingly funny comparisons to running and meditation, too. In one of my favorite passages, he looks at the differences between meditating with discipline and sitting down and “just thinking away”. It’s akin to putting on running shoes and just standing there. Something about this image comes back to me every time I try to “find the breath” while my mind attempts to wimp away.
He reminds you that appreciating breath leads to an interesting well-being.
That is why we feel the benefits of meditating immediately: we simply notice more, and appreciate it more.
Sakyong Mipham introduces meditative running and still meditation as a way to extend the mental clarity you have after a run. For most of us, this clarity comes not from a disciplined mind but from sheer exhaustion. More mental clarity sounds good, right? But you have to work for it. He offers several contemplations to try when running, suggesting you focus on a word or a theme – love, compassion, generosity or healing, for example.
We do spend much of the time hanging with our mind.
Why not use this time to train our minds, too? Why not discipline the mind, expand it by directing it to the positive?
As the lineage holder of Shambhala, he shares the four dignities of Shambhala, the teachings based on the path of warriorship, and how they relate to meditative running. These stages are tiger, lion, garuda, dragon. The reason you have to read this book slowly and possibly multiple times is that this latter half of the book expands on the philosophies he introduces in the beginning, and they’re too valuable to sprint through.
He also discusses tangible things, like the benefits of registering for a race. It’s powerful because its inspiration and motivation all in one.
That moment of inspiration – when we know what we are doing and why – is like an arrow that we shoot. Wherever that arrow goes, our mental and physical troops will follow.
Perhaps one of his most universal messages is that you build power in your body by practicing mindfulness. The equation is not complicated.
When our mind leaves our body, we’re like a balloon that has lost its air.
There’s so much wisdom in this book I feel like any runner who doesn’t read it is missing out. I spent a lot of time running alone with the words fresh in my head. It almost felt like having a good friend there reminding me not to think about how many miles were ahead but on where I was in that moment. And like a good buddy, Mipham’s words are helping me improve my posture and breathing. His line about remembering that lungs are also in the back and how leaning forward cuts your breath short is so visual that it stuck. When I used to run on treadmills at the gym with all those mirrors, I couldn’t help noticing how slouchy my running posture was. No more achy back!
If you ever find yourself in a running funk, this is the book to turn to. Unlike most other books in this genre, there’s no machismo here, and his personality doesn’t compete for attention. There’s a generous spirit that’s at once engaging and encouraging. No matter what level you’re at, a boost always helps.