How to Meditate While Running

03/10/2015 08:52 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015
Courtesy Hwansan Sunim

Before getting started, I should tell you that in the Son Buddhist tradition there's no such thing as running meditation. Performing Son meditation while running is something that I basically made up. At the beginning of my monastic life, when I was still a postulant, I was once chastised for running. I was rushing to get something done. The monk who rebuked me said, "It's unseemly for a cultivator of the Tao to run willy-nilly!" I stared at him uncomprehendingly. At the time, it made no sense to me that running could somehow hinder spiritual growth.

But I understood later what he meant. When you run, it's nearly impossible to maintain proper diaphragmatic breathing technique.


Because no one said anything about jogging. In ancient China and Korea, no one ran at moderate speed for exercise.

Now it's said that when you jog, you should run at a speed where you talk to someone next to you at normal speech volume without getting out of breath. And if you can talk comfortably while running, theoretically you should be able to meditate and apply diaphragmatic breathing.

Several years ago someone donated a couple of health club treadmills to our monastery. I was very pleased by this opportunity to jog again and immediately went out and bought my first sweatsuit in years. After I began to use the treadmill, it dawned on me that I could meditate easily on a treadmill because I don't have to mind traffic or other distractions. I was very happy to find that meditating while running is joyful. In time I discovered that you can meditate doing nearly any form of exercise that does not require you to go at 100 percent full speed or full strength.

Son Meditation While Running

1. Once again I'll suggest that you familiarize yourself with traditional Son meditation technique before attempting to meditate while physically moving. If you don't know how to perform Son meditation, please refer to my recent blog articles.

2. You should also make the effort to learn proper running form. There are many good books and instructional videos on the internet.

3. Finally, I recommend that you first practice on a treadmill. If one is not available, then you could practice at a local track or park. Initially, it helps to choose places that don't have distracting scenery.

4. Before running, stretch and prepare as you normally do.

5. Then, do three cycles of Preparation Breathing.

6. Begin running and don't worry about diaphragmatic breathing and "Yi-mwot-go?" for the first few minutes.

7. Once your body finds its rhythm, then gently initiate diaphragmatic breathing. It may feel odd, as if your deep slow breathing is out of sync with your pace.

8. Most likely, your diaphragmatic breathing will be shallower than during quiet Son meditation. That's okay, don't expect your breathing to be exactly the same as when you sit.

9. At a certain point, syncing the diaphragmatic breathing with the rhythm of your steps will begin to feel natural. You'll feel a sense of inner stillness and silence that is both refreshing and poignant.

10. Here you can begin the "Yi-mwot-go?" hwadu meditation.

11. As you jog, note the relationship between your flow of thought, breathing, and running form. Often when your thoughts lose focus and begin to free associate, you may break from diaphragmatic breathing, and your stride may lose its rhythm and sense of lightness.

12. On the other hand, when diaphragmatic breathing, running form, and "Yi-mwot-go?" occur in unison, you will notice a greater economy of movement and find that the meditation is actually helping you to run better.

There are many discoveries to be made by combining Son meditation and running. For example, we may find that meditation enhances our experience of the so-called "runner's high." By performing Son meditation as we run, we may experience an unusual sense of inner clarity and sobriety that is nonetheless suffused with exultation and gratitude for simply being physically alive. This experience alone can change our perspective on our lives, relationships, and human existence itself.

However, although these types of spiritual experience feel immensely rewarding, we should not allow ourselves to be carried away by them. Do not grasp at them, hoping they can last a little longer. Allow them to flow through you and away as they inevitably do. These experiences may change us, but they will not remain with us. We mustn't allow ourselves to form the habit of constantly chasing these "highs."

It is imperative that we remain focused on "Yi-mwot-go?" and the generation of the Great Doubt at all times. By maintaining concentration on the Great Doubt, we ensure that our mind cultivation will continue to progress and deepen. There are greater and more profound experiences in store for you. The Son masters admonish us not to be satisfied by anything less than enlightenment.

Ultimately, however, this is a historic time in the meeting between the traditions of Buddhist meditation and modern culture. For the first time, the disciplines of both traditions are being accepted by mainstream society. It is a time for experimentation, improvisation, and exploration. Who knows what new forms of knowledge and experience -- new ways of being human -- may be discovered in this meeting between the past and the present? Simply by incorporating Son meditation into your modern life, you become a pioneer in the development of human spirituality. So I encourage you to be joyful and playful and experimental in your meditation practice. Good luck!

Palms together,

Hwansan Sunim

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