Why I Love Running — it’s My Moving Meditation

How running gives me the space I need to think.

Darren Matthews
Feb 16, 2020 · 6 min read

I was at it again this morning — running — well trying too anyway.

It’s only five kilometers I tell myself.

By the time I finish, I’m a big sweaty mess. As I perspire, it runs into my eyes, blurring the door before me. With the key in hand, I try desperately to stop shaking, the deep rapid breaths making it mission for me to open the door. Once inside I down a cold glass of water instantly slowing my breathing. I remove my woolly hat; sodden from the fluids I’ve lost.

I know I’m going to feel the pain from this run for the rest of the day. No doubt I’ll be hobbling to bed later sore from my exertions.

So, why do I do it?

It is a question I ask myself as I stagger down the road this morning.

The wind was blowing hard in my face stealing every breath I tried to take. The continuous force doing everything it could to push me back. Every step was a real effort such was the relentless power of the wind.

I kept going though convinced the wind would ease eventually.

It didn’t.

I gasped for breath again slowing to walk in the hope my air intake would improve. It was bitterly cold as well despite my running kit, leggings, hat and gloves. They were no defensive to the northwesterly wind whipping around me.

To be honest with you, none of it mattered to me. Because I was in my headspace. I was doing my moving meditation as Tony Fadell titled it.

Tony Fadell and Moving Meditation

I was listening to another Tim Ferriss podcast, and this time he was interviewing Tony Fadell. He is the guy who headed the iPod project at Apple. Oh, and the central heating control device called Nest.

He loves to run. As he travels and visits different cities he will get up and go for a run first thing in the morning. It’s his Tony time.

It’s his moving meditation. A time for him to think — without distraction — so no music. Just him and his mind. It isn’t limited to running either. Whether it be skiing, hiking, biking or Yoga — Tony has Tony time for an hour a day — every day.

The moving meditation is Tony’s headspace. It’s time for him to be alone with just his exercise and his thoughts. It enables him to think, to question and to challenge what’s in his mind. From it comes clarity of focus, which is especially evident in his interview.

To hear how his mind works and see’s some of the problems the world is facing is fascinating. This comes across in his conversation with Tim in which he explains his mental approach to learning. Specifically, about the horror of plastics and what it is doing to our environment.

What fascinated me was Tony’s ability to think through and open himself up to learning. This was the key takeaway from the interview.

How does Tony get to this level of thinking? His moving meditation.

Moving Meditation for Me

I’ve been running for many years. It’s been a good form of exercise helping me to keep fit. But, it has been more than a fitness urge. It’s been a time to escape, to think and clear my head.

I’ve struggled with normal meditation.

I love to think — to dwell on problems and work out how to overcome them. But normal meditation wanted to take me away from this. Focusing on my breathing was a distraction away from where my mind wanted to be.

With so much going on in my mind, concentrating on the rising and falling of my chest for any length of time was a major challenge. I had the awareness to see this but was frustrated by it.

Over time I have practised meditation, but never with any consistency. The only consistency I’ve ever achieved was with my running.

Running helped me immensely. It gave me the space to think. Something I hadn’t fully appreciated until I listened to Tim Ferriss’s interview.

Now I had a name for it — moving meditation.

5 Practical Steps to Moving Meditation

It is good to name a practice which has a win-win benefit. Moving meditation gives me the capacity to keep on with my fitness practice and help me mentally. The guilt plagued me when I didn’t meditate. Running makes that a thing of the past.

There are I think some considerations to be given ahead of making use of moving meditation. Call them ground rules — call them what you like — but, I like most need a framework to follow.

Exercise alone

I can’t see how you can meditate in the company of someone else. This is a meditation practice, not a social event. Thus, I would always want to exercise alone.

No Music

Music can offer your mind a place to escape. Some can’t run without it, I can. I have done it for a long time. The earphones kept wriggling free — meaning I’d be running and trying to keep them in place.

It was a massive distraction, so I never wear earphones now. It’s just me and mother nature.

Allow enough time

Whilst running against the clock isn’t a bad thing, it will serve as another distraction. I try and forget about personal bests and all the pressure which accompanies it.

The rule is to always allow enough time. I run a pre-defined route, so I don’t get distracted by decision-making. I have a route and I follow it. I have a rough idea of how long it will take i.e. half an hour for a five-kilometer run. I don’t take half an hour, as I know I’ll run quicker, but I’m not under pressure to be back in twenty minutes for example.

No phone calls

I do take my phone with me when I run. It goes on silent, so no-one can disturb me. This is crucial. Time alone without distraction is what is required.

I wear an arm-strap phone holder, to carry my phone and a key. I use the phone to track my run, as I like to measure what I’m doing. I press start when I begin, and I don’t look at my phone again until I stop.

Think

Other than the exercise, I’m here to think. I often go out without any preconceived idea of what I’m going to meditate on. Instead, I let my mind go where it wants to take me.

All too often my mind will take me to an idea or problem I’ve previously contemplated. An unsolved problem will frequently find itself at the centre of my attention.

Sometimes I don’t find the answer I’m looking for. It doesn’t matter — it’s the process of meditating — of thinking deeply which is the important bit.

Final Thoughts

Managing my monkey mind is an ongoing challenge for me, as it is for everyone. I read somewhere we have 50,000 thoughts a day. Taking time to get into some of those thoughts and ideas is a crucial behavior.

Successful people meditate.

The number one trait from all the ‘successful’ people Tim Ferriss has interviewed boils down to one aspect. Meditation. Whether its mindfulness or transcendental — it works — even moving meditation. As practiced by Tony Fadell.

The power which deep thinking draws out is immense. Meditation helps to clear your mind and reach a state of deep thinking. Which is why it’s so important.

I’ve found my happy place with running and moving meditation. It’s great to finally put a name to it.

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Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Darren Matthews

Written by

I’m curious about decisions, strategy, and how to live my best life. Follow me as I write to figure it out and share some wisdom along the way.

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Darren Matthews

Written by

I’m curious about decisions, strategy, and how to live my best life. Follow me as I write to figure it out and share some wisdom along the way.

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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