Most people probably envision meditation as something done while sitting motionless and in silence. But meditation doesn’t have to be a retreat. You can meditate while walking, doing chores, even during vigorous exercise like running, swimming, or any other athletic pursuit.
Meditation Can Help Change the “No Pain, No Gain” Equation
Thinking too much while exercising—especially during workouts requiring a lot of exertion—can make it seem more draining. But meditation helps bring body and mind together, making them allies rather than adversaries. When you unify your concentration and your physical sensations, it’s no longer about the finish line; it’s about embracing each step of the journey along the way.
Noted Tibetan lama and marathon runner Sakyong Mipham is one of today’s leading disciples of merging mind and body through meditation. Mipham leads Shambhala, a global community of meditation and retreat centers. His teachings include how to use meditation as preparation for intense exercise, as well as while engaged in the activity itself.
“When you run, occasionally you have a pain here and there, but a lot is mental,” he told Runner’s World. “If you work with the mind, sustain it, then you will not let the mind become rotten or let it deflate you and overcome your confidence.”
Jon Pratt, a marathoner who leads the running program at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, sees meditation as a way to prevent the mind from interfering with the joyous physical experience of exercise. “What surprises some people is that meditation is very much a body-oriented discipline,” he told the Running Times. “It is not about leaving your body and entering some celestial realm. It is about relating to the here and now, which we experience through our five senses. So in meditation we learn to let go of our thoughts and come back to our body. ”Being in a “meditative mind” allows us to be more “fully in the moment and fully in our bodies,” notes Pratt. The result: “Every run is a new and exciting experience.”
Mindfulness Takes a Plunge: Meditation While Swimming
My interest in meditating on the move was sparked when my wife and I participated in a meditation workshop. One of the exercises especially intrigued me. The instructor told us to imagine air flowing into our lungs and then to a particular part of the body as we inhaled, then out again as we exhaled. It made me think of a coastal tide lapping the shore and then returning to sea.
As I breathed in, I imagined the air flowing into the arm that was about to enter the water for its next attempt to pull me forward. Then I visualized the air flowing out of my arm as I exhaled and completed the stroke.
As I breathed in, I imagined the air flowing into the arm that was about to enter the water for its next attempt to pull me forward.
Then I visualized the air flowing out of my arm as I exhaled and completed the stroke. I repeated this focus with the other arm, then with my legs. I sensed my limbs becoming more powerful, as if I had willed more fuel into them.
Somehow this focus also helped me become more aware of all the other tactile stimuli affecting me. The water coursing around my body. The splash as my kicking feet broke the surface. The contact on my hand going from liquid to solid as I touched the tile wall at the end of each lap. The fizz of bubbles out of my nose as I exhaled into the water.
Eventually this feeling of flow spread to the rest of my body and my sensation of the water itself. I felt at one with the water; it was no longer a resistance to overcome but an ally working in harmony with my body. Although I wasn’t catching any waves in this indoor pool, the feeling of water aiding my effort was real and I embraced it. This is, of course, a hallmark of meditation itself: to accept whatever thoughts, sensations, and feelings pass into your consciousness, without judgment.
You don’t have to be a swimmer or long-distance runner to benefit from meditation on the go. It can be incorporated into any kind of workout or physical activity.
Of course, you don’t have to be a swimmer or long-distance runner to benefit from meditation on the go. It can be incorporated into any kind of workout or physical activity.
I used to feel totally spent as I stepped up the ladder to exit the pool. But on the day I introduced meditation to my aquatic world, I felt more refreshed than I’d ever felt after a workout. I even stopped to chat with the lifeguard before heading to the locker room. Any connection to the meditation? I tend to think so, although I can’t prove it.
I don’t have to prove it – I can accept the experience without judgment, as meditation has taught me.