Running and Meditation — My Spiritual Awakening

(Article originally published on The Lab, the OnlyAtoms running blog)

Obviously, I love running. And, if you’ve wondered about the quirky name I gave my running brand, “OnlyAtoms”, and poked around the site a bit, you might notice I’m also into deep stuff like quantum physics, meditation, neuroscience, science and spirituality. Why? Well, besides the fact I’m a total geek inside and always loved staring up at the night sky, running and meditation along with studying psychology, myself and my brain, has all had a profound effect on my life.

After reading all the recent research and articles talking about the Benefits of Meditation, and how Meditation Changes your Brain and this great one about the benefits of Running and Meditation for Depression, I’ve decided to tell my personal story of its benefits for me too.

Many who regularly practice yoga have too experienced the benefit of a mindful “workout” and a mind-quieting fitness routine, and a regular meditation practice. But as much as I love yoga and have been practicing regularly since 1995, I’ve always been drawn to more active sports, sweatier workouts, and just loved running much more than yoga. So like a lot of yogis who’ve had a “spiritual awakening” through their yoga practice, mine came through running. Spiritual. Not religious, spiritual.

Here’s my personal story:

For years everyone told me to meditate. Yoga teachers, boyfriends, therapists, teachers, books, etc. I always said “but I run, that’s my meditation!” I’m full of energy, always doing things, running around (literally) and have that kind of a “non-stop” personality. I’m a fire sign with lots of fire signs in my astrology chart. Sitting down quietly didn’t sound fun at all. But I had quit running while listen music eons ago and after reading “Chi Running”, started paying more and more attention to listening to my breath when I ran.

Me running and some quotes about mind-body connection

As I got more into trail running and ultramarathons, I noticed more and more the important role of the mind in distance running. And noticed the amazing meditation-like feeling from running trails for +7 hours. Noticed what happened as you listened to your breath and your mind cleared. Things literally looked different and I felt great. What was this all about, it must be more than just “runners high”!? As I did more longer distance running over the course of a few years, I was also going through huge shifts in my life: job loss, took time off to travel, major career changes, economy tanking, deaths, more job losses, breakups, and all culminating with a 6 month long mystery disease that no doctor could diagnose…

It started with ringing in my ears and buzzing in my brain for two months, so bad I couldn’t think clearly or function speaking to others. Then one day it stopped, but I woke up with a huge growth type thing right above my left eye. When that cleared weeks later, 70% of my body broke into hives that itched so much I couldn’t sleep at night and developed scars from it. That lasted 3 months. Almost $1000 in co-pays and a gazillion drugs, tests and treatments later, time was the only thing that helped as I eventually got well. During this time when I had broken down crying since I couldn’t think straight, I felt I was given a choice to live or die. I consciously chose life. I felt the sickness was pulling me in a new direction, to take a deeper look at myself and my life. Additionally, I had made a major work decision that later deemed wasn’t right for me, which left me feeling lost, down on myself, and questioning everything.

That’s when my BFF Tom sent me a great book — “Positive Intelligence”. And one of my mentor’s Richard West (aka the world famous DJ “Mr. C”) was posting a lot about meditation and offered to answer my questions. As I said “I want to give meditation a try, but I don’t have time, I don’t know how to do it, and I’m not good at meditating!” he said one thing that changed my perspective: “you charge your mobile phone everyday, charges for 20 minutes, then you’re all set…and it becomes a habit”. Meditation works the same way. Just as you brush your teeth everyday, or run 3 times a week, start small meditating a few minutes each day, and build from there to 20–30 minutes. I trusted him and gave it a go.

Ever since that time in 2013 I have been meditating regularly. And running regularly,of course. I go to some (free and not free) meditation groups, and mindfulness/mind-body/spiritual talks and events in NYC. (There are now so many cool events in NYC with people like MNDFL, Donna D’Cruz, Ziva Meditation, Dina Kaplan’s The Path and so many more — in NYC, fitness and meditation is the new Happy Hour! Meditation has changed my life in more ways than one can express. But to sum it up, I put together all my studies in psychology (my college major),quantum physics, neuroscience, mind-body connection, running and breathing, running and a clear mind, running and the high, running and connections with other runners, meditation and the high and clarity you get from it, and voila…everything clicked into place. And my life has never been the same.

I think like a runner, so I think of meditation just as I treat running and marathon training: you commit to a regular training plan, a “workout”, and train your brain just as you do

your body. You keep going farther and longer, and see more benefits over time, just as I did with running. Until it then becomes part of life, a habit — my mind can now meditate for hours, just as my body can easily go run a half marathon tomorrow. And when life gets challenging, when I go through major losses and changes, I can now handle them a million times better than ever. And I’m happier, more grounded, and the most peaceful I’ve ever been in my life. I’m grateful for both running and meditation, and can not express more how much I believe in it.

Well, that’s (most) my story! Want to learn more about running and meditation? Just ask me. Or read any of these books. Or listen to any of these free Josh Korda Dharmapunx meditation and dharma talk podcasts. Or Mr.C’s free meditation or Elena Brower’s guided meditations. Start with Chi Running, and run without music and try listening to your breath, at the least.

- beth weinstein

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